Princessification: Phase or Lifestyle?

by Leslie Morgan Steiner


I have two daughters. Between three to five both went through utterly insane “princess” phases. You know, periods during which they SLEPT in the itchy blue Cinderella dress and showered in the excruciatingly painful, lethally-slippery glass slippers (which were actually made out of plastic)?


Apparently my girls are not alone. They are part of an American marketing tsunami, according to a smart new book exploring the “princessification” of American girls: Cinderella Ate My Daughter. The author is Peggy Orenstein, who also wrote Waiting for Daisy and Schoolgirls. Orenstein lives in Berkeley, California, and has received awards from the National Women’s Political Caucus of California and Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Most definitely a feminist expert on all things girly-girl. The book is filled with thousands of words exploring the innumerable ways marketers sell princess products. The sexualization of girls by the media. The complicity of parents.


The seduction and deception perpetrated by young tv idols like Miley Cyrus, Jamie Lynn Spears, Demi Lovato and Lindsay Lohan once they surreptitiously hand in their promise rings for stripper poles.


The princess conspiracy cuts far deeper than pink tiaras, Orenstein explained recently on The Diane Rehm Show. Research suggests that obsession with all things princessy might lead to parents’ worst nightmares: an escalation to eating disorders, depression, distorted body image, risky sexual behavior, sexting, Facebook abuse, and lifelong self-esteem issues. Serious problems none of us ever want our children to face.


I’d do anything to help my kids avoid life-threatening psychological problems. I’m not a fan of fairy tales or tv-stars-turned-slutty-celebrities. The baggage outweighs the benefits: Snow White awakens with kiss of a prince; The Little Mermaid gives up her voice to be with a man; Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lynn trade god-given talent for teenage excess...It’s hard for an evolved mom in 2011 to champion these pastel fantasies.


However, parenthood and panic don’t mix well. Forget about raising an "ideal" daughter. There is no such thing. Kids are kids. They are not sociology experiments or political statements. Our daughters are not born to prove correct our college thesis on gender warfare.


The princess phase is just a phase (as long as parents don’t become overly invested in toddler beauty pageants or kiddie porn). Perfectly sound, lovely girls do weird things as five year olds, preteens and teenagers. Some measure of these dreaded problems seems suspiciously…normal. Even though many of us moms know, all too well, the pitfalls of princessification, I’m not certain the princess phase is something we should force our daughters to avoid.



My daughter loves princess stuff. She has a few Barbies, and I probably went a bit overboard this Christmas when I got her the complete set of Disney Princess dolls. She loves to do princess things with them - tea parties, dancing, talking fancy. So far, none of her princess games involve falling in love with the prince doll. But, her princess dolls also sometimes go to work. They've had a variety of jobs - including doctor and police.

But, my daughter is just as likely to be asking her older brother to wrestle or fight with Nerf swords. Or to pretend she's a pirate on the high seas or a mountain climber or on a safari.

I don't think it's necessary to completely shelter my daughter from all things princess. Even for those girls that are all princess/all the time, it is usually a phase and eventually they'll be on to the next thing. Disney princesses and other princess things on their own are not going to turn little girls into tween or teen sluts with eating disorders and drug problems. Princesses are just the latest trendy scapegoat for parents to latch onto to explain why kids sometimes grow up to make bad choices. It will just end up giving parents a false sense of security - if I keep all things princess out of my daughter's life, she will not end up a teen mom/meth addict/stripper. As in many things that have to do with raising children, it's not just one thing or one mistake that determines who are children will grow up to be, rather it's a culmination of thousands of decisions and choices by both the parents and the children themselves.


Leslie, as the mom of three girls who were also seduced by Disney's marketing machine, I also believe that the princess phase is just that. However, the issue I have with calling it a phase or focusing on individuality is that it makes it easier to isolate it from a far reaching underlying misogyny that informs much of our culture and our childrens' (boys and girls) perception of the world. People just aren't comfortable talking about it. The newly minted over-the-top hyper femininity is something that parents will either welcome with open arms or use, as you point out, to educate their kids in media and consumer literacy. But, I think that calling it a phase means we're contributing to the idea that there isn't a much broader pattern embedded in the cumulative messages being sent and sold to girls and boys. Great post, thank you! See you soon. Soraya


Beautiful post - exactly capturing my thoughts on the subject matter. Thank you!