Why do we force “princess-mania” on our daughters?
My daughter’s head was still smeared with blood and vernix when she was given her first tiara.
I dismissed it as a harmless gesture, still giddy on the hormonal high that often comes in those first moments with a newborn.
But on our third day in hospital the glint of that plastic bling began to irritate me.
And it wasn’t just the tiara.
As I surveyed the room I counted no less than a dozen princess-themed products.
Clothes, books, dolls, even my daughter’s Huggies were plastered with images of Cinderella, Belle and a red-headed Disney damsel I couldn’t identify.
The pièce de résistance was a bubblegum-pink ‘princess’ sign my mother-in-law bought to hang on my daughter’s wall – just to really cement her identity for her.
As I surveyed our room in the birthing wing I vowed to bring more diversity into my baby’s life.
If my daughter wanted to like princesses it would be her choice, not an expectation imposed upon her before she could even speak.
All I had to do was wait until we re-entered the real world where I didn’t need to feign gratitude in the face of craptastic gifts.
Our first proper journey out of the house should’ve been mundane. It was just a trip to a shopping mall, designed to fill in time between naps and nappies.
I had a list of odds and ends to pick up for the nursery, including a few books.
We ventured into a well-known department store and I made a Marge Simpsonesque ‘hmmmmm’ sound as I noticed the kids’ books were divided into shelves for boys and girls.
I live in the country, so our department stores aren’t as varied as those in the city, but I was still gobsmacked at the range of products before me.
Of at least 40 books in the ‘girls’ section, there was not a single story without a princess or a fairy in it. And of those 40, at least 30 featured princesses.
It was then that I realised the princess-mania that engulfs so many of our girls isn’t always optional. It’s a mandate.
And it was then that I decided to write my own stories for kids– ‘anti-princess’ books – to show them that there’s more than one way to be a girl.
My daughter is almost five now, and I’ve never banned princess paraphernalia from our home – I’ve always held the theory that whenever you ban something it immediately becomes more attractive.
What I have done is made a conscious decision not to buy any of it for her myself, but that hasn’t stopped the merchandise piling up.
I don’t blame the gift-givers, however. They mean no harm and are merely buying what’s popular while unwittingly perpetuating the insidious cycle.
I blame the aggressive marketing machine pushing princess junk into our lives with such relentless ferocity.
Sure, I have problems with the narrow beauty ideals princesses embody, the helpless gender stereotypes they often represent and the emphasis placed on finding romance in the storylines they’re a part of. But my biggest problem is the ruthless marketing.
When I was growing up, I loved the Snow White book and film as much as anyone.
I never remember having all the ‘stuff’ that went with it, though. No sparkly polyester costumes, no dwarf figurines, no plastic high heels with bejeweled poisoned apples on the toes.
And that’s because they didn’t exist when I was a kid.
The Disney Princess ‘brand’ wasn’t created until the year 2000.
Since then, it’s become so successful with tens of thousands of Disney Princess products on the market and an annual income of billions, that it’s simply inescapable.
Disney Princess merch easily outsells Star Wars, Sesame Street, and all of the common superheroes marketed to ‘boys.’
Over the years, other companies have witnessed the success of Disney Princess and want a slice of the pie.
Therefore, we’re now living in a world where you can buy a princessified version of virtually anything – bottle opener, ear plugs, mosquito repellant… Google any product with ‘princess’ in front of it and you’ll find it.
So, next time you’re shopping for a girl, think twice about whether their tennis racquet, fishing rod, MP3 player or cupcake oven really needs to be ‘princess-themed.’
And never buy a tiara for a baby.
Samantha Turnbull is the author of the four-book children’s series The Anti-Princess Club, out now (March 2015) with Allen & Unwin.
She is also a mum-of-two, a journalist for the ABC, a slam poet, and a blogger atsamanthaturnbull.com.au/blog