Coming to peace with my daughter’s princess phase

Ever since Christmas at her cousins’ house, Peeper has been wearing a single plastic Cinderella shoe. It’s clear and has a strand of fake pearls on the toe. She had worn it when she and her cousins showcased a Disney on Ice dance they created, and we couldn’t get it off her when we left. Welcome to the princess phase, I thought.

“Isn’t that uncomfortable?” Eric asked her.

She looked down.

“It’s not comfortable but it’s so pretty,” she replied.

Great. She’s 3 and already sacrificing comfort for a great shoe.

The princess phase can be hard on feminist moms. But I've come to accept my daughter's love of tiaras and glass slippers. Here's how. Ten Thousand Hour MamaCatching the princess bug

Peeper has the princess bug bad. For a while I was all smug, thinking that my dirt-loving, stick-throwing preschooler would avoid the tiara phase.

Then she watched Cinderella as her first-ever movie. Since then her princess phase has become full-blown, and now she has princess underwear, a Cinderella doll and—yes—a bunch of tiaras.

There’s of course nothing wrong with princesses per se. But the similar storylines repeated in so many of the Disney princess movies—you know, damsel in distress falling in love with a tall and handsome stranger then getting rescued, usually from an evil older and jealous woman—make me ill.

So when Eric asked Peeper what she wanted to be the other day and she answered, “A princess!” I cringed.

She used to answer “a doctor” or even at one point “a nail polisher.” (I had just gone to get a pedicure.) Now she wants to be pretty royalty.

Letting my daughter hang onto her princess dreams

When she enthusiastically talks about becoming a princess, I have to hold my tongue. I want to say, “Are you sure you don’t want to be an engineer? A chef? A farmer? An inventor?”

I can think of so many other professions to aspire to, professions in which people actually do something beyond be gentle and attractive.

I think of that every time I hear the step clomp step clomp of her walking around in that one plastic Cinderella shoe.

My preschooler is deep into a princess phase. As a feminist mom, I am learning to embrace it. Ten Thousand Hour Mama

But of course taking away her beloved princess attire will not make her switch allegiance to Team Computer Science. Forcing her into something that doesn’t match a 3-year-old’s interest will only  make her resent and distrust me.

And I do not want to turn into an evil stepmother.

Embracing—or at least accepting—the princess phase

It is fun to dress up. It is fun to try on someone else’s identity.

I did it a ton when I was a kid, though I generally pretended to be an orphan who had to survive on her own in the woods, not a glass-slipper wearing princess.

So I understand Peeper’s impulse to make believe she is something different.

My daughter's princess phase might last forever—or be done tomorrow. I'm making peace with it. Ten Thousand Hour mama

Still, I try to counteract the princess phase when I can. When we play Cinderella, I sometimes tell Peeper that the fairy godmother is out of town but princesses are perfectly capable of making their own dreams come true.

(She is never amused.)

When we packed up to go home from our visit to the Midwest, I had planned to accidentally-on-purpose forget the Cinderella slipper at my in-laws’ house. But Peeper spotted it the morning we left and made sure it fit in the suitcase alongside her new Cinderella doll and plastic tiaras.

So I’ll be hearing the step clomp of her one plastic shoe all over our house. I don’t know if the princess phase will last another day or a year. But I’m trying to keep in mind that it is as temporary as her other difficult stages—like the months she wouldn’t eat unless I was singing to her or the stretch she insisted on watching the same clownfish documentary whenever she sat on the potty.

At Peeper’s age, kids are trying on identities and interests like grown ups test out sunglasses at the store. There’s a lot of checking yourself out in the mirror, deciding if something is you or not.

Time will tell what Peeper decides to keep as a love and what she discards. But if she does continue this princess phase, you can bet I’ll be in the background, making sure she’s a feminist princess who gets shit done.

22 thoughts on “Coming to peace with my daughter’s princess phase

  • January 30, 2017 at 1:04 pm
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    It is so interesting to think about how our early influences affect us later on. I remember being really into pink and Barbies and Beauty and the Beast… I sure feel like a feminist now and not at all like those early… role models??… but I’ll never know how they may have affected me, I guess! I think for me the biggest negative cultural impact was about women’s bodies. Nothing big, just my mom’s measurement chart in her closet and cartoon girls with tiny waists, but I know those things set me up to be unhappy with my body later on. I’ve been fighting it since realizing it, but really hope to give my children a more positive attitude about our amazing bodies, and prioritize strength and health over looking like the cultural ideal.

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    • January 30, 2017 at 2:47 pm
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      I hear you on internalizing messages about dissatisfaction with your body. For me, a lot of it came from magazines. I remember poring over my sister’s copies of Seventeen and being unhappy with how I compared to the models.

      I love that there are alternatives out there—like Kazoo, a new magazine for girls that celebrates who they are, not what they look like.

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      • January 30, 2017 at 7:50 pm
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        OMG – yes on the magazines. My dad bought me a subscription to YM when I was 15 and I swear all those skinny supermodels with perfect hair and makeup and clothes contributed to my poor self image as a teen. And I’m sure my dad thought he was doing something nice!
        Lindsay recently posted…Farro Salad with Kale, Fennel, and BeetMy Profile

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        • January 31, 2017 at 7:04 am
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          I’d forgotten about YM! Good grief, there was already so much contributing to a teen’s poor self-image without all the articles on how to get a boy to like you or find the perfect mini skirt.

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  • January 30, 2017 at 1:37 pm
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    One thought is to share stories of many of the more modern princesses out there who save others and themselves – there are a lot out there with female protagonists!

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    • January 30, 2017 at 2:45 pm
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      That’s a great call, Pech! I try to focus on princesses in action, like Merida from Brave. She’s a great role model.

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  • January 30, 2017 at 3:40 pm
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    You know, I grew up with all the princess movies and I didn’t turn out super girly/disenfranchised by knights in shining armor. But my mom did show me ALL the princess movies and my favorite ended up being Pocahontas because of the animals. So maybe just show her a variety and let her make up her own mind, knowing that just because she is going through a phase doesn’t mean she won’t become a strong feminist!!

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    • January 31, 2017 at 7:06 am
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      Thanks Megan. I grew up on those movies, too, and although I wasn’t obsessed with princesses, I turned out ok. 😉 I’m relieved that lately she’s been loving Merida from Brave, who is actually a wonderful example of a kick-a princess. She gets my vote for best Disney princess!

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  • January 30, 2017 at 3:56 pm
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    Yes to all of this. My daughter went through a princess phase, and she still loves blingy pretty dress up things but also loves science and math, soccer and softball, and is just as interested in dancing to Taylor Swift as she is to dissecting (and debating…even at 9!) the current political events. So I have no doubt Peeper will have a well balanced view on life, including being a proactive princess, thanks to you allowing her to experience all of life’s options!

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    • January 31, 2017 at 9:13 am
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      I’ve been getting similar stories to yours: examples of girls who grew up on princesses but developed into strong, independent women—and feminists. Thanks for your reminder!

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  • January 30, 2017 at 4:59 pm
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    Remember When I used to want princess legs as a little girl??? Now I joyfully have bruises and scars from the countless activities and sports I did and still do to this day. I have no doubts that she will become a strong willed and independent young lady!

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    • January 31, 2017 at 7:05 am
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      YES! Now you have princess legs, complete with the scars and strength that they required to bring you so many places and on so many adventures. Thanks for the reminder! <3

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  • January 30, 2017 at 7:57 pm
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    It sounds like you’re doing all the right things, Catherine. Letting her be who she is and explore her identity and providing her examples of positive female role models. Also letting her be a kid and play. Sounds like good parenting to me.

    I am old enough to remember She-Ra, Princess of Power, when I was a kid. She was a bad ass princess who fought evil doers!
    Lindsay recently posted…Farro Salad with Kale, Fennel, and BeetMy Profile

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    • January 31, 2017 at 7:03 am
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      That’s right – I’d forgotten about She-Ra! I have such vivid memories of getting a She-Ra doll and her horse… forgetting its name… for Christmas and playing with them at mass that morning. Thanks for the reminder and fun memory!

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  • January 30, 2017 at 9:35 pm
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    “But of course taking away her beloved princess attire will not make her switch allegiance to Team Computer Science.”

    This sentence! This is the best thing I’ve read in … weeks, at least. ♥

    Love it. All of it.

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    • January 31, 2017 at 7:02 am
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      Haha, thanks Deb! Hugs to you!

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  • January 31, 2017 at 12:27 am
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    It’s funny how suddenly you cringe at the fairytales and realise how bad they really were!! My daughter is the same and is so girlie and all about pretty. I do like it when at bath time the princess collide with the cars and my son and daughter make the boy/girl games work. I hope it creates a bit of a mix. I also feel as they get older their tastes will change and we will be able to explain that no one is as helpless as Cinderella or has to cook for 7 men in order to be happy!!

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    • January 31, 2017 at 7:07 am
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      Haha, I’m just imagining the car/princess games in the bath. Thanks for the laugh this morning!!

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  • January 31, 2017 at 12:38 am
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    The Princess Phase is definitely a popular one for little girls (Frozen has a lot to answer for!). I went through it, but I went through a ‘tomboy’ stage too. She’ll figure out her personality and likes and dislikes along the way. Hopefully you can all enjoy the ride 🙂

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  • February 1, 2017 at 12:03 pm
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    My daughter went through a similar stage – very long ago – she’s 14 now. I miss this stage. Well written post, mama.

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  • February 2, 2017 at 4:56 pm
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    First off, oh my goodness she is just too cute. Second, I will definitely also cringe if my daughter goes through a princess phase. Third, thank you for getting me to think about what I would do. Fourth, do you think you could encourage her to use her princess powers to do good? Like “You are Cinderella and you are married to Prince Charming and now rule the kingdom! What is the first thing you are going to do as princess?” And get her a pretty journal with a princess pen where she can put all her princess rules for the kingdom or something.

    In theory it sounds good, but what about in practice? Wanna try it out? 😛

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    • February 6, 2017 at 3:27 pm
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      I love that idea, Sahar! My husband and I tell her a made-up story before bed and she usually requests one with Cinderella in it. I usually sneak in a moral about princesses doing good or using their powers to make the world better. I can definitely do more along those lines!

      Reply

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