Welcome aboard HMS Princess Euphoria
For the next two weeks, Wonderland by Alice Bradley will hereby be known as Blunderland by Jenn Mattern. I’m not a pundit, but I borrowed a winged maxi pad from Alice once, which led to this temporary gig while Alice is on brief hiatus. Most of the time I can be found weeping copious word counts over at my blog, breed ’em and weep and writing unnecessarily gloomy plays.
I’ve been sworn to low-level secrecy, but at this very second, your beloved correspondent Alice is either
1) saving the world through a top-secret engineering project involving chopsticks, rubber bands, and nursing pads
2) rocketing into space, stroking a one-eyed marmot and cackling fiendishly through the oversized window of a shiny pink rocket that looks suspiciously like a Tampax Pearl
3) really busy
Yeah, in no time at all you’ll be flinging edamame and chicken nuggets at my head and demanding your leader back. I’ve seen your comments. I know you people are smart and you like to talk news.
The thing is, I don’t know how to talk news. I could have Cheney, Condi, seven foreign dignitaries, four pop-culture-savvy percussionists, and the Sunday editions of both The New York Times and The Boston Globe in my lap, and I’m telling you I still wouldn’t know how to talk news.
I was told that Wonderland is “a lighthearted romp through the week’s events.” Regretfully, my enormous aging breasts make lighthearted romping through a daisy meadow of the week’s events completely unfeasible, not to mention bovinely pornographic. Yes, I recognize that Wonderland is not yet available in webcast form, but webcasts are springing up everywhere with no warning. A female journalist in New Zealand recently gave birth to a live webcast named Emmalee Ayla, and you can imagine what a shock that was for everyone involved. A writer can’t be too careful these days.
Despite my journalistic limitations and fear of webcast sneak attack, I shall press on. I decided to rely on the writer’s maxim: Write What You Know, Then Make It Look Like News by Linking to Semi-Current Articles and Using Lots of Boldface Font.
I have two little girls, 6 and 3. That means that I know princesses. Thanks to my daughters, I know the Disney princesses nearly in the biblical sense, as I frequently roll over in the middle of the night to find a 12-inch topless Belle or a cheerfully nude Cinderella pressed into my rump. I’m not proud of it, but my job as a two-week, two-bit journalist is to deliver the cold, hard, plastic facts, Ma’am. Sir. Disney Lawyers. Whoever you are.
Like a lot of other wee lassies, my 3-year-old insists that she wants to be a princess when she grows up. I tried to explain that becoming a princess would likely involve a number of tricky steps, i.e., avoiding “The Bachelor” casting calls; marrying a properly birth-ordered prince and yawning with boredom in a $850 bikini on the royal yacht as you wait for the necessary family to die off; or purchasing your own somewhat cramped country and declaring yourself princess. My daughter remains undaunted by the challenge.
Yes, she’s 3. Yet I find myself ill at ease in Princessland, the borders of which seem to be expanding at the speed of wishes-come-true light. I know I’m not the only one puking up tiny chunks of Women’s Studies 101 when my otherwise spunky offspring lies “dead” for fifteen minutes straight, “because the Prince is coming to make [her] be alive again.”
Peggy Orenstein of NYT rocked HMS Princess Euphoria back in December 2006 with her piece “What’s Wrong with Cinderella?” According to Orenstein, there are now more than 25,000 Disney Princess items, and sales have skyrocketed to an astounding $3 billion (from $300 million in 2001), making it the largest girls’ brand in the universe (assuming alien invaders aren’t swiping Bratz in higher quantities when we’re not paying attention).
But what’s the real cost? Is there another, invisible, price tag? As Orenstein puts it:
As a feminist mother — not to mention a nostalgic product of the Garanimals era — I have been taken by surprise by the princess craze and the girlie-girl culture that has risen around it. What happened to William wanting a doll and not dressing your cat in an apron? Whither Marlo Thomas? I watch my fellow mothers, women who once swore they’d never be dependent on a man, smile indulgently at daughters who warble “So This Is Love” or insist on being called Snow White. I wonder if they’d concede so readily to sons who begged for combat fatigues and mock AK-47s.
More to the point, when my own girl makes her daily beeline for the dress-up corner of her preschool classroom — something I’m convinced she does largely to torture me — I worry about what playing Little Mermaid is teaching her. I’ve spent much of my career writing about experiences that undermine girls’ well-being, warning parents that a preoccupation with body and beauty (encouraged by films, TV, magazines and, yes, toys) is perilous to their daughters’ mental and physical health. Am I now supposed to shrug and forget all that? If trafficking in stereotypes doesn’t matter at 3, when does it matter? At 6? Eight? Thirteen?
Orenstein tries to make the argument that playing dress-up and being obsessed with princesses will hurt girls’ self-esteem by making them feel like they always have to be thin and pretty. She tried to link the effect of playing with princesses to both eating disorders and obesity.
Princesses do neither, but instead encourage girls to reach all their potential, even on a basic aesthetic level. Most grown women would tell you that they feel their best when they’re dressed and groomed well, not when they’re running around in sweatpants and unwashed hair. Companies want not only competent employees, but ones that present themselves well. If princesses excel in one area, it’s presentation. Who wouldn’t want a daughter who takes prides [sic] in both her mind and her appearance?
Turns out the princess phenomenon has jumped the pond to, you know, that place with actual princesses and princes. I think they call it Great Britain:
Some mothers I spoke to were worried about the messages that pink princesses have been whispering in their tiny children’s ears. One little girl had said: “You couldn’t be a princess, mummy, you’re not the right sort of person. You’re not beautiful.” Another child, half-Indian, believed that princesses wear white because they have white faces, not brown. Although, the same child is also the proud owner of a Disney Jasmine doll—one of three ethnically diverse Disney Princesses—and she added that if princesses did have brown faces they would just have to wear blue instead. One mother told me, “When I was her age, my parents were buying me stethoscopes and space Lego, but my daughter is only interested in tiaras and make-up. What have I done wrong?” She fears letting her daughter out in public in case she is castigated for letting down The Cause.
My daughters have gobbled up the irresistibly sparkly princess bait, hook, line and sequined pink sinker. Where do you stand, Readers? Mired knee-deep in the bog of “The Cause,” or shrugging and sprinkling Princess Dust from the jewel-encrusted towers? Or wandering somewhere in the Ambivalent Forest of In-Between?
And here’s something I’ve been wondering daily: Is there an equivalent obsession for little boys?
Help me out here, or I’ll have to go back to writing about my true topic of expertise.