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No More Princess Bashing

Photograph by Getty Images

I’ve made a radical decision: No more princess-bashing in front of my 4-year-old princess-loving daughter. Period. No more rolling my eyes when she comes down the stairs dressed as Aurora, and no more signaling in a stage whisper to other parents that I hate the princess thing, but hey, what can I do?

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Like most parents raising little girls, I have wrung my hands about the princess-ification of my daughter’s imaginative world. I hate just about everything about princesses: their heaving bosoms, their stupid high heels, their high-pitched voices, and their vapid existences (Merida from Brave notwithstanding). I am an unapologetic feminist, and I have monthly student loans for my women’s studies degree to prove it. I’ve also read Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein and agree that the whole girly-girl culture that trains young girls to focus on their appearance and to foster a materialism based on keeping up with impossible beauty standards is appalling.

But you won’t hear me talking smack about princesses in front my daughter for a long time. For at least as long as she is into it. Because I’ve decided that there is something worse—infinitely worse—than being attracted to sexist, limiting, overly-feminized characters, and that’s having your taste invalidated by your own mother.

I was telling her that her taste is bad, that mine is better, and that the things she likes (or loves, God help her) are stupid

And for the record, I never once bought my daughter anything with a princess on it. The floodgates of princess-dom opened when her babysitter bought her a book that came with some figurines. Initially, my daughter was attached to the present because it was from a beloved caregiver, and I didn’t want to stand in the way of their relationship. Eventually, over the period of approximately 48 hours, my daughter’s attachment morphed into pure princess adoration. Shortly after that it seemed like we were suddenly surrounded: one of our neighbors had a purple Tinkerbell bike, and another friend who came for a week-long visit had a Cinderella backpack. I’d pick my daughter up from play dates, and she would be decked out in a faux satin dress, complaining about how itchy the tulle under the skirt was. Before long, my daughter could spot a princess items from across five Target aisles.

I pushed back. I lobbied for non-licensed items, and when that didn’t work, I zealously advocated for Hello Kitty or Olivia. Sometimes we’d compromise on the occasional Dora item, but my daughter continued to express a clear preference for princess items, and I got tired of standing in the way of her indomitable will.

And what was I telling her each time I steered her away from her preferences? I was telling her that her taste is bad, that mine is better, and that the things she likes (or loves, God help her) are stupid, trifling, and not OK with me. Standing in a store trying to talk her out of the lunchbox she had her heart set on started to feel like the most injurious thing I could do. Attacking my daughter’s taste felt more abusive than letting her pass through the godforsaken princess phase without throwing up every roadblock I could.

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If given a choice, I’d ban all princess items from the planet, but that’s impossible. I can’t even keep them out of my own little corner of the world. I have to learn to live in this cultural moment with its mixed messages to young girls and the role those play in my daughter’s life. Instead of swimming upstream by trying to convince her that she does not, in fact, want a princess water bottle, I am moving with the current and swimming beside her, believing that it’s a better use of my energy to support her taste and preferences. I’m also banking on her interest in princesses waning (sooner rather than later, I hope), at which time, she will come out the other side knowing that she has a mother who supports her tastes, even when she doesn’t share them. Which is more valuable than having a mother who browbeat her away from all things princess.

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