Last Halloween was our fist foray into the world of character costumes. I’m not sure where Bea first learned of Doc McStuffins, since we don’t get the Disney channel, but she decided she wanted to dress as that veterinarian.
I found a complete Doc McStuffins costume and was glad my daughter wanted to dress as a professional rather than a princess. Bea was thrilled with the glittery headband, lab coat, and purple tunic and looked pretty adorable as a blonde, blue-eyed version as Doc.
She was thrilled until we got ready to trick-or-treat and she found herself the only doctor in a group of princesses (and one lone black cat.) There was a moment of hesitation and Bea asked, Can I dress as a princess, too?
We sat down and I told her that yes, she could borrow a princess dress if she’d rather. But she couldn’t be a doctor if she chose that. After a slight hesitation, she decided that she would rather be a doctor than a princess. (Though she did ask if her glittery headband could be a tiara.)
As we walked the neighborhood, anytime someone exclaimed over the beautiful princesses, a small but firm voice piped up: I am a Doctor, NOT a princess!!
For months after, anytime someone casually called Bea a princess (along the lines of, Hi, princess! at the store) Bea would pull a grumpy faces and declare: I am a Doctor, NOT a princess!!
Even just a couple weeks ago, she was playing with friends and one said, I’m a witch! Another said, I’m a wizard! Bea said, I’m a doctor!
Growing up, I was never a tomboy and princess culture wasn’t marketed yet. (I didn’t realize that this phenomenon didn’t occur until 2000!) I played with Barbies in the mud; I had tea parties under the trees; I rode my bike and curled up with a book. It wasn’t either-or but just being a kid.
When Bea was born, I decided I would do my best to delay the entry into the world of princesses as long as possible. I knew it would happen, but I hoped it would be years before an interest began. Of course, Frozen was discovered sooner than I was expecting and after that, the floodgates into the world of Disney merchandising opened.
We’ve been fairly lucky – a party favor cup, a hand-me-down gown, another gown given as a gift, a tiara and a purse are all that make our collection. When Bea asks for a new gown, I tell her to use her collection of silk scarves to create a gown.
One of the best books I’ve read recently on the princess phenomenon is Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein. The entire book is a must-read for any mom of girls because the reality is that we live in a princess culture. It’s rare that girls won’t be inundated with Disney characters. Like me, Orenstein balks at raising a princess but she realizes it’s next to impossible to avoid tutus and tiaras. What we can control is our response.
So, we watch Mulan, in hopes of presenting a different type of princess. We read Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm and talk about the “real” version of these stories. We try to highlight the positives in each movie, because they are there. And, we encourage Bea to stick to her guns when she wants to be a doctor, not a princess.
I remember that this is a phase and that it will pass. In a few years, I’m sure I’ll look back on the innocence of the princesses and laugh.
In the meantime, I encourage bike riding in tutus and playing dress-up as whatever profession or character is imaginable. I hope that we raise kids – not tomboys or princesses – but girls who like to play.
Moms of girls, do you embrace princess culture or steer clear? What were you growing up – princess, tomboy, or somewhere in the middle?