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The Princess Effect: Why it Means So Much More Than Sparkles

MERIDA COLLAGE

To my daughter Winter, there is nothing as exciting as the prospect of attending a “princess party.”

For weeks, all she talked about at preschool was attending Merida’s coronation, giddy with anticipation at seeing her join the gilded royal ranks alongside some of her most favorite story book heroines, because being kind to everyone even when they’re mean and having woodland creatures as friends is something she holds in very high esteem.

Her unabashed, four-year-old excitement reminds me how little she still is, and how much I heart that she so easily falls in love with the fanciful, never looking for more than what she accepts as truth.

To her, a princess can be anything and do anything, because we’ve never told her otherwise.

And neither has Disney.

Think about it.

Mulan, Rapunzel, Belle, Jasmine, Pocahontas, Ariel – they’ve all been pioneers, blazing their own trails, breaking free from convention to do what they felt in their hearts was right. Mulan saved China, Rapunzel discovered her inner strength, Belle saw the value in knowledge, Jasmine changed laws, Pocahontas bridged a cultural gap, and Ariel explored an entirely different world.

That in turn, tells little girls they can too.

I think of it as the “Princess Effect,” and it means so much more than just a few sparkles or a glittering gown.

It’s what brings creativity to my daughter’s dress up games, when she pairs Captain Hook’s hat and hook with Cinderella’s dress or wears high-heeled shoes with her brother’s hand-me-down sweats, waving a lightsaber as she goes.

It’s what leads her to go outside and stomp around in the mud wearing a superhero mask with a mouthful of shiny lip gloss on, never once thinking that one can’t go with the other.

WINTER COLLAGE

This is what a real princess looks like. A girl who explores everything the world has to offer while finding her place in it.

And, despite my travels these past few months, I did hear about the whole “Merida makeover” protest, and it made me sad.

When did a smile become a sexual innuendo because of a little lipstick?

As we started packing for Walt Disney World, I watched Winter carefully lay out her tiara and elbow gloves, hemming and hawing over her Cinderella and Ariel costume dresses, leaning her little markered chin on freshly scraped knees, and tried to wrap my head around the fact that parents were protesting a character meant to inspire little girls everywhere.

A character whose bravery and fiery spirit earned her a spot along other strong women in the Disney Princess brand whose stories, personalities and inner qualities (the real hallmarks of a princess, royal or not) have all moved us at some point or another during our own childhoods. Moved us to dream. Moved us to do. Moved us to work hard in the face of adversity.

Princess Effect.

As we stood at the foot of Cinderella castle in the hot Florida sun, her little glittered hand tucked in mine, watching Merida stride across the stage with all the swagger and sunny confidence she’s known for in the film, it was obvious that she was just Merida. Nothing had changed.

As the other princesses demurely waved and blew kisses and made cupcake hands on either side of their fancy gowns, Merida boldly took center stage and hollered, “I AM STRONG! I AM BRAVE! I AM MERIDA! I AM A PRINCESS!”

Yes. Hollered.

In that moment, all the ridiculous comments I’d read about her “bedroom eyes” (um, little girls don’t know what those are – and shouldn’t) and “sultry dress” (this isn’t the 1800s anymore, where women couldn’t even show some ankle), faded away to nothing, because they couldn’t be farther from the truth.

There was no makeover.

See?

MERIDA COMMEMORATIVE TEE

Commemorative tee created in honor of Merida’s coronation. Looks pretty tame to me, people.

Catherine Connors, editor in chief of Disney Interactive, offered an official statement of sorts here, saying, “…that’s all there was: some iterative artwork, created for limited use to celebrate the coronation. The image being circulated was intended for limited product use, and (in a slightly different variation) for the coronation invitation. That image doesn’t represent a ‘new’ Merida replacing an ‘old’ Merida: it’s just another iteration of Merida, who is much, much more than just red curls and a green dress.”

She is still the same girl.

She just fancied up for her princess coronation.

And what’s wrong with that?

Why can’t a girl be both a tomboy and a girly girl depending on her mood?

Why does society want a woman to choose beauty or brains, all the while advocating that women shouldn’t be defined by either one?

And perhaps most importantly, when did we start blaming Disney for not raising our children right?

My daughter will have great self-esteem because of the confidence and self worth I instill in her, the same way I do with my son. Because of that, she sees beauty in Cinderella whether or not she’s in her rags, glamour in Rapunzel’s cropped locks, and reeeally wants Princess Leia to become an official Disney princess too, because hello? She LIVES IN SPACE.

Princess Effect.

Disney simply helps us reinforce – not dictate – the values that we already teach to our children.

No one makes a fuss over any of the leading men in Disney movies, and every single one has a full head of luxurious hair and enviable eyelashes. Where’s the backlash about their uniformly smooth pectorals and broad shoulders set off by well tailored doublets? The outrage over the fact that Donald Duck has been going around sans pants for years? The lobbying for equal rights between Goofy and Pluto?

“Merida is Merida, and the essence of who she is is defined by the girls who embrace her,” Connors goes on to say. “It’s kind of a remarkable conversation that’s been circulating out there in the wilds of the Internet, and it’s very probably a conversation that could only happen in the age of social media — there’s been a lot of hearsay and speculation based a couple of pieces of artwork, presented without a source.”

Presented without a source.

Just because Gaston says eating five dozen eggs every morning is what helped him get biceps to spare, it doesn’t mean parents should start protesting his alleged promotion of high cholesterol and probable support of Abercrombie & Fitch.

Our little ones already grow up so fast. Let them hold on to the magic that comes with believing in fairies and princesses and little birds that wear kerchiefs and shoes as long as they can.

Disney’s “I Am A Princess” video also kind of says a lot:

http://youtu.be/KEn9NAGipxE

 

Photo credits: Pilar Clark, Disney Store (Merida Commemorative tee only)

Read Pilar’s writing from around the blogosphere here, social creatures. And if you’re in the mood for more magic, join her on Twitter, Facebook (here and here) and Instagram.

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