Thoughts On: Disney Princesses

Thoughts On: Disney Princesses 1A few weeks ago, I overheard Tim reading "Sleeping Beauty" to our 3-year-old.

I couldn't help but smile as I eavesdropped on their book reading session. Tim kept adding in commentary every page or two, "...And then - This is crazy! - the prince fell in love with the princess before he even talked with her!"

I've mentioned the Disney Princesses once or twice on my blog and I wanted to clear up a few things:

A. We own almost the entire collection of Disney storybooks, courtesy of a family member. The Lion King. The Jungle Book. The Emperor's New Groove. Aladdin. You-Name-It-and-I-Think-We-Have-The-Book.

B. We have a few Disney princess-themed toys that we've received as gifts. The Disney Princess play phone is a particular hit with both of girls. Yesterday my 3-year-old called Snow White to tell her in no uncertain terms to "NOT EAT THE APPLE FROM THE BAD LADY."

Thoughts On: Disney Princesses 2C. My 3-year-old has an absolutely beautiful Cinderella Dress that she likes to dress-up in every once in awhile. Usually, she'll wear it for about 10 minutes...and go to dinner at the castle and fight bad guys (because, apparently, those are the two things that princesses do).

D. We love visiting Disneyland with our girls - such a magical, happy place.

All that to say, we certainly don't have anything against Jasmine, Aurora, Belle, Ariel, Cinderella, and Tiana. In fact, all of them exhibit some very admirable traits in the above stories - goodness, kindness, gentleness, and self-sacrifice (those are certainly all qualities that we want our girls to aspire to).

We encourage pretend play and like to let our girls lead the way as their interests develop (with a little bit of guidance sometimes...). Princesses included.  :)

The reason that our girls don't know all of the princesses is because they haven't watched the movies and, up until recently, they found the stories to be pretty scary. And I don't blame them. Dragons, witches, spinning wheels, sorcery, and death are pretty heavy subjects for toddlers and preschoolers.

Also - Tim & I aren't particularly fond of the weak, dare-I-say-airheaded characters and dysfunctional relationships that are central to the princess stories. Not to mention the fact that the shows have strong messages about beauty and physical attractiveness as a means to success and as a synonym to good character. I'd rather not go into detail about all that because it's already been written about extensively by others [See: What Disney Princesses teach girls for a brief visual overview].

Summary: We have Disney Princess-themed things in our house. We read the stories. We'll probably eventually watch the movies (and our 3-year-old will probably love them).

Thoughts On: Disney Princesses 3That said, we don't actively encourage a fascination with the characters. We also often have conversations about the messages - both positive & negative - that are within the stories. We call a spade a spade and tell our girls when the characters are witless, the plot is unrealistic, or the subtle lessons are harmful.

I don't mind if my girls play princess, but I DO mind if their little minds are filled with pictures of superficial love and super-skinny bodies. When it comes down to it, I'd much rather my girls be riding bikes, painting pictures, baking cookies, and helping people than watching "Snow White." By a long shot.


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43 comments on “Thoughts On: Disney Princesses”

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  2. My girls do love the Disney Princesses, but we also make sure it's a conversation and not a strange obsession. We do as much as we can to teach them reality from fantasy, to teach them about the importance of character over beauty, and to teach them true love and not "we've known each other for three point four seconds" love. We try to balance it well, but allow them to love it all if they want to.

  3. When our daughter was young and going through her Princess obsession phase (I can't believe that she is old enough to have out grown it! When did my baby girl get to be 10 year old?) We used it as a chance to teach manners (would a princess chew with her mouth open? How would a princess sit?)and how to be "like a princess".

    We also taught her that as a daughter of God she is like a princess. He is the greatest King and we are all His children.

  4. I am so sad that my girls (aged 10 and 8) are past the princess phase now. They loved to dress up and play pretend. I never had a problem with the princesses or the Disney movies (loved them myself as a kid) and my daughters so enjoyed them, too.

  5. Ya know? I have to tell you, I learn so much from you all the time. I'm always concerned with the things I want to teach my kids, and feeling GOOD enough to be able to teach them these life lessons, when hello? I'm still learning them myself.

    Capri has never seen a disney movie, and I don't really encourage the whole disney thing, but she does have a few things, and I let her enjoy it, and we are going to disneyland in December for her birthday. But, I will remember to teach her the better lessons (like the ones you have mentioned), then the one's portrayed in the Disney Princesses messages.

    Great post!

  6. What a great topic to discuss. My thoughts differ from yours in many ways but I also think it is wonderful that you feel the way you do.

    I remember growing up when we got to go see the Disney Princess movies in the theater on the 7 year rotation. So we saw them when they were in the theater, no matter our ages. As soon as they were out on VHS, I started collecting them (again only as they were available during the 7 year rotation). Because of my love for the Disney Princesses, my girls have grown up on them. Ivy often dresses up like Snow White and Jade embraced Sleeping Beauty (as they are the princesses they think they look the most like). I love that Disney doesn't sugar coat life - there is evil and it is a challenge for the good to win the fight. I have never looked at the princesses as their beauty makes them successful. For example, one of the many messages of Snow White is that pretty is as pretty does. What makes Snow White so beautiful (more so than the queen) is because of her love and goodness. The more wicked the queen becomes, the uglier her countenance.

    For my high school graduation, my brother and sister gave me the VHS of "Little Mermaid" and I couldn't have been more thrilled.

    I think that we can decide what part of a story or character we want to focus on and then emphasize that with our children.

    As far as Disney Princess toys? we have the little polly pocket princesses and have spent HOURS playing with those. We have the complete box set of princess stories- that the girls rarely turn to. They prefer Doctor Seuss and books from my childhood. And we have one princess baby doll- that never gets played with.

  7. Meh. We made it until about 2 1/2 before Disney entered our lives via some hand me down story books. My in laws brought them into our lives a little more. I'm not anti-princess...I just didn't want them to be the be all end all focus like I've seen with some girls. Sabrina likes some of the princesses - I'm glad that her favorite is Tiana from Princess & The Frog who preaches hard work to achieve dreams and actually forms a (short) relationship with her prince before falling for him. But Disney is balanced with everything else that interests her so I don't object. We have tutus and fairy wings that the girls play dress up with rather than any princess specific costumes and I'm okay with it all. My oldest is a girlie girl in a way that amazes me but I'm not going to fight her on it.

  8. Great post. I agree. But we do love, love , love Disneyland, we just don't have that much of their stuff or movies.

    1. We are the same way! We love Disneyland - the rides, the music, the shows, the kid-friendly spaces.

      But we're not big into the movies, clothes, toys, etc. In fact, we've gone three times and our girls rarely want to get their pictures taken with the characters. They much prefer to be riding Dumbo or eating an ice cream cone on Main Street. :)

  9. I love the Disney princesses and grew up with them.To be honest, I never even payed attention to the stories as a little girl, fascinated instead with the pictures and the music. Watching my favorite Disney classics as an adult, I say to myself "what is she doing?" Ariel is my biggest pet peeve. To give up everything you have, including your voice, all for a man...I can't believe how literal this story is. She didn't mind giving up her princess status, her family, her life as she knew it just to be something that she didn't even fully understand. I can't stand that story. I love the music though!

    1. Yes! The music in "The Little Mermaid" is quite spectacular (and sing-along-able). ;)

      I especially like "Part of Your World" and "Kiss The Girl."

  10. It's a ubiquitous thing and hard to escape. I'm not a fan of the princesses for most of the reasons you mentioned.

    The only video our tinies have watched is Cinderella. I find the other ones to scary for them (particularly my eldest, who is very sensitive). She does have princess panties which bring her great joy. But other than that, that's it. We don't buy princess stuff and try not to make it the topic of playtime. We don't have the books or stories around. I'm rather anti on character clothing and don't do any of it - not just Princesses but Dora, Winnie the Pooh etc.

    It all feels too commercial to me.

    1. We feel the same way about character clothing. We much prefer our girls to wear clothing that is completely free of characters or brand names.

      That said, we do gladly accept gifts and handmedowns from friends + family. And, as long as the characters aren't offensive/inappropriate, we usually keep the clothes around.

  11. We have some princess things - but my daughter is a kid who is into a variety of things. My thoughts on the books and movies vary - Mulan is our favorite about a girl who pretends to be a man to help her family; but Ariel who marries at 16 and gives up her family?!
    At preschool my daughter has played 'transformers save the princess' with one of the boys in her class!

  12. We don't own any Disney princess stuff, nor has my daughter seen or have we read any of the books to her. I'd rather her not get into any merchandising or any of that labeling. I think it is great that your husband has commentary when he reads to the girls.
    An issue I've had lately is my daughter referring to herself as pretty or having my MIL or husband refer to her as pretty. I don't want labels at all.

  13. I grew up LOVING the Disney Princesses and any other fairy tale characters. But I didn't realize until recently how unrealistic and at times horrible the stories are! I was reading Rumplestilskin to my daughter last week. I don't know how in the world this story didn't scar me for life when I was a kid. The king tells the maiden if she can spin the room full of straw to gold he will marry her but if she doesn't she'll die! What type of message is that!

  14. Oh, and I completely agree with Rena about Lion King! We don't own that one for the exact same reason. Not only does he kill his brother, he does so right after his brother pleads for his life. It is horrible!

  15. We love love LOVE visiting Disneyland, and since people know how much we love it they are shocked by our lack of Disney merchandise. Like you I'm sure we'll accumulate a fair bit as gifts, but we don't buy it and we certainly don't/wont allow the movies until our LO is much older. They're just too scary and I disapprove of the method of preying on kids' fears of being separated from their parents as a way to draw them into the story (a common element of Disney movies).

    It's not just Disney merchandise that we avoid though. We try to avoid anything with unnecessary characters. I think simpler toys leave more room for creativity and imagination.

  16. Princess Princess,our house is fill with lots of princess stuff (From my parents not us)

    I don't mind the make belief, but make sure that our girls knows what is real life etc...

    Our 3 years old love any dress that I put on her, and think she is a princess because of her dress, beside she is a daughter of a King after all :-)

  17. Along the same lines as the sometimes over done and overly "parent pushed" themes on children, I was at the store yesterday picking up a new little cd player and saw a "Cars" TV. So not only would your kid have their own BIG TV but it is in the shape of lightning McQueen. I think most of the merchandising of cartoon products is done for the parents.

  18. I was never a "princess" fan as a little girl - I was more into the real life guts and chutzpah of people like Laura Ingalls Wilder, Anne of Green Gables, and other characters (real and fictional) that dealt with real-life problems that I could relate to (fairy godmothers? I never understood how you got one of those!). That said, I did watch all the Disney movies and enjoyed singing the songs and repeating the funny lines with my siblings and friends. Disney movies/books/themes are definitely fun. But I think your stance is very well-balanced and one I side with. There's nothing wrong with having "princess" stories, but not to excess... esp. when there are so many better literary role-models available.
    What a great conversation starter this post is! :)

  19. I don't mind the Princesses. Paige hasn't watched any of the movies, well, except for Snow White...which she loves. We've read just about every princess book our local library has though! Personally, I love the fairy tale bits. It's just so magical.

    I have to share this w/you. Paige has a collection of dinner plates some w/differnt characters others plain, one morning while waiting for breakfast to cook Paige and I were talking about the princess plate she picked out. There were 3 princess on there, Jasmine, Aurora and Cinderella - when I asked who her favorite princess was she said "Daddy!". LOL, totally cracked me up! So to be sure, I said, "Your favorite princess is Daddy?" She said yes. It's too cute, she loves her daddy so much...and he earned a special nickname. :)

  20. My girls do love the disney princesses and have watched the movies but they are a little older. My oldest is 7 and she did not watch the movies at 3 years old. We did read some stories at that age but they were not the orginal stories that follow the movie. They loved a cinderella story about her baking a cake for a contest (the King's birthday) and the prince was not even in it. By now they have watched all of the movies but when they were 3 or less they watched little tv. My youngest one did watch a little more tv at 3 than her big sister but that was because her big sister was watching it. I agree that the damsel in distress is not something to emulate. My girls are girly tomboys and I like that. I encourage pretend play in whatever form they want. Right now they are into ballet as we just saw Coppelia. Princess to them means being polite, hardworking, nice and helpful while wearing pretty dresses. To me that is something I encourage. We have a book "Polite as a Princess" and we quote it to our girls as it is one of their favorites.

  21. To me Sleeping Beauty is not associated with Disney. It brings to mind magnificent Tchaikovsky's ballet. The book was published by Charles Perrault.

    Snow White is a beautiful tale and was published by Brothers Grimm.

    Honestly, I do not know who the other princesses are. My kids know the stories as original fairy tales, without the name of Disney attached to them.

  22. I never really got the whole princess thing. Growing up, I always preferred painting pictures and baking cookies to playing with princesses. I know some little girls who are obsessed though and if I had one, who knows, maybe she would be the same. I kinda prefer pushing Thomas trains with my son all day so that works for me!

  23. Editing it all & taking teaching moments is the way to go!
    We do have a lot of the Disney movies that aren't my favorites. But, Nana saved them for her future grandchildren & bestowed the massive movie gift upon us. I am thankful she is saving her favorite (Little Mermaid) for her daughter's kids. (I hate Little Mermaid...)
    My favorites are Beauty & the Beast & Enchanted. I think those show more of a real love. None of the Snow White "falling in love" silliness! (Scott is always telling Gillian what a weak, wimpy girl Snow White is. Ha!)
    I really appreciate what Rosie Girl has shared about basing imaginative play on general themes. Movies & characters leave such little room for creative play. It just turns into mimic-play.

    1. I enjoyed "Enchanted" too! It was comical and romantic and full of optimism - (even if it was a bit corny). Sometimes I wish I could just burst into song and choreographed dance out in public like the characters in that film do, don't you? :)

  24. While I am not a fan of ANY Disney in general, I don't ban it from the house either. However, Lion King will not be showing in my home! Brother killing brother for power??? EEEK! We did watch the Princes and the Frog once. It is the last time. I spent much of the time hiding my terrified children's eyes.

  25. Our girls are 7 and 5 now, and went through the 'princess' phase through no prompting of ours. We aren't big into the commercial nature of the franchise, and aren't interested in the slightest in visiting Disneyland/World.

    Like your girls, they received a few Disney princess gifts and dress-up clothes from family and friends. Isa, especially, loved the clothes and the 'click-clack' shoes, as she called them.

    Still, the clothes were used rather interchangeably (the Belle dress with the Cinderella shoes, for example), and I added some generic dress-up clothes that I sewed for her, and threw in some scarves to dilute the Disney effect! Now Isa is more into fashion-designing as she dresses up Ina and send her down the 'runway' for her fashion shows.

    As for the movies, we've watched and discussed them, and they weren't that enamored of them, except for Mulan, whom they *adore*! And I am okay with that. For one, she is a historical figure, and the story lends itself to some good discussion about Chinese culture and the role of women at that time. For another, Mulan is a good role model, who honors family, works hard to succeed, is brave, and is smart.

    All that said, I was a huge fan of fairy tales as a child. I had (still have!) huge volumes of Russian fairy tales, Italian fairy tales, etc. They were so fantastical! (Must have been a little of Anne of GG in me!) So I am okay with princess fairy tales in general. My issue is with Disney's monopoly on fairy tales. I don't want my daughters to think Sleeping Beauty only looks like Aurora, or that Cinderella always has mice and birds as friends. There are some lovely fairy tale books that tell these same stories with incredible artwork. I seek those out for Isa, with her artistic sensibilities!

    1. I agree about Mulan. She is noble, brave, strong, and kind. Sadly, she's rarely marketed as one of the "Disney Princesses." In fact, she gets very little attention (hmmm...that could be a post in itself).

      Thank you for being so intelligent and intentional about your choices (parenting-related and otherwise). I'm so glad our paths crossed in Phx years was truly a privilege to work w/ you.

  26. We own a few of the Disney Princess movies.And we have put them away for awhile. I sat down and watched Sleeping beauty with Olivia just last week and I turned it off. I had completley forgotten how dark that movie is. I don't want to fill my sweet innocent little girls mind with Demons, Dragons and the phrase "And all the powers of hell" We have not seen Princess in the Frog and I don't think we will alot of people have told me how much it scared their girls. We have a few of the books and Olivia has some other princess items. We are much more fond of the Pixar films and the Disney animal movies like Jungle Book and Lion King they seem to be less dark.

    We are in the middle of reading Dr. Dobsons "bringing up girls" and he has a chapter basically set aside for the "disney princess controversy" he brings in both sides and there is good points to each.

    Veggie Tales is the hit in our house and one that we know we can always put on leave the room and not have to worry about what they are hearing and seeing

  27. I actually have banned Disney at our home. For one, I am not a "character" type of person. I don't want to see it on their clothes, read it in every book, and watch every movie. I feel like there are alot of better books, cuter clothes, and educational movies that we could watch, than Disney stuff. Also, the link you shared pretty much sums up why I will not allow it in my home. Just my personal thoughts on it, but I appreciate you sharing yours as well.

  28. We are very much like you guys on this topic. We actually don't own any of the Disney movies that involve princesses. We have borrowed a few Pixar movies that my kids LOVE, like Finding Nemo and Cars. Analise was first introduced to princesses in a FABULOUS book that my friend Sara gave to us when she was born. Another first impression of a princess is Princess Pea from the PBS show Super Why. Princess Pea is smart with the power to spell!

    We have quite a few of the Disney princess books that were given to us too. I find myself editing quite a bit of it too. Some of the parts are scary and harsh. Some of the words are harsh. While we do teach our kids about the reality of bad choices and death, I don't want them to have to hear the words 'hate' and 'kill' in a bedtime story just yet! I will say is an innate thing for little girls to be drawn to pretty pink princessy things. We didn't have any of that in our house, but where ever Analise would see it, she was immediately drawn to it. Needless to say, in the last year we have acquired quite a bit of princess things!

    The book I mentioned above is called The Princess and the Kiss. I highly recommend it!

  29. I have a 3 year old who loves all of the Disney Princesses. In fact it wasn't until watching Snow White that she became obsessed with helping to clean off all the tables. And Thanks to Snow White she loves to sing!
    Every time we pass a princess toy/book/clothing item she of course wants it, but she also just wants and thinks that anything that is pink is hers or should be hers. Does that mean we get it for her? Of course not, but I do think it is cute that she gets so excited about things!
    Just like when my little boy gets so excited over flashlights and screwdrivers. It is fun to watch children grow and develop into little beings that are one day going to be able to make all of their own choices.
    I doubt my princess with still be obsessed with princesses when she hits 3rd grade, but until then I will let her be and enjoy having and watching her be a little girl, because she won't always be.

  30. Boy, the princesses are a real personal struggle for me. I'm sure my girls would laugh if they knew just how much the princess-theme bothered me. Silly princesses.
    Although we've contributed to our daughter's toys by giving them one set of princess stories (received for free from neighbors), and I did pick up the golden story Disney classics (Jungle Book, Peter Pan, etc.)...for the past four years, over half of the gifts our two girls have received have been from the Disney princess line. So many princess items. Ironically, we don't have a TV and occasionally watch a children's DVD for fun to limit advertising, etc., and yet we've already received to date the following princess items: Pajamas, books, videos, barbie dolls, dress-up, high heels, tiaras, necklace, ring, panties, t-shirts, sweaters, jacket, a hat, a scarf, stickers, cards, socks, photo albums, figurines, and a bouncy ball. With these items in my home, I feel like my girls turn into walking advertisements. It makes me very uncomfortable.
    For me, the princesses don't spark the imagination as much as concepts in general (royalty, farming, insects, horses, etc.). Lately it's been, "My shoes aren't yellow like Belle's" rather than, "I'm going to imagine that I'm Belle right now." That saddens me. I'm big on open thought processes and dreaming, especially at this age.
    So, although I don't find that I'm completely opposed to the princesses, I've now 'disappeared' so many gifts that it feels odd at times, but it preserves my sanity and a reasonable level of 'advertising' in the home.
    Honestly, I wish Disney could mix it up a bit and advertise more of the animal characters again in display of personality types rather than the whole princess line. Heck, I loved dogs when I was a little girl. Not a specific dog character, but dogs in general. I miss that type of simple enjoyment. It's endless in ideas and doesn't promote a specific ideal of something that is unfortunately also unattainable for our girls and little children.
    Great post by the way. I really enjoyed it!

  31. I appreciate your thoughts, Stephanie. If I had little girls I would exercise the same caution with the princess stories, as well as with Barbies, etc. I have a little boy, so my battles are a little different [like fully encouraging his boyness and embracing and guiding his ultra-high energy in a way that does not encourage violence, reckessness, etc.]. As parents, I think that being involved and aware and available to comment and give guidance as our children play--and deeper discussion as our kids grow--is a vital piece of the puzzle :-) I absolutely love your husband's commentary while reading "Sleeping Beauty"!

  32. I should add that when we go for free, we dont get to do much other than eat ice cream, and work around! But I want her to enjoy it, which means, we really have to prepare for all the different themes, and visit all the princesses she loves...i dont know if i want to do that yet

  33. My daughter has a few them too. I actually read "The Princess and the Frog" to her, since she has a lot of froggy things, so i tell she is the princess! We lived one hour from disney when i was in school, and i get to take her for free since my friend works there! She is captivated by the beauty.

    But Sleeping Beauty is one of my favorites, we read it in school when I was in Nigeria. I loved it as a child.

    I am thinking of taking my daughter to Disney, I just don't know if its the right time. I see babies her age go there, doing nothing and getting beat by the sun. I don't want that to be her. I'm thinking of waiting till she actually begs to go, its probably going to be fun that way.


    PS - I followed you on twitter yesterday!

  34. I was right where you are... 4 years ago. Except we've never been to Disney (land or world) and really, it's kind of down pretty far on our "places we want to go" list.

    Now though, we have some of the movies, a lot of the books, and... the very first movie I took our 6 year old (now 7) to was The Princess and the Frog. Um, SCARY! She sat in my lap for 1/2 the movie. She loved it, but still... isn't there a way to tell the story without scary, loud voodoo?!

  35. If we have girls, the Disney princesses won't ever make it as a central theme in our home. I'm not going to ban them. In small doses, properly explained, I think they are harmless, but I get uncomfortable with the idea of any future daughters being obsessed with them.
    That being said, Levi was smitten with Snow White for the longest time. He thought she and I were one in the same. I think it was the dark hair. Mostly we read the book. He watched the movie a few times, and loved it...until recently. Fear has set in, so we don't watch scary, evil witches anymore.

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