Princess Culture

For my Feature Writing class this semester (which is over), I wrote about the current Princess Culture for my final piece.

Here it is:

Once upon a time in America, young girls threw away their self-identity and put on their crowns and pink party dresses with the help of the media and national brands such as Disney and Mattel.

In recent years, a new culture has emerged; known as the Princess Culture.

The Princess Culture “include[s] all of the media, peer interactions, family interactions, institutions, and products that encourage girls to view themselves as princesses and to consume products about princesses…that help them experience themselves as princesses,” said Sherianne Shuler, Creighton University professor, who has begun researching the Princess Culture. “It’s everywhere. You can hardly buy clothing or toys for young girls that does not say ‘princess’ on it or that does not feature the Disney princesses.”

According to a 2006 New York Times magazine article, “What’s wrong with Cinderella,” by Peggy Orenstein, “Sales at Disney Consumer Products, which started the craze six years ago by packaging nine of its female characters under one royal rubric, have shot up to $3 billion, globally, this year, from $300 million in 2001. There are now more than 25,000 Disney Princess items.”

The problem is not that young girls like to dress-up or be princesses, the problem is that being a princess appears to be the only option and there is a fine line between dressing up for fun and when it becomes harmful.

“I’m not sure exactly [where the line it], but I think it has to do with options. When little girls can dress up and play at a variety of roles (they can be doctors, construction workers, racecar drivers, mamas, princesses, teachers, animals, etc), then it’s pretty harmless,” Schuler said. “When the only thing they can play at is princess, then I think it’s harmful.”

Though not every young girl who dresses up as a princess will face self-esteem issues or self-identity issues, there are harmful side effects to the Princess Culture.

“At best, it just limits their imaginations about what they can be interested in, dress up like, and play about.” Schuler said. “At worst (and these are not conclusively determined, but theorized), it promotes the thinking that their quest in life is to be beautiful…and marry a prince. It promotes one single standard of ideal womanhood—and it’s a straight, ultra-feminine, white, wealthy standard.”

In this day and age, where brands and media directly target young girls from television commercials to strategically placing the princess toys on the bottom shelves, parent can, should and must take an active role to combat the Princess Culture.

“At home, parents can provide a variety of dress up and play activities. When we buy a dominoes game, we don’t have to buy the Disney princess version. When we choose books, we can choose books that show girls and women in a variety of roles. When our little girls are obsessed with playing princess, we can sometimes play with them and gently suggest other options,” Shuler said. “Even with all this intervention, the peer culture is very strongly focused on princesses. You won’t be able to avoid it, but you can avoid encouraging it. And you can teach girls to critique it in small ways.”

Sidebar #1 (could also be used as a breakout box):

Parents and young girls cannot avoid the “Princess Culture,” but it is possible to help your daughter to avoid falling into the trap that being a princess is the only option to being a beautiful girl.  Here are some tips for parents in dealing with the princess cultured provided by Sherianne Shuler, Creighton University professor, who has begun researching the princess culture.

  1. When choosing games, don’t buy the princess version. Same with book, choose books that feature girls in a variety of roles.
  2. DO not buy clothes or accessories related to princesses, for example, a shirt that reads, “daddy’s little princess.”
  3. Limit princess media viewing.
  4. For older girls, you can have them learn about REAL princesses in the world and compare their lives to Disney princesses.
  5. Teach critical thinking about media. Even with 2-3 year olds, you can ask simple things like “Do you think Ariel would miss her family if she left the sea to get married and be in Prince Eric’s world?” or if they say, “I’m pretty like a princess,” a parent can say, “you are beautiful, honey, but is it more important to be pretty or to be smart and kind?”

You do not have to completely cut of princesses, because dressing up as a princess can be fun and expand your daughter’s imagination. But it is important to draw a line.

Sidebar 2:

An interesting and easy way to deal with the Princess Culture, especially the Disney Princesses, is to have you and your daughter take not of the good qualities that the princesses possess. This takes the focus of the fact that they are princesses and more on what makes them a strong woman. Take for example the following popular Disney princesses.

  1. Cinderella (Cinderella): She possesses the qualities of a hard worker without recognition or gratitude for her hard work. Her evil stepmother and stepsisters force her to work day and night, but she does not receive one thank you and she is not compensated for the work she has done.
  2. Bell (Beauty and the Beast): Bell promotes a love for reading and setting standards for herself. She doesn’t just fall for any guy. She rejects Gaston, because even though he maybe good looking and charming, she knows he is not good for her and won’t let her self settle. She also gives up her freedom and in return the Beast lets her father go. And she also helps the beast have a change of heart and learn to be a caring, gentle man.
  3. Arial (The Little Mermaid): Arial seeks adventure wherever she goes. She loves to explore new places and learn about new things. She is also not afraid to take risks, like becoming a human.
  4. Mulan (Mulan): decides to fight in her fathers place and defeat the toughest enemies, the Huns. She is able to fight alongside the strongest men.
  5. Jasmine (Aladdin): She takes it upon herself to leave her secure palace to experience what is beyond her small world. She is able to help Aladdin defeat Jafar at the end of the movie.

The Princess Culture cannot be avoided and looks like it will be around for awhile, so the best thing a parent can do is help their young daughter develop her own interests and if that means a tiara and glass slippers, at least it will be because she chose it.