March 5, 2014
Last weekend our family went to Princesses on Ice, and, you guys, I was such a waffling freak about posting it to Instagram, going back and forth as if it was this huge decision that was going to impact the future of my family. It’s like I have a deep, dark secret that nobody knows, except maybe every single person who has come into contact with us in the past six months, but I still feel this need to keep it shuttered from the world.
You see, my daughter is a Princess Addict. It’s true. Try as I might to steer her towards gender neutral cooking toys, or Legos, or even full-on dump trucks, the girl has fallen deep into the princess well and the only way out is up Rapunzel’s hair.
And I was going to say that I was really embarrassed about it, but turns out I still am (as I’m writing this my face is getting hot and I’m feeling very defensive). Because, turns out the whole princess thing is not as pink-and-purple as you might think. At the playground, I often find myself half apologizing to the other moms (“I swear she has a tool bench at home!”) as if her princess gown is one slippery slope away from a starring role on “Toddlers and Tiaras”; other times, when people bow to her on the sidewalk or slow their cars down to say how it’s made their day to see “a princess in real life”, I think, this is the coolest thing ever – my kiddo bringing such joy to total strangers simply by rocking a gown.
And the thing is, she finds such joy in dressing like a princess. The days she wears a princess dress are days when she listens a bit better and is even more excited about the day, a phenomena I liken to when I wear a new pair of shoes – you feel good when you feel like you’re looking good.
Not to mention, she is her mother’s daughter. I like a high heel (you’ve probably heard this before, but I actually did backpack around Europe in heels. Every day I would put on a skirt or dress and wedge sandals, strap on my enormous pack, and head out, many days walking miles and miles until I literally wore inches off of my shoes.); sequins, glitter, and ruffles are daily wardrobe staples; I will probably always be more comfortable in a skirt than pants; I know I spend too much money on my hair and make up, but I love it and enjoy every second of it. No doubt, Alice sees this and emulates it, for better or for worse.
I was also an actress for most of my life, and was a kid who wore a turkey hat around for months after Thanksgiving. As a mom, I probably play dress up with the kids more than anything else and we spend a ridiculous amount of time practicing expressions and talking in accents because that’s what’s fun to me (while her aunt has a tendency to favor crafting, her dad Chase and her grandma puzzles); I definitely have encouraged the dressing up, not matter how subtly, because I play dress up a lot of days in my own life.
Yet, I also have never let the way I look or my heels or skirts stop me from doing anything (see: backpacking around Europe). Dresses can get dirty just as easily as pants, glitter can get a party started, and my sequins have started many a conversation and even a few friendships. If I start to see her princessness impeding her from having fun or moving her in a direction that causes her to squash her personality, I’d start phasing it out.
When I write it all out here, it feels like I’m making a mountain out of a mole hill, as my grandma used to say, but, there’s a real underlying fear here, I think. A fear that too much princess will start your daughter on the wrong track, down a road lined with mirrors and vanity, vapidness, and dependence on a guy. One where you speak unkindly and judge others based on their appearance. One riddled with self-doubt and insecurity, which ends in a sexualized version of femininity and dancing on stage with a large foam finger.
But, that is on her parents (and probably more so on me), not a large corporation or movies or TV shows. It’s my job to show her what it means to be a woman and how to stand in your own confidence and how to know who you are; I have to teach her how to navigate this weird world of womanhood with its Photoshopped covers, and double standards, and, yes, proliferation of pink. To make sure she has plenty of female role models who are staking their claim – aunties who are starting their own businesses and living their passions, friends who are successful at home and at work, and, even princesses who leap and skate and are athletes as well as royalty.
We have to teach her to be thoughtful about how we spend our money and time (on experiences and people over things; on items and adventures which bring us joy). To give her examples of equitable, loving relationships, where you choose your mate for reasons like they make you laugh and push you to be your best self and want to explore life with you. To make sure we’re discussing how we speak to each other (kindly, always kindly) and we’re emphasizing the best way to see each other (with our hearts) and we’re reiterating every night where she’s most beautiful (on the inside).
I don’t think there’s a way over or around this so we’re going to have to go through it, which I’m realizing I’m totally fine with. This is just the first step on the road of figuring out who she wants to be and, turns out, I’m more ready than I’d thought, tiaras and all.