Friday, October 6, 2017

5 Reasons Princess Culture is Toxic to Girls

It began before I had even evicted her from my body. Loved ones sent us shirts emblazoned with the term "princess." Family members referred to her as such. Books featuring Snow White and Cinderella and scepters began trickling in. By the time our daughter was born, the trickle turned into something akin to a volcanic eruption.

Now that our daughter is a year old, I joke that I spend half of my parenting time beating back princess culture.

Like most parents who opt to avoid the cult of princesses, we've found the people in our lives remarkably resistant. They think it's harmless, or cute, or that we are depriving her of something "natural." After all, as everyone knows, in tribal societies across the globe and across time, princess gowns magically appear on a girl's first birthday.

Except they don't.

Participation in princess culture is a choice. Parents have the right to determine what comes into their home, and we have elected not to allow the cult of Disney princesses to become a part of our lives. We might eventually find this impossible. Parenting is, after all, a long journey of humility during which one is repeatedly reminded how very very very wrong they are. For now, though, we are electing to protect our daughter from something toxic.


We want our daughter to have high aspirations
Being a princess is not a skill. It does not require any skills. It only demands that a woman marry royalty.

It is extremely unlikely that our daughter will marry a royal. We want her to focus her time on cultivating skills that actually matter, and on enjoying childhood. Grooming herself, wearing pink dresses, and fawning over her reflection all take time away from meaningful pursuits. While she stares at her visage, the boys she knows will play with blocks and learn spatial reasoning. They'll put together puzzles and become more logically skilled. They'll play sports and become physically strong.

Princess culture sets our girls up for failure by teaching them to value something most of them can never be. It focuses girls' attention on buying things and appearing a certain way. This has objectively less value than most other pursuits girls can take on.

'Pretty' should not matter
We live in a culture that tells girls their most important role is to be pretty. Doubt this? Consider how often you compliment girls on their appearance, and how often you compliment them on other features.

My daughter hears dozens of compliments on her looks from strangers each day. The boys I know get compliments on their strength or smarts. What message do you think that sends?

Princess culture magnifies this appearance obsession, teaching girls that appearance matters. In our image-obsessed society, appearance does matter, of course. But why make a girl self-conscious so young? And why encourage her to fixate on something she can't control? We should not be urging young children to be pretty.

For more on how the cult of pretty harms girls, click here.

Princess culture harms girls' self-esteem
Study after study demonstrates that telling girls they're pretty is harmful for their self-esteem because it teaches them that being pretty is important. Then they look around and feel they can never compare. Princess culture takes this tendency and magnifies it.

One recent study compared girls who frequently engaged with princess culture to those who didn't. Researchers found no benefits to engaging with princess culture. They did find a correlation between interest in princess culture and poor body image. This suggests that girls with low self-esteem are more interested in princess culture, and that princess culture erodes self-esteem.

Princess culture teaches girls toxic gender stereotypes
Gender stereotypes constrain what girls can do. They tell girls their most important role is to be pretty and submissive. They instruct boys to explore their world so they can be smarter and stronger. Girls who engage with princess culture are more likely to believe gender stereotypes that hold them back. This means that princess culture could subtly undermine a girls' life prospects.

Princess culture sends girls dangerous messages about their parents' values 
Many parents act as if princess culture comes from nowhere. It's true that outside influences affect what kids like. But ultimately, parents decide what comes into their home. They're the ones who buy--or who don't say no to--endless princess costumes and movies.

In many cases, it's parents who initiate a girl's interest in princesses. Some parents think it's cute or natural. It's neither. By telling a girl she should aspire to be a princess, parents are giving their daughters a clear and damaging message: We think your most important goal should be to be pretty. Don't spend time with blocks. Go put on your crown.

Parents control what their kids do. It's why they limit screen time and ban smoking and don't let their kids eat sugar 24/7. Parents can exercise significant control over the degree to which a daughter engages with princess culture. When they don't, or when they actively encourage it, the message is loud and clear.

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