4 June 2013

Disney Princesses in the Heart of Darkness

There are three things in life we know for sure: Death, Taxes and the Disney Princesses. This is what they say, right?

It turns out that not even in the Heart of Darkness can one escape the reign of the Disney Princesses. A few weeks ago Charlotte came home from school with a goodie bag from the pré-maternelle birthday party of one of her little Congolese friends. In her not-so-little bag was lots of candy, strange imported snacks and Disney Princess memorabilia. She went absolutely nuts. Her little sister went absolutely nuts. And then they got into their very first hair-pulling, face-slapping sister fight over who got the princess purse. Adam and I looked at each other and knew there was no turning back.

You see, we live in the Congo. It is very easy to avoid the eye-level princess displays at Target and we don't have to pry our kids away from commercials on TV. But some things are just inevitable, I guess. I blame it mostly on the relatively new South African grocery store, Shoprite. Remember the one I spoke so lovingly of not too long ago? Okay, it's not just Shoprite's fault, Congo's been getting more and more China-made plastic stuff, so it was inevitable. But the princesses have officially found their way to the middle of Africa.

Thank you Shoprite for bringing Sparkle Girlz, My First Baby Princess and Barbie to Congo.

Around the time of Halloween this year, Shoprite displayed a combo tiara/wand princess set at the end of every aisle. Charlotte was totally fascinated. We were less than impressed and said no. So her godmother bought it for her, obviously. Off we went with our 2-year-old dressed as a princess for Halloween. But we made Ani dress as a pea just to temper it.

The princess and the pea.

"Thinking mommies" these days get worked up about a lot of things. Vaccines, breast-feeding, staying at home, going to work, the color pink, the word "pretty," and princesses. To name a few. I think I've decided to sit the princess one out. And if I can be so bold, loop Barbie right in with it.

When I was little I didn't have siblings or neighbors, I had Barbies. Like 50 of them. And the Barbie Ferrari and the Barbie RV, and I'll just stop there before I start missing my Barbies. I can remember being very small and hearing adults discussing the ridiculousness of Barbie. "She's terrible for little girls. They'll just grow up with unrealistic expectations about their bodies."

I thought this was crazy. I had never once imagined that I would grow up to look like a doll. Who wants creeky knees and permanently high-heeled positioned feet?! And then I realized they were talking about the boobs and the legs. Then I got sad thinking of my Barbies with shorter legs because they wouldn't be as easy to hold. They have those long legs and skinny waists for ergonomics, right?

Needless to say, I grew up in Barbieland and I think I ended up relatively secure about my imperfect body. Okay, except for immediately after giving birth. (And when I say "immediately after," I mean for the first year...or three. But I won't blame that on Barbie.)

At this age, Charlotte still consistently says her favorite color is black and when I ask her the names of those 3 princesses on her new purse she says, "Mama, Papa and Falafel" (our dog). So I think we still have a little bit of time to plan our princess strategy.

Kept unchecked, this is where we may end up. From The Pink Project" Jeeyoo and Her Pink Things, 2007. Check out this totally fascinating project here. JeongMee Yoon

I think what I'm most afraid of are the mommies and the judgment involved in the Disney Princess backlash. It's serious, folks. Read all about it: here and here and here.

The other night as I was rocking my one-year-old to sleep, she had a death grip on that damn princess purse (she won the fight). I literally could not pry it out of her hands without waking her up. Ordinarily, I let her keep the random things she clings to as she falls asleep. But this purse has a rope-like strap on it. I started imagining the headlines the next morning. Which is worse: Mom Allows Daughter to Sleep with Strangulation Hazard or Mom Allows Daughter to Have a Disney Princess Purse? It's a draw.

For now, our plan is to avoid purchasing the princess goods ourselves, but not get worked up when they inevitably make their way into our home. Shouldn't we be raising our daughters with the proper sense of self to play with the pretty pink princess stuff, but grow up feeling completely secure in spite of it all? Our daughters are strong and beautiful no matter what. And if they end up thinking those tiny waists and long legs are just for ergonomics, we've done our job.

**I wanted photo documentation of the infamous purse for this post. This morning Mamicho and I turned our house upside down looking for it. It turns out her daughters had (ahem) accidentally carried it back with them to their house. So the Disney Princess Purse and its hypnotic appeal win the prize for the only item ever stolen from our home. And they can keep it.


  1. I guess Charlotte and Ani are NOT fighting over the beautiful little green purse with the bright yellow button that I crocheted for Char. Sigh. Rest assured there will be no pink princess gifts in our house but there is still a huge collection of Annika's Barbie paraphernalia in the basement. And then there's fingernail polish...

  2. I just had an argument with my sister about this. She thinks all this princess obsession is completely manufactured. I think Disney did some market research, realized that girls love sparkly princess and created a bunch of products that only accelerated this pre-existing proclivity. It's still pretty nefarious, but I don't think the created it out of whole cloth. And my sister's daughter is only 1 1/2, so we'll see if she changes her tune.... ; ) (but then again, I only have boys, so what they hell do I know?)

    1. I know Kim, so many moms are talkin' about the Disney Princesses! Maybe it's best to just stick to having boys. Good work.

  3. i'm momma to 5 girls. oldest is 8. i have taken the same approach as you are with the whole princess thing. i do not encourage it, but i don't ban gifts they are given from others. i felt like if i banned princesses they would only become something more interesting... they have watched a few disney princess movies, but not in our house. i've found that they don't care about princesses. when strangers ask "do you LOVE princesses?" (which obnoxiously has been asked way more than necessary) they answer yes awkwardly, like they are supposed to say yes. really they just want to walk around in plastic high heels, but that's as far as it goes.

    1. That sounds extremely healthy! Glad to hear everything in moderation works out.


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