I admit being into princesses does not come naturally to me and I quietly celebrated that my daughter wasn’t interested in them either until we were in the planning her first trip to Disney World where she could meet “the real princesses” and became fascinated by them. Being an educator and an advocate for equality, I found myself resisting what seemed to be the messages that princesses were women waiting to be rescued and once rescued “lived happily ever after”. At the same time I believe my daughter should develop her own opinions, draw her own conclusions and live out her own values. To help, my cousin gave my daughter books such as “Princess Grace” about an African American girl who dresses in the royal garb of her ethnicity and “Princess Smarty Pants” about a princess who rejects preconceived ideas and chooses her own path. My daughter loved the alternative princess books, yet remained intrigued by the glitter and colors of the Disney princesses and we both found it challenging to resist the marketing onslaught surrounding movie releases. Additionally, she needed a common conversational topic with her friends, most of whom were enamored with the princesses, dressing as them for Halloween and wanting to play them on play dates. Thus I began learning about the qualities and values of the princesses to match our own values and found meaningful ways to celebrate their stories beyond how they were defined by, and for, others. I focused on who they are and how they could be highlighted in the stories. I sought ways for the princesses to serve as examples of strength and courage. I wanted to show my daughter the contributions the princesses make to their stories rather than accepting how the stories define them. Though for some it was more challenging than others, I was surprised to find so many ways in which the princesses held similar strengths and values as my daughter including:
Belle enjoys reading and learning. She looks beyond appearance to see the good in everyone and is loyal to her elderly father taking care of him when he is lost in his world.
Ariel believes in the magic of learning from each other and is an environmentalist saving the ocean. She fights to explore her interests, stands for her beliefs and is intrigued by understanding the cultural differences of others.
Mulan believes boys and girls should be treated equally, she supports her family and was responsible for saving China.
Cinderella is patient, a good listener, cares for animals and understands the importance of working together.
Pocohantas believes in helping and respecting the Earth. She listens to nature and values the wisdom of her elders. Jasmine is respectful of others and always tries to do what works when examining a problem. She finds her voice and stands for her beliefs.
Snow White knows how to respectfully enter a community different from her own and sees people for who they are, looking past differences and valuing their gifts.
Tinker Bell, our favorite, lives behind the scenes yet saves her friends. She is determined and shows us size has nothing to do with strength.
Merida, the first to be raised by both of her parents, believes that traditions must be questioned/ a girl’s voice should be heard and self-sufficiency. Merida is loyal to her core for those she loves.
Aurora is curious, wanting to meet new people and have new experiences. She asks questions and wants to learn.
Rapunzel listens to that small inner voice telling her trust her instincts. She is willing to take a risk and to listen to her feelings.
Tiana makes her dream a reality, is unwavering in her confidence in her abilities and contributions. Tiana understands partnership while insisting on equality and pays homage to her ancestry.
Elsa is protective; seeking to distance herself from those she loves to ensure their safety.
Anna is determined; setting her mind to a task she sees it through to completion. Anna balances her determination with a true sensitivity and belief in the power of love.
As we headed to Disney, my daughter was very much looking forward to her first princess greeting and talked excitedly about what she would say when she met them. She noted that almost all of them have animal friends and complemented them on some of the qualities listed. I was grateful when my daughter commented on some of these characteristics to the princesses they each expressed surprise at her different views on them as well as pride in her knowledge and affirming her own sense of curiosity.