I feel that everywhere I turn I see young girls dressed in pink from top to bottom, sporting tutus and idolizing Disney princesses. Walk into any department store and you find clothes targeting the princess frenzy. One minute I hear surprised adults marvel over their child’s fascination with princesses while the next they refer to their daughter as a princess and buying her every pastel colored item with a princess face on it. As “pretty” as princesses might be, they are typically not very independent. And how can they be? They are expected to wear ridiculous dresses, tiaras and glass shoes while waiting in patience for Prince Charming to rescue them. Once professing their love, they marry the next day, have children (approximately) nine months later and live happily ever after. My parents never referred to me as a princess and I never thought I was one either, so I never dressed like one, or acted “like a princess”. So is the fascination with being a princess inherent in female biology or are little girls encouraged to be princesses? Personally, I believe the latter. I also believe that we have a tendency to displace our wants, needs and beliefs onto our children, ignoring the influence we have over them, while stating that they have the free will to do as they please.
What are the consequences when we treat, dress and expect little girls to be princesses? We teach them to act like a princess should. When I worked with children aged 3 to 5, I regularly noticed the limitations of the princess-child. First, we have limitation of movement. As girls came to school in skirts, dresses, heels (yes heels) and flip-flops, they were unable to play, move and do other things that the boys regularly could. The girls wanted to, but they often got hurt. One girl kept tripping in her heels, so she was sent inside to play. Another girl kept falling and getting hurt because she could not run in her flip-flops. She was also encouraged to be inactive and to go inside.
Second, we have the policing of girl’s bodies. Young girls tend to be unaware that they often show their underwear when wearing skirts and dresses (especially during circle time). They are constantly told to not “spread their legs” but instead cross their legs, or fold their legs while they sit. Not only are we telling young girls that they need to be aware of how they portray their bodies in ways that we are not policing boys. The girls is told that she is “so cute” and that her dress “is adorable”, but at the same time, she is told that she needs to hide her body, be aware of how she portrays herself and inadvertently, “take up less space”. Remember to be feminine and small.
Girls who do not dress like princesses often have to endure policing of their clothing and accessories by other girls. Even though none of the girls I worked with were older than five, they were very knowledgeable about certain brands, and what acceptable clothing looked like. I doubt this is knowledge innate to being a little girl. I understand that our consumer culture and societal pressures of fitting in also influence what girls’ want to wear, and what they feel they “need” in order to fit in. At the same time, parents are the mediators between young children and society, and children cannot acquire items without the help of parents.
Photo uploaded by Flickr user John-Morgan and is shared under a creative commons license.