So here’s the deal: I’m one of those anti-princess types. I’ve never taken my girls to Disneyland, they haven’t seen the princess movies, and when a princess book is gifted to them I edit the hell out if it, changing words like “pretty” to “smart” or “kind”. Then, after I’ve kissed them goodnight, I toss it in the recycling bin. When my oldest daughter was born I made it very clear to friends and family that there would be no princesses in our house. I flat-out lied and said we didn’t know the baby’s sex to avoid a barrage of pink at the shower. Since she was born I have guided her towards building toys and alternative dress up characters: superheroes, doctors, animals. One day I even came home from Home Depot with a hard hat.
You laugh, but you know what? It’s worked. I truly believe that part of the reason my daughter is a well-rounded individual is because of this mindful curation of cultural influences.
Put simply, I don’t want my girls to grow up thinking that they need to be rescued by a man. I don’t want to set them up for the expectation that life can be handed to you if only you have a pretty face and the perfect dress and a man falls in love with you. These stories often make it challenging to instill the qualities we value: hard work, kindness, generosity and compassion. Positive action.
I don’t want them to think that their self-worth is determined by a prince who thinks they’re beautiful. Living in LA and working in the entertainment industry, my husband and I are all too aware of the way people are judged on their looks alone. The lengths people go to change their appearance is disturbing and the younger the age they are doing it is even more unsettling.
Non-traditional princess stories are preferred: From Free to Be You and Me’s version of Atalanta to the more recent picture book: Not All Princesses Dress in Pink. (Coolmompicks has a nice list of modern princess books.)
That said, it’s been a lot harder since the second daughter entered the picture. There’s more television-watching. Because she’s been exposed at an earlier age, she wants to be in a tutu and tiara all day every day. I find myself loosening the reigns and justifying a lot of the programming: “Well, this story has a strong message about social injustice…” or “That princess really likes to read!” A teacher at our preschool pointed out that Belle from Beauty and the Beast “doesn’t exclude anyone. She’s even friends with a teacup!” Yes!
It’s hard work all this editing, and finding the silver lining and steering them towards the world outside of traditional fairy tales… It’s also hard work practicing what I preach. Yeah. That’s definitely the hardest part.
You might remember how I handled that alligator lizard, when my knights in shining armor (the LAFD) came to my rescue. Or how squeamish I got when it was time to release those snails into the wilderness.
The other day we were saying goodbye to our lovely nanny Ana in the driveway when I discovered a dead baby bird. We hovered around– its body covered in dried blood and a little crispy from being in the hot sun all day. I was careful not to say “gross” or “eww”, but as natural as the nose on my face I said, “Well, daddy will take care of it when he comes home.”
Which is exactly what Pearl said. “Why does daddy have to take care of it? Why can’t you?”
My heart stopped. I’m such a fraud! My daughter was witnessing her closest female role model act like a powerless… princess.
“Because he is the man,” Ana said, matter-of-factly. Oh no. The hole was getting deeper. I needed to do something quick. My daughter’s vision of me and all womankind was at stake.
“No. No, she’s right,” I said. “I got this.” Dammit. Now I have to get this.
And so it went. I got the shovel. I scooped the bird. I shuddered each time that it fell off. (5 maybe? Totally gross.) But I got it done.
Who knows if my choice to do it myself helped shape my daughters’ lives. Two minutes later they had moved on and were drawing rainbows on the driveway in chalk. But for me it was one of those life-changing moments. And as annoying as it can be, I love how our kids force us to be better people.
Scraping bloody bird wings off the concrete with a shovel and dumping it in a trash bin. If I can do that, what else am I capable of?