Puzzled by the Princess Craze

Disney never let on if Cinderella had a bad attitude about doing her stepmother’s housework.  She always scrubbed cheerfully. But let’s be realistic: did she choose to scrub floors after moving into the castle?  One morning when I felt particularly overwhelmed with the drudgery of laundry, I asked my then four-year-old to help me fold towels. “Mama,” she said breezily,” princesses don’t do laundry.  They dance!” With that, she twirled carelessly away.  I was spellbound.

In today’s fairytale, princess Super Mom hits the glass ceiling when she discovers that balancing a career and family is tough.  After all, the toilet and the sink don’t care if you have a college degree. At times when I feel glum about housework, I wonder if the message embodied by the princess complex that you can do anything, that your life should be filled with jewels and excitement if you are sweet and good-looking is harmful to girls.  The realist in me fears that girls may feel a pang of disappointment if life isn’t always as easy and hopeful as the Barbie world.

When my daughter entered the princess phase of childhood, I had mixed emotions.  Part of me wanted to oust Barbie as the modern American princess, and the other part was secretly brushing Barbie Rapunzel’s beautiful locks.  I just couldn’t help myself.

But I’ve realized that as a Christian parent, there is a way for today’s modern princess to have her cake and eat it, too.  Where Disney’s happily-ever-after culminates at the marriage of Cinderella to her prince, Christians understand a much deeper marriage relationship between Christ and the church.  This is the love affair people of faith are to emphasize in the home, not the plastic kind.  So as parents, we can strategically use Disney or Mattel metaphors to our advantage.  Here’s how:

1. Model what a true princess is.

If you don’t want your daughter wearing a purple shell bikini as a teenager, then don’t wear one yourself as a mother.  If you don’t want your daughter craving material possessions, then model happiness with what you have.  Whereas psychologists and feminists alike have argued for decades the potential relationship between Barbie’s perfect body image and low self-esteem among girls, mothers have much more influence over their daughters than Barbie or Ariel combined.  Your self-image as a woman can powerfully shape your daughter’s opinion of herself.  So be intentional in your behavior as you model your real-life fairytale for young watchers. Talk openly about the character qualities of your child that make her a true princess.

2. Deal with the concept of “magic” with your child.

I once threw away a princess early reader book that I believed espoused a bad message regarding magic.  In the story, three women decided to bake a cake and sew a dress for a beautiful young friend. Unfortunately, despite hours of labor, they ultimately were displeased with their handiwork.  The cake icing was drippy and sloppy.  The dress looked crooked and the trimmings uneven.  Fearing that their friend would feel disappointed, they cheerfully produced their magic wands to remedy the problem.  Poof! The cake became a bakery-quality masterpiece.  Poof!  The dress became a lovely gown of unparalleled craftsmanship.  Their young friend later received the gifts with delight.

While the superficial story encourages giving, the ugly message underneath is perfectionism. A true friend wouldn’t despise the handiwork of others but rather would receive a gift graciously without criticism.  The worth of a gift is not directly proportional to its appearance or comparison with a perfect standard.  Its magical quality is in the selflessness of the giver.

3. Focus on the redeeming qualities of the princess craze.

The spiritual metaphors within many princess stories provide excellent discussion material for kids. Beth Moore has even written her own Christ-centered allegory for children entitled A Parable about the King, which I highly recommend.  But, being the non-conformist that I am, I sighed when my daughter announced she wanted a Cinderella birthday party. In our house, princesses were somewhat marginalized by astronauts and Elmo.  Nevertheless, we embraced the princess party.

I was determined to uphold the best aspects of the Cinderella story, and, with some creativity, I was pleasantly surprised with the result.  We read the story, passed around a glass slipper, and rang the grandfather clock 12 times.  In the gift bags sent home, I tucked a small thank you note with the following message:

Thank you for coming to our party!  Remember that Jesus’ love makes you a prince or a princess. Galatians 4:7 says, “So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God. Celebrate your inheritance to this marvelous Kingdom that ensures a happily ever afterlife!

We can choose to reject the cultural tide and excommunicate Barbie from the toy chest, or we can choose to emphasize God’s kingdom story by making sure our girls understand exactly how and why Jesus is the true Prince.

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