Where does it come from, the Disney Princess mania? Is it in the water at preschool, or just drifting everywhere in an inhalable pink miasma at three year old girl height? How did my daughter, without ever seeing a Disney movie, commercial or toy in our home, come back from preschool one day saying"Mummy, my favourite Princess is Aurora. There are six princesses, and they live in castles and marry princes", with the same confidence and enthusiasm that she tells me "Whales are mammals that live in the sea. They like to eat fish and play. Sharks are not mammals. They are fish that eat other fish". (I'm coaching her to come out with the second statement in intellectual company.). I guess peer influence becomes as important as teacher influence even at this early age.
I'm beginning to understand the lure of the "Waldorf" type preschools, where parents sign a commitment that their kids will not come to school wearing shirts bearing TV characters, or bring politically incorrect Disney merchandise for show and tell. Don't get me wrong, I love the Disney movies; the music, the storytelling, they are enchanting in many ways, but as female role models the princesses fall short. Too slender, too white, too submissive. I see my daughter grasping indiscriminately at every bit of information that comes her way, and fear the power of advertising and the media more than I ever have before. But I don't believe in living in a bubble. I just hope we can do our best as parents to help her filter the fluff from the relevant stuff.
But, as a mother I feel that I should show enthusiasm in the things my daughter likes, rather than tell her who she should be. I do fill her world largely with books and toys of my choosing (one of the bonuses of working motherhood is that I get to go to Target alone, on my lunch break) but I want her to find her own interests too. So we go to the aquarium to encourage her interest in ocean creatures. And I buy her Disney princess costumes to indulge her pink frilly fantasies. At least in her imaginary games she goes off to rescue other princesses (and then takes them to the ball to get married). Even before I got her the costume (a reward for 7 days of not hitting anyone at preschool. She had some challenges when she transitioned), she had already got into the endearing habit of coming home and putting on a new, prettier outfit. Now, every day, she comes straight home and gets into the Aurora costume.
The other day she found another costume, an old Halloween "Bumblebee fairy" one, and asked me to put it on her brother "Geekyboy wants to be a princess too, she said. He's Belle, because this has yellow". I hesitated for a split second about making a spectacle of my small son by dressing him in "baby drag", but decided that it would be rather fun. Geekyboy was game, like any small boy he wants to be just like his older sister. My younger brother (we are two girls and a boy spread over five years) often joined my sister and I in a game of dress up, and in fact for years he was wearing girls clothes when our milkman stopped by to collect the weeks money, so the poor man thought he was a girl, and was quite taken aback when one day my mother called out "Thomas" to the small child in the high heels and purple skirt.
Geekyboy has taken to this game of dress up, anything for attention from beloved big sis, and it has become an evening ritual. I'm not sure now what we will do when halloween comes around, though. If I let the children choose their own costumes I fear Geekyboy will pick something rather more frilly than is usually seen on a toddler boy. Well, I guess we do live in San Francisco, so it is never to early to perfect the drag queen look. Maybe I will even persuade Geekdaddy to break out the dress he used to wear to Halloween in the Castro and we can all be princesses.
My two princesses: