The Princess Problem: Guiding Our Girls through the Princess-Obsessed Years, is a new book by Rebecca C. Hains, PhD, about how to raise thriving kids in a princess-obsessed world.
Having a 6-year-old daughter of my own who loves everything and anything princess or pink, for me this book is a valuable guide filled with research, stories and advice for parents of both girls and boys. It explores what what was discussed in the book Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein, but expands on what parents can do to help their children be media-literate, critical thinkers.
The book is organized into two parts.
Part One: The Pleasures and Problems of Princess Culture – and a Solution
- Chapter One: The Problems with Princess Culture
- Chapter Two: Raising Media-Literate Children
Part Two: Guiding Our Girls: Pop Culture Coaching in Action
- Chapter Three: The Problem with Princess Marketing
- Chapter Four: The Problem with the Pretty Princess Mandate
- Chapter Five: The Problem with Gender Stereotypes
- Chapter Six: The Problems of Race Representation and Racism
Rebecca also offers age-appropriate discussion guides for parents to use when watching princess films with their kids, including newer movies such as Frozen. There are also guides on her website at RebeccaHains.com.
Much of Rebecca’s research came from a side job she held for a while: dressing up as a princess for kids’ birthday parties! Though she admitted it was good extra money and fun to see the little girls’ eyes light up, she did discover that many parents are aware of the issues of the princess culture, such as distorted body image, and are concerned about the effects on their kids.
While she doesn’t focus exclusively on Disney Princesses, she does discuss them throughout the book as they dominate the marketplace: “Although toy aisles are full of princesses, when we think of popular princess characters, Disney Princesses usually come to mind first. They really are everywhere. Their faces don’t just adorn children’s toys, Disney Princesses sell everything from grapes (sold in clear plastic bags festooned with the princesses’ faces) to prom gowns.” Even SpaghettiO’s, as her friend’s daughter pointed out in the store as she recognized the princess faces on the can.
Hains’ solution? “Pop Culture Coaching” which involves four steps, including establishing and discussing your family’s values and teaching children about media creation.
I am concerned for my own daughter as she receives messages from the media all the time about what women should look like. I am careful never to complain about my body around her, or put a lot of value on looking pretty, but I feel there’s more I could do, and there’s a lot of helpful advice in this book that I’ll use for discussions with both of my kids.
What I like about this book is that it’s very eye-opening and supportive of the tough spot parents are in. However, growing up a “Disney” child with a movie-collecting dad who owns every Disney movie there is (seriously), despite the criticisms, I do still have a soft spot for all things Disney. If I were to choose between the original Grimm fairy tales or the Disney versions, I’ll choose a Disney Sleeping Beauty that is awakened by love’s kiss, rather than the original Sleeping Beauty that is awakened by one of the babies she gave birth to while asleep as a result of being raped (and then she marries her rapist).
And while I don’t condone female character role models being portrayed solely as passive and dependent, I do support the kind, gentle and nurturing qualities of all the popular cartoon princesses. Children by nature are drawn to those qualities, and I would hope they are complemented, not replaced, with the strong and independent qualities that are also desired. Also, the “falling in love” aspect of so many princess stories is often criticized (Brave’s Merida was the first Disney princess who didn’t end up married at the end). I agree that it’s harmful to make girls feel like they’ll only be complete and happy when they get married, but I think that falling in love is a wonderful thing that shouldn’t be diminished just because some feel it makes a woman “weak” to want that.
I consider myself highly critical of the media, particularly of the way Hollywood today demeans women by releasing an overwhelming number of R-rated movies with much more provocative and unnecessary eye candy (nudity, sexual characters) for men’s enjoyment than for women’s, so I do support empowering girls from birth with strong, self-respecting female characters (who also dress respectfully).
However, there are many good, valid reasons that Disney is such an overwhelmingly successful presence in the marketplace, and it’s not just because they’re forcing it on millions of little, unsuspecting minds. People buy things for many reasons, and as a lifelong Disney fan and now a parent, I know that an important reason is that Disney offers what few others do – innocence, wonder, magic, and joy – all wrapped up in a (usually) G-rated package, something severely lacking nowadays compared to several decades ago.
But I’m glad Dr. Hains does give Disney credit for its appeal as well as the newer movies such as “Brave” and “Frozen” which prove Disney is changing and doing a much better job of creating positive and strong role models for girls today. And I agree that more progress can be made.
(Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book to facilitate this review. All opinions are 100% mine.)