The “princess culture” has come to dominate girls’ imaginations as they watch Moana and Frozen on an endless loop and see Disney characters appearing on products from body wash to binoculars.
Even if you’re a parent who has tried to shield your daughter from the ” princess industrial complex” out of concern that it reinforces negative gender stereotypes, odds are your little one caught a glimpse of Elsa, Anna or Belle somewhere and fell in love.
As the father of a 3-year-old daughter, I wondered if this pervasive princesses phenomenon is bad for girls. I explored the question at length in an article a few months back. My takeaway after talking to several experts: It’s fine in moderation.
If daughter asks you to dress up like a princess for Halloween, here are five reasons you should go ahead and make her wish come true.
1. It’s just one night
Even critics of the princess culture don’t believe one night of dressing up is going to do any harm. Peggy Orenstein, author of Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture, is concerned that playing princess has “cannibalized everything else so that it ceases to be a form of imaginative play starts to become a form of prescribed play.” But Orenstein doesn’t think the solution is to forbid princess play altogether. She says it’s important to establish limits and to make sure kids have a range of creative outlets. “If you think that you’re going to offer your daughter broader ideas about what it means to be a girl by constantly saying no to her, you are delusional,” she says. So, if your little one wants to be a princess this year, don’t play the wicked stepmother. If she has dressed like a princess every day leading up to Halloween, on the other hand, it might be time to ask her to hang up the tiara for a bit.
2. ‘Girly’ shouldn’t be a bad word
The bows, the ribbons, the tulle, the lace: It doesn’t get more stereotypically girly than a princess costume. But if you bar your child from donning a princess gown for that reason, you run the risk of sending the message that femininity is a bad thing. Jerramy Fine, author of In Defense of the Princess: How Plastic Tiaras and Fairytale Dreams Can Inspire Smart, Strong Women, argues that if you tell children “something that they perceive as girly is wrong” you run the risk of making “them feel bad about being a girl.”
3. Being a princess isn’t just about a dress
When your little one dons a princess dress you can remind her that there is a lot more to the role than looking pretty. They can be intellectuals (Belle), they can be warriors (Mulan), they can be industrious (Tiana), they can be tenacious (Rapunzel), they can be devoted (Anna), and they can be fearless (Merida). Plus, they have major responsibilities. Remind her that it’s her job to help people and make her kingdom a better place, Fine suggests. “It doesn’t have to be about just prancing around in a dress,” she said.
4. Princesses have come a long way, baby
In recent years, Disney has created more independent, empowered princesses. Tiana works hard and saves up to start her own business, Belle rejects the role her society tries to force upon her, and Moana saves the world when the hyper-masculine Maui can’t. That’s a long way from waiting for your prince to come, à la Snow White and Sleeping Beauty.
5. Let her say no to the dress
It might be your dream to see your beautiful girl transformed into a glowing little Cinderella, but she if she wants to be a ghost instead, grab a sheet and a pair of scissors. The night is supposed to be about them, after all. And if she wants to dress as the Beast instead of Belle, don’t tell her she can’t because she’s a girl. If your little boy wants to be Snow White this year, don’t stand in his way.
Don’t be afraid to indulge your daughter’s (or son’s) royal fantasy this Halloween. There will be enough voices in the world telling them what they can and can’t be without their parents joining in.