By Elaine Barrington
It used to be so much easier…
Sometimes I miss the days when my values and my daughter’s were one and the same. For the first few years of Isabelle’s life I believed I could, and actually did, shield her from Barbie’s plastic smile and Cinderella’s batting eye lashes.
Any signs of the Disney princess posse magically disappeared with a mom’s deft sleight of hand. I was on a mission to deflect and distract, determined to make sure my daughter did not fall prey to these sirens. I had the “Barbie and princess drawer,” a final resting place away from Isabelle’s watchful eye and curious nature where all gifts and goody bags bearing their likeness remained until they could be re-gifted or otherwise disposed of.
Then Isabelle turned three years old, and like Snow White’s poison apple, she tasted the forbidden fruit and has entered a deep slumber from which someday, fingers crossed, she will awake. It started with a birthday trip to the toy store with my mother-in-law. To my surprise, she came home with a Barbie. Naively, it had never occurred to me that something like this could happen. My mother-in-law has her own agenda, we all do. Hers includes a traditional notion of how girls should be raised — playing with Barbie and princesses of course! It has been a slippery slope ever since.
Let me clarify why this is a problem for me. It’s about two issues really:
- One is the over-commercialization of our society where everything is branded and marketed. I don’t like the idea of corporate America infiltrating my daughter’s beautifully original brain and pruning down her neural pathways based on their bottom line.
- The other is my desire for my daughter’s female role models to have more role and less model to them. My values are clearly biased toward the infinite possibilities of what Isabelle could become. Her strong, athletic body and bright, creative mind surely have more to offer the world than what Barbie and Disney represent. And when Isabelle looks in the mirror, her reflection does not match most Barbies and Disney princesses.
I could devote many paragraphs to the debate about why I believe Barbie and Disney princesses are harmful to our young girls, but rather than an academic discussion, I am most concerned with what this actually means for me and Isabelle.
Confounding matters is how I’ve raised Isabelle, who is four years old now, to think independently and figure out her tendencies based on her own ideas. She is consistently offered a lot of choices, and I encourage her to think through decisions and not go with the obvious or what others are telling her. Of course, she isn’t raised in a vacuum. Her head is filled with our family’s ideals and values, and our community and society as a whole play their important part as well. Still, Isabelle has become exactly who I wanted her to be. She is a clever and thoughtful child who, in most situations, is able to clearly identify her likes and dislikes and assert her preferences to those around her.
The Barbie and Disney princess struggle is almost a daily occurrence now. When it was time for a new toothbrush, Isabelle said she wanted one with sparkles. So we went to the store and couldn’t find any kid-sized sparkle toothbrushes. Her eye was immediately drawn to the electric Cinderella toothbrush. “That’s the one I want!” she declared confidently. I declined, reminding her she already had an electric toothbrush that she rarely used. “Plus,” I added, “you don’t need to have a princess toothbrush.” So we agreed on a set of brightly colored toothbrushes and moved on. Score one for Mom!
The next week, a dentist came to Isabelle’s preschool and gave a talk on oral hygiene. Each child got a take-away bag filled with floss, a mask, gloves, and a toothbrush. All the boys got a blue toothbrush with a Cars character. And I’m sure you can guess what all the girls got — a pink toothbrush with Ariel. Score one for Disney!
The following week, Isabelle had her routine dental check-up. Her dentist is a friend and knows to avoid the Disney characters with our family, so after the cleaning she showed Isabelle an array of colorful toothbrushes to choose from. Alas, Isabelle’s princess sixth sense kicked in. She picked one of those colorful toothbrushes then turned and pointed to a cabinet behind her head and said, “But I want one of those.” How she knew there were Disney princess toothbrushes in there is beyond me. We came home with Belle.
For those of you keeping score in the toothbrush arena, Disney trumped Mom two to one in a matter of weeks. So, what’s the moral of this fable? I suppose one lesson is that I am not a super mom who can and will take on the Disney giant and win, but I already knew that about myself.
I choose to believe the real lesson is the one I re-learn every day: The art of Attachment Parenting is a delicate dance where sharing your values and letting your child be free to be who they are sometimes trample on each other’s toes.
I’m not going to control what the random dentist at school passes out to my child, but I can say no when we’re at the store. And when my daughter sits through a cleaning at the dentist holding her little self together and doing what’s asked of her, I have no intention of quashing her request for a Disney princess toothbrush and the joy that it brings her in that moment, because in that moment, her joy is mine as well.