Nearly every day when she returns home from prekindergarten, my 4-year-old daughter yanks out the tub of costumes from under her bed and throws on one of her frothy, sometimes nearly threadbare, gowns.
So, it didn’t come as much of a surprise when she revealed she wants to be Rapunzel for Halloween. She doesn’t call the generously-tressed, tower dweller Rapunzel, however. Eliza refers to her — somewhat reverently — as “Tangled” after the popular 2010 Disney movie version of the fairy tale.
Disney princess. Are there two more loaded words in the vocabulary of modern moms of girls?
Sure there are women who love them. But for me, they conjure twin demons: the myth of the coddled, helpless girl awaiting her prince coupled with the ubiquitous corporate behemoth Disney.
The Walt Disney Company raked in more than $42 billion in revenues last year on everything from theme parks, movies, television stations, cruises and toys. If there’s a part of the culture that Disney hasn’t yet invaded it’s probably only a matter of time. And the doe-eyed princesses are moneymaking machines.
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It’s possible for a little girl to wake up under a Disney princess comforter, don her Disney princess T-shirt, grab her Disney princess lunch box (loaded with Disney princess grapes) and head off to school after watching Princess Sofia on the Disney channel. And the lifestyle doesn’t have to end when childhood does. There are Disney princess inspired prom dresses and wedding dresses.
But is that a problem?
A lot of parents seem to pick and choose the parts of the princess myth they pass along.
“I leave out a lot of the Prince Charming stuff and focus on how princesses are good to their friends and treat everyone with kindness and respect,” said Katherine Wright, of Decatur, who works at Emory Healthcare and has a 3-year-old daughter, Allison.
Others can’t see what all the feminist fuss is about.
“It’s a fairy tale!” protested Linda Rollins, of Dunwoody, as she exited the Disney Store at Perimeter Mall. “It’s harmless fantasy for little girls.”
Nonetheless, the princess stuff really bugs lots of women like me. We were raised on Snow White and Cinderella but went on to college and thought we’d said goodbye to all that nonsense. Our daughters, however, are saying not so fast.
According to an online survey of parents from the National Retail Federation, princess costumes are the No. 1 kid’s choice this year for Halloween.
“Its a perennial Halloween favorite,” said Pam Goodfellow, who conducted the survey for the group. “I think the Disney princess line has really kept it going strong.”
Salem State University professor Rebecca Hains, who is at work on a new book “The Princess Problem” said there are developmental reasons girls ages 3 to 4 want to be princesses. It’s been dubbed “pink frilly dress syndrome.”
At that age, Hains said, children “are trying to figure out what makes girls girls and boys boys.”
Fuzzy on the biological details, kids tend to veer to extreme external clues. Girls in particular seem impacted by this, research shows, and gravitate to fluffy pink dresses, that make their own alliance clear.
“Disney does a great job marketing to that,” Hains said.
In recent years, Disney freshened up its princess line by marketing all the ladies together while adding in a splash of diversity to the largely white ranks. The Princess and the Frog featured Tiana, Disney’s first African-American princess. Disney has also taken strides to make the princesses feistier and more independent. No more Sleeping Beauties, dozing through all the action. Instead Rapunzel in “Tangled” is right in there, repurposing a domestic frying pan into a weapon.
“Brave,” released by Disney-owned Pixar, is at its heart a touching mother-daughter tale, and ends with the flame-haired heroine Merida content and prince-less.
Still, if we need any sign that the princess fixation lives on, look at Princess Kate (and Princess Diana before her), hounded by paparazzi and having each hairstyle and outfit change endlessly scrutinized. That’s not the happily-ever-after I would wish for my strong, independent girls.
Yet I’ve been far more relaxed in letting Eliza play out her frilly fantasies because I can see light at the end of the princess tunnel. My older daughter, Amelia, now almost 9, also went through a massive princess phase. In fact, most of Eliza’s most treasured costumes — Cinderella and Belle — are hand me downs from her big sis.
Amelia now insists on wearing jeans to school. Otherwise she can’t hang upside down from the monkey bars at recess, she says. And her Halloween costume this year?
Cleopatra. She’s graduated from a princess to a rather complicated queen.