Affter a tiring week of family sickness, I decided to take my three-year-old daughter Posy* out for a special treat.
I don’t get much one on one time with the little mouse these days and I think she needs it. My big idea was to leave my husband at home with the baby, recovering from a cold.
I would take her to swimming class and then straight off to see a movie. I’d noticed they were doing classic Disney children’s movies on Saturday mornings at a nearby cinema so thought that sounded good.
This weekend it was Pocahontas, which I thought would be perfect. G rated movies are a bit thin on the ground these days…
So after swimming we headed off. When we got there, a million tiny girls all wearing tizzy fairy princess costumes were milling round in the lobby.
I could see my daughter , in her ordinary clothes, eyeing them off. She said, “Mummy, why are they all wearing their princess dresses?” I made up some bland response but I don’t think she was fooled.
I was feeling a bit ICKY about that but soldiered on, and we bought our tickets and got our Disney Princess Passports (ugh). The ticket person said afterwards there would be craft and face painting. Posy and I thought that sounded pretty okay, so we bought our Malteasers and headed into the theatre.
When we found our seats, we were soon joined by throngs of little girls attending a couple of birthday parties, closely followed by two young women dressed up as fairies. They went up the front and announced a few lucky door prizes.
What happened next makes me feel sad.
The fairy ladies asked all the little girls to come up the front of the theatre. I was a bit suspicious already about it and said to Posy, “Oh we don’t need to go up darling”, but she looked so disappointed I changed my mind. I took her hand and walked her up to the front.
We lined up with all the tizzily dressed girls. I stood behind Posy, in her simple sundress, with my hands on her shoulders, waiting for…something.
I felt uncomfortable.
As we stood there, the fairy ladies announced that they would start the best dressed competition!
I felt my face flush, and I shifted awkwardly, feeling the eyes of the audience on my tiny daughter, as the fairies started walking down the line of little girls.
Slowly, I realised what was happening. One by one, they held their arm over each little girl, as the audience clapped and hooted if they liked her, or didn’t clap and hoot if they didn’t like her.
A mother standing next to us glanced at me as they inched closer to our girls.
“I don’t like this at all,” she whispered.
“Me either. I didn’t sign up for this,” I answered.
I felt sick as they came closer to Posy. I looked at her waiting patiently in line, and I knew nobody would clap for her. The little girls with the parties had cheer squads and my little girl wasn’t wearing a princess dress.
When it was my daughter’s turn, I tried to cover up the lacklustre applause by clapping and woohooing loudly myself.
My heart broke for her. The shame of standing in front of strangers and being judged unworthy can be unbearable.
I was so angry. HOW DARE THEY force this veritable beauty pageant on these tiny girls. The whole world has gone absolutely crazy. I wanted to yell “F*ck you Disney princess bullshit world and your dominant paradigm, fuck you and the horse you rode in on!!!!”.
But I didn’t of course.
I felt hot tears prickling my eyes. I was so bloody strung out and exhausted, and felt so terrible about taking P to something where that would happen. As the movie started, I remembered how tragic the whole Pocahontas story actually was, and as the first rat scuttled on board the ship bound for the New World the tears rolled down my face.
The tragedy of it all was too much for me and it all got mixed up in my head as I wept silently in the dark – colonialism, smallpox, lost love, the degradation of Mother Earth, the oppression and princessification of all the tiny girls in the world by Disney, John Smith’s bad English accent, the guy in front of us and his bad body odour.
I felt deadset sorry for the nice man and his two little girls sitting next to us as I clutched Posy close and sobbed quietly into her hair through the whole film, while she asked things like “But who is John Smith, Mummy?!” and “Who is Pocahontas?” and “Where is Pocahontas’ daddy?” and so forth. I can only imagine how maniacal I looked in the reflected light of the big screen.
Frankly the whole thing left me feeling like I’d been through the wringer. I made myself feel better by writing a letter of complaint and emailing it to the cinema. I can take expensive popcorn, overflowing bins in the toilets and rowdy children in the theatre, but a surprise beauty contest for toddlers I will not stand for.
I trailed out after the movie ended and dutifully lined up with Posy to wait for the face painting. She must have absorbed my gloom because when it came to her turn, she sat silently and morosely staring at the face painter until it was all over. The saddest face paintee in all of Christendom.
*Posy is not Slapdash Mama’s actual daughter’s name.Bio – Sarah McCallan is a writer, working mother and connoisseur of toilet humour. Her hobbies include shouting at the TV, comfort eating and having a good lie down.
Do you think Disney princesses are a bad influence on little girls?