I have nothing against pink.
When I was seven, pink and purple were my favorite colors. I'm sure it violated every piece of fashion advice ever written, but I especially loved to wear them together.
So where do authors like Peggy Orenstein get off telling us this recent wave of pretty, pink, and princesses are some newfangled trend or, even more controversial, dangerous? Little girls have always loved pink, right? Perhaps. But not to the tune of the $4 billion Disney is raking in every year off the brand. That's right -- BILLION. Pink is no longer a girl's favorite color because it's a girl's favorite color ... it's the only color anything girl related comes in. I know. I tried. My friend recently had a baby and I thought big sister might like a gift, too. Finding anything non-princess, non-pink, and even remotely related to imaginative or constructive rather than scripted or "brand-centered" play was impossible. In fact, the Disney brand was on EVERYTHING. I finally had to go the "crafts" section to pull some paint and sidewalk chalk from the back of the shelf. How could a little girl walk though an aisle and think she was anything but abnormal if she wasn't interested in pink, glittery, Disneyfied princesses. In a day and age when doors should only be expanding for our daughters, the mighty world of Disney has come in with one of the most successful campaigns in marketing history and chosen for them. Think I'm overreacting?
A couple years ago I came across this fabulously funny Sarah Haskins video. And then I came across another one you can watch here. My interest was piqued. I was only four at the time, but I still remember the day when I FINALLY got to go see Little Mermaid. For years afterward my friends and I would pretend our legs were mermaid tails and splash around swimming pools with crossed ankles. And what girl who lived through the '90s hasn't splashed up the slanted back of her bathtub singing "Part of Your World"? I was no stranger or even enemy of the Disney princess. But it seemed even more intense. My friend's little girls had princess nightgowns, backpacks, headbands, coloring books, shoes, sleeping bags, and TVs. I just didn't remember any of that stuff existing when I was four.
Turns out it didn't. My Google search yielded, among others, this article and this blog. Basically, the princess "brand" didn't even exist until 2000. Before that there were a few individual items specific to each character, but the princesses had never been "grouped" together before. Disney threw them all together, came up with a consistent color scheme -- Pantone pink No. 241 was the pink of choice -- and with the motto of "What would a princess want?" began marketing everything from alarm clocks to silverware with the royal images. And the world of little girls changed overnight.
One mother, whose blog I linked above, tolerated it all until she noticed changes in her daughter's play. Her normally active, boisterous little girl was now walking around saying "Princesses don't run or jump" and sighing helplessly explaining that "Princesses have to wait for their prince." So she did something I think most mothers with four-year-old girls (especially one whose most favorite princess is Cinderella) would be terrified to do. She threw it all out. She replaced the Cinderella Disney-made gown with a generic dress from Toys R Us. She got rid of the Patone pink No. 241 and replaced it with fairy tales and science kits and dress up. There were tantrums. At first, her choice made her as popular as an evil stepmother. But after just a little while into "Disney Princess Recovery" she noticed positive and lasting changes in her daughter. She was calmer, less concerned about what she looked like, more concerned with having fun and experiencing things. She still loves Cinderella, and pretending to be Cinderella, but the way she plays Cinderella has completely changed and is much more child-appropriate.
These mothers aren't anti-materialism hippies. They've resorted to bribes just like any other parent: "A princess eats all her vegetables." "Princesses use the big girl potty, too!" "Princess bedtime is at 8 o'clock." Their call is not for a complete ban on all things magical or make believe, but to do what for your child what she can't do for herself -- be smarter than the marketing.
Because the danger is real. When a company that has the hearts and wallets of little girls buying into this image:
partners up with the folks trying to get your pre-teen and teenage girls to buy into this:
(the description for this item reads: "From the shadows of the grotto, the lovely Ariel looks like a femme fishtale with a sultry secret. Ask her nicely and she just might sing it to you.")
there's a problem. These companies are literally cooperating to make the transition from one to the other seamless. And girls (or more accurately, their parents) are buying right into the trap. The Disney princess brand might appear safe, naieve, and a way to keep girls sheltered from ending up like slutty celebreties like Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears, or Miley Cyrus (ironic they all got their start at Disney, isn't it?). But the constant reinforcement that a girl should always be dressed up, pretty, and in wait of a prince is the last thing a girl growing up in the age of Internet porn needs to hear. Is it any wonder that articles like "How To Talk To Little Girls" are so needed? (And if you follow only one link in this post, please, please, let this be it. Please ... I'll even wait for you to click on it ... GO!)
I would love to tell my friend about the "Disney-free" experiment. Or tell her how uncomfortable it is her daughter is so well versed about the adult relationships around her. Or express dismay over the fact she talked dad into getting her daughter a "princess makeover" on their trip to Disneyland last year (have you SEEN these things?!! They are putting MASCARA on FOUR YEAR OLDS!!). But I have a feeling it will turn out a lot like this.
Because here's the deal. The people who are already on board with me on this don't need to hear it. And the people who need to hear it will tell me I'm crazy. That I'm taking this and myself way too seriously. "Just wait until you have a daughter and her favorite princess is Sleeping Beauty. Are you really going to tell her no?" And most of all, they will be convinced their daughter does not have a problem. That tantrums over princess related behavior is normal. That it's fine for every single item they get for their birthday or Christmas to be princess related. That their vain and scripted behavior is cute, not stifling their development of compassion and adventure. That it's just a phase.
But as for me and my house ... when Baby #1 finally makes their appearance around here, and should we be blessed enough to have a girl, please pass along all the pink, purple, and the feminine you would like. But we'll be passing on the princesses. At least any of the Disney variety.
(Ready, set, comment ...)