Isn't She Lovely? Are Today's Princesses
Having Fun Or Getting The Wrong Idea?
Kane County Chronicle
October 18, 2008
Little girls everywhere will be adding a "Bibbidi-Bobbidi"
to their "Boo" this Halloween.
Princesses so far are continuing their reign as the No.
1 children's costume, according to the National Retail
But, as parents of young girls know well, the costumes
aren't just popular once a year. A princess mania seems
to have taken over.
Just about anything geared toward children these days –
clothing, toys, furniture, books and more – can be found
with a Disney princess emblazoned on them.
Princess-themed parties and venues, television shows,
movies and plays are everywhere.
It's definitely a phenomenon, but perhaps not as new as
some might think. Children always have played dress-up.
Instead of a blanket clothes-pinned on the back or Mom's
old dress, they now wear royal gowns and tutus chosen
from entire aisles filled with princess attire.
"Times haven't changed, but these days, the toy
companies have found ways to make 'pretend' profitable,"
said Mary Fosnow of McHenry, who worked as a home
daycare provider when her now-teenage children were
She had a toy box filled with dress-up clothes. She
encouraged the imaginary play and remembers wearing a
"royal" cape and a crown made out of cardboard and
tinfoil as a child.
"That's a gift of childhood, the freedom to simply
play," she said. "I'm sure that the little girl walking
around in her robes and jewels and crown knows she's not
a real princess, but it's just so much fun to pretend to
A "well-rounded" princess
Imaginary play is healthy, child development experts
say, as long as the princess image isn't taken too far.
Concerned parents should take a look at books, such as
"So Sexy So Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood and What
Parents Can do to Protect Their Kids" and "Frogs,
Snails, and Feminist Tales," recommended Smara Madrid,
an assistant professor of Early Childhood Education at
Northern Illinois University.
The books offer a feminist and critical perspective
about how young females can be socialized into roles
that focus on male approval, beauty as self-worth and
the notion of "happily ever after," she said.
For kids, the stories "Do Princess Wear Hiking Boots?"
by Carmela LaVigna Coyle and "The Paperbag Princess" by
Robert N. Munsch, challenge the traditional princess
It comes down to how parents talk to their children,
said Shira Greenfield, a licensed clinical professional
counselor for Centegra Health System in McHenry.
"It becomes more harmful when being a princess is only
about being pretty to the exclusion of any other
characteristics, being smart or kind or funny," she
said. "When they want to be a princess because
princesses are pretty, you're setting girls up for some
Instead, encourage a "well-rounded" princess, she said.
Tell them, "You can be nice and kind and smart as a
nurse or a housekeeper or a princess," she suggested.
"If a princess is just rich and pretty, that's a shallow
Once upon a time
Disney began marketing the princess costumes in 1999
when an executive noticed at a Disney on Ice show the
number of girls dressed in generic costumes.
They realized dressing up like a Disney princess is a
phase many girls go through, said Kathy Franklin, vice
president of Global Franchise Development-Girls for
Disney Consumer Products.
"The primary benefit is they just love it," she said.
"They enjoy themselves immensely. And our research shows
that moms understand the Disney characters have a lot of
positive attributes – kindness, compassion and caring
about each other."
Disney sends the message in its stories that a "true
princess" is beautiful both inside and out, she said.
Madeline Becker of Crystal Lake, a mom of six, including
two girls ages 9 and 6, doesn't worry about the "pretty"
princess image. "Right now, I think it's just a time to
enjoy," she said. "I think you can address those things
later when they can understand what you're getting at."
Other moms, such as Lorri Kunz of Marengo, never had to
worry about it. Her daughter, now 15, wanted to be more
like her older brother.
"I never pursued it. She didn't want it, and that's fine
with me," she said. "It's a little bit too much focus on
how beautiful they are, and how thin and ultimately,
they're successful because they're rich in the end and
they find a good prince."
Kristen Esch of Batavia, who's daughter Lexi, now 11,
went through a princess phase at age 3, also worried
about the message sent.
Parents can go over-board, she said, feeding into the
suggestion that girls should be pretty and popular, that
glitter spray will make a young girl stand out more at
Girls should learn the difference between imaginary and
"real women, real looks and real expectations," she
"The magazine wants them to look a certain way to be
excepted," she'd tell her daughter. "Isn't that
There's nothing wrong with little girls dressing as
princesses as long as parents also teach them values,
said Joni Downey, a mom of three who runs a
McHenry-based "Characters of Character" program for pre-schoolers.
"I am a firm believer that children should stay young
for a long time, let them dream, let them use their
imaginations and mostly let them be little for awhile,"
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