Thursday, April 14, 2011

All That Glitters.

I usually try to steer pretty clear of any kind of controversy especially when writing in this space, but I've got a real bee under my hat about this one thing lately, and although it's personal, I just gotta share it.

I don't like Disney Princesses... there I said it.

Any time I want to share an idea like this though, my heart just starts pounding at the thought of offending someone else or causing them to feel defensive because their choices are different than mine. I wish sometimes I could walk around with a sign on my forehead or at least around my neck that somehow relayed that what I choose to believe or have an opinion on doesn't mean I judge what other people do. (I'd have to play with the wording a bit, cause that was terrible...) But my point is this plain and simple:
We, as parents have all got one of the most difficult jobs around, and somehow an awful lot of competition has seeped into our culture of motherhood, with that comes defensiveness and distrust, and I don't think any of that is necessary. Every one of us knows our children and our parenting so much better than anyone else, and so really it's no one else's business, right?

 Why then, do I feel the need to share my opinions in such a public space?

Because I think there's dialogue to be had on parenting topics of all kinds and the materialization and sexualization of media aimed at little girls is the one that's really got me by the gizzard these days.  This article was written for Red Book magazine and basically puts all my imperfect thoughts into much better sentences than mine every could be, so please take a minute to read through it if you are at all interested.

At this point, I may have lost some of you already, but bear with me.

At Christmas time my little girl fell headlong in love with a particular Disney princess that I also loved as a little child. "Perfect!" I thought, "we can finally move off of Blue's Clues and watch something the mother will find interesting for a change!"
Then I popped in the DVD and began to sing along with every lyric still memorized by heart.
"Part of Your World" , "Under the Sea"... we were having a great time.
Then we got to Ursula's bawdy tune and suddenly I listened to the lyrics as a mama for the first,...yikes.

Now, I know my little girl is too little to understand all the nuance of these jokes aimed at the adult audience viewing along with their children, and I certainly don't think that a simple Disney movie can erase our family's values, but I'll tell you, it got me thinking long and hard about exactly what message was being sent to my little girl.  Like I said before, we all know our children the best, and I know my little girl is a bit of a sponge in this area; she's got a mind for details and is often stopping me in my tracks with curiosity about adult things way beyond her ability to comprehend.
I'm pretty sure the "Where do babies come from?" question came right around the same time she was able to put a sentence that size together.
Suddenly I realized that the scenarios my little 4 year old was acting out in her play were the ones she was seeing in her movies; she was doing what the adults in those stories did, (mind you Ariel isn't actually an adult, she's a 16 year old...but that's a whole other issue), and she wasn't playing mommy, she was playing princess set out to get a prince....

But how defenseless was I, I felt, against an entire world marketed to my little girl in sequins and pink chiffon?
We have never had cable and don't watch television, but even in these videos we borrowed, the world that was being displayed to her was very different from reality and I wasn't sure my preschooler could really tell the difference.
Everything that glitters is NOT made of gold, and I found myself longing for a way to backtrack away from the world of "falling in love" and "living happily ever after"-- at least until she was older. But how do you backtrack away from tiny high heels and tiaras and start a diet of more age appropriate interests like baby dolls, or animals?

I worried that I would  unleash a beast of resentment in my daughter if I were to sweep up that world of candy pink and put it in an ugly cardboard box labeled, "Do not open till Christmas....five years from now".
I wavered and wobbled and tried to have conversations with my little sponge about how Ariel disobeys her daddy because she wants a boyfriend she doesn't even know; how she gives up her very voice and all family relationships for this one thing,  and the more I said it out loud, the more ludicrous it seemed that I had given her little brain's digestive system this kind of junk food in the first place.

Her wide eyes just blinked once or twice and without missing a beat she asked if she could have a clam shell bikini like Ariel's for her birthday....

Like I said before, I know my little girl, and I didn't like where all this was going. I know she's impressionable to say the least and I also know that what she's fed with enthusiasm she will generally eat with enthusiasm. Finally I decided to suck up my courage and propose a trade of magnanimous proportions.

"Ave, " I said.
"I've been thinking about princesses and about how we really have a LOT of princesses and how almost ALL we play is princesses. Well, the thing about princesses is that they're kind of like candy. And you know how if you eat too much candy you get cavities?"

I had her full attention here, because for some reason Ava Grace is VERY conscious of her dental hygiene. I think she saw in a book somewhere that someone's teeth all fell out because they ate too many sweets and she sometimes worries about this happening to her. (like I said, impressionable)

"Well," I continued, "If we play too much princesses all the time and watch too many of the videos all the time, then we kind of start to get cavities in our minds and hearts, and that's not really so good.
Maybe when you're just a little bit older the princesses will be healthier, but for now, Mommy was wondering if we could put them away in a box and in exchange, Mama will let you pick out a new baby doll from the store and maybe some horses, if that's something you think you'd like?"

I sat back, expecting a fight, but none came.

"Okay Mama" she said and wiggled off my lap.

Into her room she went with the box and cleared the whole lot out. she even got down on her knees to hunt down every last barbie shoe.

I think I just sat there with my mouth hanging open.

"I really don't give her enough credit", I decided.

Later that day,  we went to the store and picked out a very sweet baby doll that she christened "Kissy" and whom she has barely parted with in the days that have followed.

Ava caught in a rare bottle feeding moment- usually she nurses her babies which is quite comical.

Now, I'm not usually an all-or-nothing person, so I haven't gone on a tyrannical raid of all the sources for barbies and princesses that my little girl has to play with them. It's not baby dolls or bust.

She still plays with barbies at her Oma's and she still jumps into princess dresses the moment her shoes are off her feet when we go to play with her little girlfriends. In fact she still has her own stash of poofy flower girl dresses that my sister and I wore as little girls back in the 80s. Those aren't going anywhere I assure you.

 I mean C'mon, what could ever be bad about this????- (Ava in 2009)

I wouldn't say I'm ANTI princess either. It's not the dresses or sparkles that irritate- far from it. What little girl doesn't love the swish and twirl of those  fabulous skirts?
Fairy Tales and Princesses have so much potential for rich imaginative play, what we needed was some balance and all the media marketing thrown out. When anything is taken in excess it becomes unhealthy for us, and what I feel the disney marketing team for princess has done is shove excess into the shopping carts of too many.
Yes, the messages aren't great from a lot of those videos (that's my personal opinion), but where my real problem lies, is in all the merchandise aimed at making my little girl think she will be happier and better if she has it; that somehow an ideal of beauty is achievable by owning the right products. I resent the competition to stick her with  a brand loyalty badge at the age of 3 going on 4.

 The balance I was seeking so desperately seems to have settled over us in the last little while since we detoxed on going to the Ball. Our daily play sometimes includes dressing up in all manner of dresses, beads and hats but we're usually sitting down to tea once we're gussied up, rather than dancing with imaginary men. Most of the time, when she's not doing crafts, Ava is busying herself with the care and minding of her little family of dolls (yes, most of them red-haired) and cooking up little things for them in her little kitchen. The latest passion of her heart however is definitely horses and really that growing herd deserves it's own post because, well, it's pretty precious and it's something this mama finds really fascinating too.

Here's a sneak peek  at most of the artwork that's coming off the drawing table lately... 
It's a cowgirl on a horse with a lasoo, in case you needed help

Anyway, thank you for allowing me to share from the heart about a parenting journey I've been on lately. It's not easy to go out on a limb and my journey is often or always going to look different than that of someone else. At the end of the day it's about feeling strong in our own choices as mothers, whatever those choices may be and cheering each other on.

Have a happily ever after day. :)

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