My 2 1/2-year-old is in an intense princess phase. She’s usually rocking a tiara and princess gown (occasionally layered on top of *another* princess gown), and is weighed down with “brace-a-lets” and other “spawk-a-ly jewels”.
I find myself constantly feeling the need to clarify to the world that this princess obsession is not being fueled by my husband and me. We didn’t plaster the nursery with pink glitter when we found out we were having a girl. We didn’t put her in frilly dresses as an infant or call her princess. We’ve never pushed traditional gender roles
on either of our kids.
Her fascination began when she’d had so little exposure to anything princessy that I’m not even clear where it came from. But it’s here, and it’s showing no signs of going away.
I’m not sure that being princess-obsessed in inherently problematic, but my daughter’s version is certainly raising flags. Last week after she said she was beautiful because of her jewels and gown, I launched into a long impassioned speech about how beauty comes from the inside, and people who have nice clothes and jewelry but are unkind aren’t beautiful. When I finished, she looked me in the eye and said in her adorable little 2-year-old-voice, “I don’t like anything you just said.”
So as I started thinking about how I might try to steer her away from the princess life and toward other interests, it occurred to me that we’ve done just the opposite with my son. He fell in love with trains before he was even old enough to pronounce the word (he called them boo-boos, in case you were wondering). After his first YouTube video of a steam engine, he was hooked. We totally fed into his train addiction; there’s a model train layout in the basement, we’re members at the local train museum, and his bedroom is practically a train museum in itself.
We’ve had no qualms about encouraging his love of trains. It’s been a springboard for learning about history, engineering and more. He can tell you more than you ever wanted to know about the building of the first transcontinental railroad, and can distinguish between hoppers, gondolas, and tenders like other kids name their colors.
A princess obsession seems unlikely to be quite as beneficial educationally, and we didn’t dive right in to encourage it. There are plenty of potential pitfalls – I’m not interested in creating a spoiled brat, and I surely don’t want my daughter’s focus to be exclusively on how she looks. Societal progress has created a space for girls to participate in stereotypically “boy” domains, and I am HERE for it.
But I’ve recently been asking myself: if my daughter, with no parental prompting whatsoever, is naturally drawn to everything stereotypically girly, is it really so enlightened to refuse to indulge her? (One could argue that it’s not “natural”, but rather something picked up from cues in the larger culture, but regardless of where it is rooted, her interest is real and it’s deep.)
I would never want to shove my daughter into a mold based on her gender, forcing her to do ballet when she really wants to play soccer, or to play with dolls when she just wants to dig in the dirt. But the importance of supporting girls’ interests in traditionally masculine areas shouldn’t mean, by extension, that traditional feminine interests are automatically inferior. I’m thrilled that girls are being encouraged to play with firetrucks and wear dinosaur shirts, but maybe it’s misguided to be judge-y about girls who would rather have tea parties and put on sparkly tutus.
So I think I’m ready to stop the futile resistance against the princess mania that has overtaken my daughter. But I’ll take whatever influence I do have to steer this princess obsession in a positive direction. Now when we play princesses, we don’t just bedeck each other in plastic jewels. We go on adventures that require bravery and quick thinking. We deal with issues in the kingdom and use problem-solving to keep the townspeople happy. No damsels in distress here, waiting for a prince to come save us.
And even though I want to beat my head into the wall when my daughter insists that the answer to what makes a person beautiful is: jewels, this stubborn, strong-willed little princess might just be a future CEO.