What is it about 4 year-old girls and their obsession with princesses? I thought since my girls don’t really watch television or movies that perhaps we’d escape what I think of as the “Disney Princess” phenomenon. And yet somehow in recent months Isabella is suddenly quite besotted with all things princess.
She tells her imaginary friend, Gina, princess stories while she’s sitting on the toilet. She pretends to be a princess when she plays dress up. One day on the way to the playground she sang a song about maids. Maids who had to dress up like princesses so they could go to the princess party at the castle. (Has she ever had the Cinderella story told to her? I’d have sworn not; but it sounds so much like Cinderella.)
I started writing this blog post a few weeks ago and then got sidetracked and never finished writing out the story about our trip to King Richard’s Faire to see “real princesses” nor did I ever upload the photos that were supposed to go with it. But now I’m returning because this blog post The Dangers of the Princess Culture jogged my memory and spurred me to return to the idea of little girls and princesses. (I just discovered this new blog Barefoot and Pregnant by Calah Alexander, a fellow UDer and T. S. Eliot lover. She’s really fabulous and I’m enjoying reading some of her older blog posts.) In her princess post—and you really must, must read the whole thing and not this excerpt—Calah explains how when she was expecting her first daughter her husband declared in tyrannical fashion that she would not be allowed to have any princess paraphernalia. No tiaras, no big poofy dresses, no princess dolls, no Disney princess merchandise, etc. Also, he decreed that no one was allowed to call her “princess.”
I thought it was a very interesting post indeed with many great insights about the dangers of what she calls the princess culture. I agree thoroughly about the whole Disney Princess phenomenon, it will have no place in my home. And in general I agree about most of what she says about the princess culture. Still, I have come to a different conclusion about how our family will handle it. I do let my girls play dress up and their favorite things to be when they drape themselves in pretty scraps of fabric are the Blessed Virgin, ballerinas and princesses. In fact, I really wish I could afford to buy some high quality dress-up dresses. (I thought I remembered The Darwin girls getting some pretty fabulous ones; but I can’t seem to find the blog post with the pictures.)
I think it natural and harmless that little girls are drawn to pretty things and want to adorn themselves with shiny fabrics, with ribbons and lace, with sparkles and flowers and butterfly wings. God made them with these natural inclinations and it must be some part of his plan that they be this way. My job as a mother is to figure out how to make this natural inclination work for the greater glory of God, how to channel it and direct it. I believe this inclination is not a weed that needs to be rooted out but something that needs to be carefully tended like a plant in a garden, planted by a Master Gardener. So how to best do that?
I have no problems with Bella and Sophie thinking of themselves as princesses; but with this caveat, that especially as they get older I will do a lot of conscious shaping and directing their understanding of what it means to be a princess, which is very much opposed to what much of the world means by “princess”. Although it begins with a love of pretty things, that must not be where it ends for that path leads to a shallow materialism and selfishness and ultimately to the death of the soul. Instead, I want to move beyond the physical appearance of pretty princesses and begin to focus on the moral and spiritual qualities that a princess should have.
When each of the girls was baptized, Fr Murphy, our friend and pastor who baptized them both, told us that by virtue of her baptism each was now a princess, an adopted daughter of the King. To me that is the heart of what it means to be a princess.
A princess is above all someone who loves God—like my oldest daughter’s patron saint, Isabella of France, who was the sister of St Louis King of France and who founded an monastery of Poor Clare nuns and who though she never took formal vows, she also never married and she tried her best to live their life of poverty and chastity. Or like the canonized queens: St Bridget of Sweden, St Margaret of Scotland, or St Elizabeth of Hungary. It means love, compassion, charity, generosity to the poor, mercy and selflessness. It means piety and virtue and the best of femininity.
I suppose my vision of what a princess is was formed by my favorite novel as a child, A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. The heroine, Sara Crewe, is bookish girl and a princess only in her imagination. To her being a princess doesn’t mean lording it over the other girls in her boarding school but being unfailingly generous, gracious and kind to everyone, even the servants whom no one else notices, to the other girls that dislike her and torment her, and to the headmistress of the school who is tyrannical and unloving to her. Sarah never holds a grudge but always forgives those who harms her. When she loses all she has and is almost starving, she still shares the last of her rolls with a poor beggar girl who is even worse off than she is. Then when Sara is adopted and finds new wealth, she remembers that beggar girl, hunts her down to share her good fortune with her.
And of course the ultimate princess is Mother Mary, Queen of Heaven, Queen of Angels, the lady clothed in the sun with the moon and the stars beneath her feet. She is the queen of Psalm 45 arrayed in gold of Ophir. When my girls imagine themselves as princesses, I hope they will always be following in her footsteps.
Still, for now they are four and two. So we indulge them in ribbons and lace and faux jewels. And when a few weeks ago Dom got a chance to get discount tickets to the local Renaissance fair, we decided to take the girls so they could see “real princesses.”
They loved the fair and enjoyed the “Princess Academy” where they learned how to curtsy and pick up their trash. And while they adored the pretty spangled butterfly wings we bought for them, Bella still alternates her fairy wings with a blue mantle made from the picnic blanket. Mary still holds a pride of place in Bella’s imaginative heart. As well she should.
I do hope that no one takes anything I’ve written as a criticism of Calah and her husband and their princess embargo or of anyone else who decides that princesses are not for them and have no place in their household. Had I not so many positive associations with princesses, I might have leaned in the same direction instead of merely banning Disney princesses. Also, no implied criticism of those who do embrace all princess, even those of the Disney variety. Do what works for your family and keep you eyes on your own work are always my parenting mottos. I share what works for me and my own thought processes because I enjoy reading about such things when others share them and because writing about stuff is a good way to get one’s thoughts in order. I do hope we can all avoid getting defensive and attacking and just appreciate that parents of goodwill may come to very different conclusions about various prudential parenting decisions. Isn’t it wonderful that we aren’t all the same?
Oh and one last thought: I’ve just recalled that Blessed Louis Martin called his youngest daughter “My Queen” when she was growing up. She of course grew up to be a Carmelite nun and a great saint and doctor of the Church. I’m too tired to figure out how to work it in to what I’ve already written, so let it stand here as a sort of conclusion: St Therese, ora pro nobis.