Raising Our Daughter in an Anti-Princess Home
When we found out that we were having a little girl, my husband and I decided that we would raise her as a tomboy. No Disney princesses, no Barbie dolls, nothing overly frilly, sparkly, and bejeweled. We shared our plans of raising our daughter in a non-stereotypical way with the rest of the family, just to keep things consistent and avoid any mishaps.
Surprisingly, going the anti-princess route was quite unpopular... I thought it was odd how the grandparents (and even a great grandparent) argued and fought with us over not being able to potentially gift a Barbie to our then one-month-old baby. When she was a bit older, our friends looked at us as if we were aliens when we told them she hasn't seen Frozen.
You're probably thinking the same thing: That's overkill. There's nothing wrong with being a girl. You played with anatomically incorrect dolls and turned out fine. But we had good intentions:
Let Kids Be Kids
The plan wasn't to suppress her or deny her a life of pink tutus and glitter... In fact, it was the opposite! We wanted her to live a very wholesome, full life. We wanted her to be well-rounded. We wanted her to be a kid. Instead of focusing on her appearance and pretty things, we wanted to immerse her in sports, enjoying the great outdoors, music, and art.
My husband was a bit more intense. His argument was that these princess toys and movies send subliminal messages that set girls up for failure. Rather than giving them a choice to discover what they like, going the princess route will brainwash them and lead them on a straight path to Spring Break.
We wanted our daughter to have a strong sense of individuality – not to be a hip and ~*unique*~ special snowflake, mind you. If she ever ends up liking princesses in the future, that was fine! We just wanted to make sure it was because she really, truly liked them, and not because she felt pressured to fit in.
Poor Little Girls
I have a problem with gender specific toys in general – I mean, boys' toys have their own share of problems – they stereotype our little dudes into vehicle-loving, aggressive, and VIOLENT macho men . . . But at least they teach them confidence, street smarts, and sticking up for themselves!
What do princess movies and dolls teach? Superficiality. Caring a whole lot about how you look and what you wear. Waiting for someone to save you. The worst part for me is the romance aspect – seriously, what business does a 2-year-old have knowing about the dos and don'ts of nabbing a husband (whether it's a prince, beast, pickpocket, whatever)?
She was going to be exposed to all these things as she got older anyway – we just wanted to introduce her to a variety of things now, while she was young and a bit naïve.
So Far, So Good
As she was growing up, we'd enroll her in different classes such as gymnastics, soccer, and art. Dad would take her hiking and running, while I taught her how to paint, bake, and work in the garden. She had a wide range of activities and interests – everything was going according to plan.
And we didn't deny her of girly stuff, either. My Little Pony was her jam – we got her all the ponies and unicorns of Equestria. She loved building things with her Goldie Blox set, a must-have for budding female engineers. She even became fascinated by jewelry (one of our huge no-nos at first), but we were able to turn it into an interest in gemology – taking her to the farm to pan for gemstones, getting her those Smithsonian gem mining and crystal growing kits, and visiting the Natural History Museum to look at precious gemstones and other shiny rocks.
The Preschool Problem
Everything was fine and dandy until she entered preschool. Girls were already seasoned viewers of Disney movies, and had memorized all the names, outfit details, and songs. She felt left out. She didn't really fit in with all the girls' games, and the boys were a little too rowdy for her taste. Having access to the racks of princess dresses in her classroom opened up a new world for her – she would beeline to the dress-up section every morning, put on the frilliest dresses, and refused to take them off all day. She became obsessed!
The other girls had already been immersed in the princess world, so now it was no big deal for them. They were moving on and trying other things. For our daughter, it was like crack! You know what they say: You always want what you can't have. And because she wasn't "allowed" princess-anything, she couldn't get enough of it.
And So It Begins...
Rather than focusing on doing artwork and projects, she'd be fighting with girls daily over the Elsa dress, or arguing with the teacher about taking off the Tinkerbell dress when entering the chapel. We were still adamant about keeping her off the princess lifestyle, so she started sneaking and lying to us too.
Another thing that was very wrong with this anti-princess fiasco was that we were bombarding her with so much negativity – "Princesses are LAZY, MEAN, and STUPID!" There was a lot of labeling. We were teaching her to judge people based on their appearance and interests. But her princess-loving friends weren't lazy, mean, or stupid. They were sweet, clever girls – we were sending mixed messages, encouraging her to play with these girls, but talking bad about them at the same time!
Now that she had been exposed to the world of princesses (and it was stupid of us to think she'd be immune to it), it became a battle of no’s. A lot of tears were shed. We tried to buy her more ponies to compensate, but she wanted Elsa. The worst part was that in my determination to buy her something non-princessy, I bought her a rock star My Little Pony girl (pretty much a Barbie with a pony face), that was simply put... completely inappropriate. I'm talking mini skirt up to the cooter, fishnet stockings, face tats, and all. There's clearly something wrong here.
In the end, we decided on a new game plan. We'll allow princessy things at home, as long as we screen everything (still no romance!). We'll go ahead and buy her dolls and dresses, even before she asks for them. We'll let her get it out of her system so she'll start branching out.
Surprise, surprise. It worked. Those first few months were a blur of pink and glitter – my husband almost had a heart attack. But soon after that (okay, not that soon, but it happened), she got tired of it. She still loves her dolls and puts on a princess dress a couple of times a week, but now she's into drawing, karate, swimming, ninjas, and Pokémon. She fits right in with the girls and boys – but best of all, she's also totally content with playing all by herself.
The Moral of the Story
What I've learned from this: Balance is key. After all, we were trying to raise her to be well-rounded. Trying to force her to be a tomboy wasn't the answer.
Also, we learned not to be so oblivious – we need to prepare our kids to face the world and everything it has to offer – not shield them from it!
If I could have a do-over, I'd be more relaxed about the whole thing. No, I still wouldn't have encouraged princesses and all that, but I wouldn't have made such a big deal about it, either – which is what made it so enticing in the first place!
I'm still not letting her wear nail polish til' she's ten, though.
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