Raising Princess

I want to raise a child with character. I want my child to lead a life of service. I want my child to be of substance, to make a difference, to resonate with humanity during her time on this earth.

 Except my child is five.

 She wants to play princesses. She wants to dress up. She’s curious about high heels and makeup. And she’s so worried about disappointing me. I can see it in her eyes as she waits to see how I will react to her admiring one of those princesses, the ones she knows mommy can’t stand. And so I catch her watching for my approval (or disapproval) and I catch myself trying to twist my face to hide my dismay, to act like I’m okay with the blonde busty princess with the big gown and tiara, the one who obsesses about finding herself a prince and not much else. Both of us doing this dance, for the sake of the other.

“My mommy doesn’t like princesses,” I overhear her telling a friend recently.

“Why?” my friend asks. My ears perk up.

“Because she thinks they’re vain and shallow.”

I groan inside. I’ve done it! I’ve ruined the magic of princesses for my five year old. I’ve screwed up her childhood. She will be on some therapist’s couch in twenty years.

Later that night, I tell her I don’t dislike all princesses. I like some of them, the ones who do things for others, who are kind, who try to do service. I make a big deal out of the new Disney princess. I highlight the fact that she works so hard, that she has character and stands on her principles. “See? Mommy likes some princesses.”

I’m struggling! I’m struggling with trying to balance the whimsy of childhood and the need to teach character and spiritual qualities early on. I’m afraid that if I wait too long, it will be too late. I look around and see cause for alarm. I see girls bombarded night and day with images of women as sexual objects.  I see pre-teen girls wearing things I would expect to see on a thirty year old. I see women being rewarded for scandalous, immoral behavior. I see twelve and thirteen-year-olds whose milkshake brings all the boys to the yard. This makes me lose sleep.

I was no saint myself. I was no girl scout. But it seems like the situation has become dire for our little girls. They’re under assault, both explicitly and otherwise. They have become the playthings of the ignorant and they are cast in that role from an earlier and earlier age. And no matter how hard you work to stay on message, eventually they go to school. They make friends. Maybe some of those friends’ parents aren’t so bothered by the same things that bother you. Maybe during a play date, while you’re in the kitchen making lunch, you suddenly hear your daughter’s little friend teaching her some song about her “lovely lady lumps.” You feel a panic attack coming. You do your yoga breath to calm down.

And later that night you pray for guidance and wisdom … and balance.

10 thoughts on “Raising Princess

  1. Oh my! Every time you post, you mange to articulate some of the same exact thoughts I’ve been struggling with. Our girls are, indeed, under assault. And we barely even notice! I’m sorry; I know everybody loves Beyonce (and she’s an easy target), but my gosh–she is adult entertainment. And I’m not even sure she’s appropriate for adults. I always say that after I watch a Beyonce video, I start to think that maybe I wear too much clothing in my daily life. If I can be affected like that, what must be going on with the little girls and teenage girls who are dancing to her music? I see little girls shaking it to her all the time, and adults defending it, like “it’s wonderful! she’s expressing herself! it’s art!” (a quote from one of my relatives), and it shocks me. Our girls are learning that they’re valued as sexual beings, and little else. And the message is out there, more explicitly than it ever was when we were growing up. When I think of steering my young daughter through all of this, I become overwhelmed. And then I start to see the value in my parents’ rules regarding no TV, very little radio (I didn’t have my own radio until the 8th grade), and lots of liteFM playing in the car. They let me be a little girl for longer than most girls are allowed to be little today; and for that, I’m so grateful.

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  2. it is such a hard balance. b/c on the other hand we want to teach our girls that being sexy and smart is not oxymoronic. i think i’m beautiful and intelligent; i wear makeup and clothes that flatter my body and read nonfiction and watch the news.

    but don’t you sometimes want to feel like a princess? i do. i love to do my hair, paint my nails, get a massage. should we expect all the models of womanhood out there to exhibit all the positive traits that we want our kids to see? or should we let our children sometimes be vain and shallow, because sometimes WE are vain and shallow? sometimes we spend our money on makeup or shoes or clothes when we could be giving it to a good cause – in essence we are no better than the disney princesses. i say WE should be the models we want our children to follow, and instead of shunning one particular model of womanhood, have many different models from our girls to choose from. i also do limit the number of princesses, but that’s just so i can buy lots of different models of womanhood, and amina can choose for herself which she likes most. at the end of the day, i’m glad she always picks me.

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  3. I also struggle with not making my “feminist face” at the princess, who my 5yo also adores. I hope I too, can find balance between the whimsy of childhood fantasy and the realities of the cold, hard, and patriarchal world.

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  4. I agree, ORJ! I’ve also seen in your posts thoughts and issues we grapple with in our family. It’s comforting!

    I think an added layer of the struggle for me is the fact that I want to allow room for my daughter to be “who she is” (within boundaries, of course). I felt so oppressed through the years with my family’s attempts to dictate to me what I should do and who I should be and what I should think. I don’t want to do that to either of my kids. I want them to feel fulfilled as human beings. It’s such a tight rope walk. And it got exponentially harder for me once they started school.

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  5. I have the comfort and distance from this post of having a 13 year old daughter (not so comforting everyday, LOL) AND a 10 month old daughter. My 13 y.o., Jadyn, was a princess fanatic as well and there was no Princess Tiana to enlighten her even a little bit. She also LOOOOVED Barbie and the BRATZ and the My Scene Girls who not one in the bunch was the poster child for evolved womanhood. But she was just a little girl.

    Now at 13, Jadyn is NOT a girly girl, she does not love videos of scantily clad hip hop girls, she prefers Fall Out Boy and the music from Bleach (an anime show). She is modest and caring and extremely thoughtful. Watches her siblings without a fuss. Loves art and writing. Paints scenes of flowers and trees from her imagination. She called me from her Dad’s house last weekend to tell me that she is getting baptized the first Sunday in February. I couldn’t tell you the last time I’ve been to church. And before I could get the question out, she said “It’s my choice, Ma.” Mommies have so many other things to worry about

    I said all that to say, the vapid, self-interest of the “princess” mirrors the self-interest of a 5 y.o. Take it from a woman with 4 little ones who teaches music each week to 280 3-, 4- and 5-year olds. Cherish the princess phase, it doesn’t last forever.

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  6. I think that unfortunately we adulterize little girls in a way that we don’t do with boys. I would adore the princess phase at 5 while also focusing on the toddler tactic of redirection. Maybe she could like Princesses and be exposed to Michelle Obama as a “Princess” the night of the inauguration in addition to the Disney Princesses. Or she could like Disney Princess Dolls but also be encouraged to have a collection of dolls that are “one-of-a-kind” and therefore she could also discover one Barbie, one Cabbage Patch, one Madame Alexander, one Groovy Girl, etc. If she is a “girly girl” and likes dolls I think you could find a lot of dolls that are “deeper” than the man-crazed princess. Barbie has a beautiful Alvin Ailey Dancer, Madame Alexander has Bessie Smith, the first black female pilot.

    Also, I think what we really want in our images is balance. We have a great deal of a right to be critical that Beyonce is a lot of times hypersexual and that this is often the only frequently available image of black womanhood. I do think Beyonce has a lot of public personas however, including some that we could selectively expose to our daughters in a way to inspire them. Beyonce as business owner, Beyonce as an awesome vocalist, Beyonce as actress (only in Cadillac Records :).

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    1. I agree, Tanji; part of the problem with Beyonce is that there aren’t countering models for black womanhood–and that’s not necessarily her fault. Although I also agree with you that Beyonce has many personas, I think her hyper-sexualized persona is the most problematic one, particularly because it’s not real. I’ve thought about writing an article about this. She has perfected the image of being a piece of arm candy: “I’ll make you look good cause I’m so fly; even though I’m really in control of my career, I’ll never make you feel like you can’t control me; I’ll handle everything at home AND be your sex kitten, all at the same time.” The lyrics to “Upgrade U” captured her persona perfectly. In her interviews, she’s always talking about really just wanting children; we all know she’s not doing that anytime soon; but to suggest she will is part of her image for men. Real black women know that you can’t be all these things at the same time, and although I want my husband to find me attractive, I don’t want to be his trophy. I think her model of black womanhood is really interesting…and troubling…

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      1. I don’t know that she won’t have kids soon. Remember that in her industry that is a way to have a high-profile family as well. We all know how invested in that she is. I say go for the article! If I see an appropriate CFP, I will pass it along. I love that there are so many scholar moms on here.

        Tanji

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      2. Hmmmm…I didn’t mean to suggest that “real” black women couldn’t do all of that, as I don’t believe there’s only one type of black woman who is “real.” But I do think that there is something warped about the image she puts out–this limiting yourself to physical and sexual worth, for a man’s benefit–to make his friends jealous, to make him look good, to make him feel good about himself. Ever notice the way she–literally–dances around Jay-Z in their videos together, while he stares into the camera and barely gives her a glance. I don’t know Beyonce or Mr. Beyonce, but my guess is that their relationship is not even remotely like that in private. But her public persona suggests that it is; I don’t know. I just find it unnerving in the same way that I find it unnerving when rappers promote a “thug” lifestyle which they have either left waaaaay behind, or barely lived themselves. It’s not real, but our kids eat it up, often to their detriment…

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