It started slowly: a “Let It Go” lyric here and there, a preference toward anything pink, and a squeal of excitement when she saw a princess doll in the toy store. And then it gained momentum: demands to listen to Disney music on the stereo, a refusal to watch movies without princesses, and then actually cutting her own hair to imitate the hair cutting scene in Tangled.
I can now say with certainty: my four-year-old daughter is obsessed with princesses, and I am mostly to blame.
When my daughter was around two, I first introduced her to the Disney princess movies. As we viewed them on rainy afternoons when she refused to nap, I sang along with Ariel and Belle and did silly dances to all of the songs. She was intrigued.
We moved on to the newer movies, and I enjoyed them just as much as she did at first. And then we watched them again. And again. And again. I am ashamed to admit how many times she has watched Frozen or Tangled.
For her third birthday, she received her first dress up outfit (Elsa), which quickly became part of her daily wardrobe. Her fourth birthday party was an explosion of pink, glitter, princess cupcakes, and pretend jewelry.
I’ve tried to tamp it down. Really. I love a good happily-ever-after story, but I don’t want her to grow up thinking that is the only story line out there. I don’t want her to believe that the only way to happiness is a pretty dress and a boy.
She plays in the mud, chases soccer balls, wrestles her brother, puts puzzles together in record times, but does it all while wearing one of her princess dresses.
We talk about growing up and having a job she likes and can be proud of. She says she wants to be a dam engineer like her daddy, so I tell her she needs to be good at math. “What’s math?” she asks. “It’s counting numbers,” I explain simply. She immediately goes off to count how many princess figures sit on her shelf.
I will admit, perhaps it has gotten out of hand …
At Disney World last month, I allowed her to get her face painted like a princess, which also included some sparkly lipstick. I didn’t know that a simple smear of pink on her lips would initiate a fixation with her looks and how other’s perceive her.
Throughout the rest of the day, she kept turning her purple, sparkly face up to mine, gesturing to her lips, and asking in a worried voice, “Is it still on?” I have never seen her care so much about her appearance. Sure, she has always loved a pretty dress, but usually it is accompanied by her muddy sneakers and her wild, uncombed hair.
And then later that day, she commented, “Everyone is going to think I am so pretty. All of the boys are going to want to dance with me?”
What? I was floored. I didn’t even know how to respond. All of the boys are going to want to dance with her? How did this happen? Have I let her watch Cinderella one too many times? Have I inadvertently caused her to think that beauty is the only thing that attracts, that holds value?
Up until this point, I had thought that through our pretend games and conversations, and the books we read I was showing her that beauty is not the most important trait to possess. Perhaps, I hadn’t made it clear enough?
During the rest of the trip, I tried to emphasize positive character traits and not physical traits. Whenever she referenced her appearance, I made sure to respond with an “Oh, but remember, it is being kind that is more important” or “Wow, you are so smart and that’s what is really impressive.”
And then today happened. On the way to the store, she stayed busy in her car seat draping herself in various pieces of pretend jewelry and humming a happy tune. When we arrived, she whispered excitedly, “Everyone is going to think I am so beautiful.”
I cringed. Not again! “Yes, you are beautiful, ” I quickly responded. “But remember, it is the beauty inside that is most important.” She looked at me quizzically, so I further explained, “You know like being kind and happy and smart and funny.”
“But, Mom ….” she whined (there is always a “But Mom” these days!), “People can’t see it if it’s inside.” She fluffed her hair for good measure.
“But they can see it through your actions,” I lectured. “And, that is most beautiful. What is inside, not outside.”
She paused for a moment. Her eyes lit up. “Mom, you gave me a great idea!” she squealed. She opened her mouth, and I thought she was taking me literally by showing me the inside of her mouth. But then a song came out. Yes, it was a princess song. Yes, it had something to do with falling in love. But through her song, she was showing me what she considered to be the most beautiful part of herself – her song, her voice, her happiness.
If beauty to my four-year-old girl means having the confidence to sing loudly and out of tune in a busy parking lot, then perhaps this princess obsession isn’t so bad.