Photo by: Disney Grandpa

Instead of Preaching to the Choir: Disney Princess Recovery

Photo by: Disney Grandpa

Mia’s house is the Mecca of Disney Princesses.
There are shrines in each corner, Ariel here, Aurora there.
She has the Disney Princess Barbies.
And Disney Princess Polly Pockets.
The bedspread.
The dresses.
The bathing suits.
The cups and plates.
Sandals and flip flops.
Toothbrush and toothpaste.
Toilet seat and towel.
Bathmat and shower curtain.

We have not been to Mia’s house since this last time, and the part of my brain that believes that things get resolved by quietly waiting them out had convinced me that maybe Mia would move on this month to something like Dinosaur Train. Or maybe she would move! To another neighborhood! And a child with all wooden toys would move in. Avoidance creates such logic.

I hate confrontation. And controversy. I hate the idea of hurting someone’s feelings. Or making them feel judged. I haven’t spoken to Mia’s mom about our little movement here because it feels akin to walking into someone’s home, someone who eats steak for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, someone who nibbles beef jerky for snack and washes it down with sausage links, and saying, “Just so you know, we’ve become vegan!”

So Mia invited us over for a quick run through the sprinkler before dinner.
We walked over, rang the bell, and Mia’s mom let us in and apologized:
“She started watching a movie and I can’t get her off the couch.”

Miss C had already disappeared into the playroom and was playing with a barn and some animals.

I wandered back to the TV area, where Mia was stretched on the couch.

She was watching The Little Mermaid.
And she was wearing…The Little Mermaid costume.

Mia’s mom turned off the movie and Mia slunk off the couch. With her leg movement greatly restricted by her tail, she inched toward the playroom.

When she got to the playroom, she stood in the doorway and glowed.

Miss C looked up from the barn, her mouth opened partially.
“Is. Is that Ariel?”

Mia giggled.
“Yes, it’s her mermaid dress. BUT, you can’t swim in it.”

Miss C stared.

This is when something strange happened. C was asking more questions, but Mia was now looking away from C, away from me, and toward the wall. She began to rub her chin to her shoulder. She smiled (at the wall), put her hands on her thighs, moved her shoulders back and forth, then began the chin-shoulder rub again.

I craned my neck to see what was on the wall, and found that it was a full length mirror.

“Let’s go outside!” I chirped, and grabbed C’s hand to bring her out to the sprinkler.
Outside I found an Ariel sprinkler rotating and spraying water beside an Ariel pool, and little Disney Princess lawn chairs.

Obviously, I had to tell Mia’s mom that we were going vegan.

When the girls were out of earshot and involved in play, I lowered my voice and said, “I want to tell you about something we’re doing, something that’s going on with us, and you might think it’s really strange, but…”

She was all ears.

And I told her we had pulled all the Disney Princess stuff from our house, and that we weren’t allowing the Disney Princess films. I explained the behaviors I’d seen with my three year old, the ones that concerned me: the preoccupation she’d developed with her appearance, the rigid and scripted play, the many anxious questions about my impending death “because Snow White’s mother died, and Cinderella’s mother died,” the refusal to get her hair trimmed because “princesses only have long hair,” and her sudden dropped interest in all other toys and play in favor of playing the rescued Disney Princess again and again. I told Mia’s mom that we were trying to introduce more positive female-lead stories, replacing the beautiful and distressed Disney Princesses, with figures more concretely real, and en route to discovering their own power. Also, whose mothers aren’t killed off before opening credits. I said, “Since we live so close and the girls play together, I just wanted you to know.”

Mia’s mom was completely supportive.
“I’m really glad you told me,” she said. “We should be able to let each other know when stuff like that is going on, or if we have rules we want each other to know about.”

I agreed.

She continued, “And that is concerning, the things you were noticing. Fortunately for us, Mia only likes those films for the music.”

Is this the part where a brave and forthright person then says, “Actually, I think I just saw your daughter doing a slinky shoulder-rub five minutes ago?”

I did not.

Because in order to see something, you have to believe it exists.
In order to understand the power of these scripts, you first have to believe that they do have power.

Change happens slowly. Even for us, it had been 18 months in the making.
This was one step, one conversation, that badly needed to happen.
I may not be able to change their shower curtain, sprinkler, or sandals, but at least I can be sure that the movies are not playing.
And I can plan the next playtime at the park.

And then maybe they’ll move.

Mary Finucane is a psychotherapist in Rochester, NY. Her areas of specialty include cognitive behavioral therapy, play therapy, childhood sexual abuse, and child sexualization.

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I think that if we, as parents, overdo the purchasing of such products, obsession is a natural outcome. From what I can see in the article, the obsession started with the parents. That little girl did not buy the products or decorations herself so the problem was created by the parents, not the child, nor Disney.

My 2 daughters have some of the Disney stuff but we did not overdo and decorate a room or make sure that they had all the product...

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I can see how some children may be so over the top obsessed that they start acting as the damsel in distress and all... but not all girls act that way. My 5 year old LOVES the Princesses just as much as she loves the singing and music from musicals (7 brides for 7 brothers is her favorite), Nick Jr, Glee, etc. She has ME - a real life feminist and strong female role model to look up to - someone who also broadens her horizons in things like imagination, compassion and seeking out answers...

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This is so great! I have taken this a step more. I set my daughterin laws down and told them I knew of those hated mothe in law stories and I wanted to be the lead in a new movement. I explained from Phylis Diller I had learned that I am a perfectionist with the house-mon.I washed tue. I shopped etc...

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I was freaked out when my mom showed my 3 year old daughter cinderella. I was so against everything princess. i hid some of the movies, i wouldn't allow anything princess at our house, i changed the words in the books, and every time my daughter wanted to play prince and princess i would suggest an alternative. "how about you be an astronaut and i will be an alien." this would frustrate her. once she started preschool she made a close friend and we were invited to her house...

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Thank You. This is Good. It's about time. Disney is destroying lives. I know that sounds so dramatic but it's true. I use to enjoy Disney and my kids had some of the stuff but things are way off the charts and have been for a long time. I don't think Walt had this in mind. Anyone that knows who Walt Disney was and his philosophy knows he believed in the virtues in life and that one should strive toward them. Now they take a virtue and twist it to serve a tainted public and call it good...

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Okay, so a lot of the older movies do contain princesses who fit the damsel in distress mold.

But, let's see Belle in Beauty and the Beast was brave enough to try to rescue her missing father and then take his place in his imprisonment. She was also wise enough to see beyond the good looking facade of the conceited, cruel man who wanted to marry her.

Jasmine in Aladdin rejected a law that required her to get married by a certain age...

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Thank you for writing this. I am the mother of two boys, so we don't fight about gender roles in the way that I would probably if I had girls. I think what you are doing with your daughter is great. And I commend you for being strong enough to tell your friend. I also would have stopped short of pointing out her daughter's behavior because the little girl is her daughter and she has the right to raise her any way she deems fit (aside from the obvious...). I loved these movies myself as a child...

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AMEN!! I feel the same way - wooden toys, no electronics, no calling them princesses, etc. BUT guess what - I think part of it is genetic (!!) b/c I have twin girls (3.5) and one is so fantasy driven and the other can take it or leave it.

Very interesting b/c they were both exposed to the same thing! B/c most of it is imaginary play (as we only have the tent and a few costumes) I'm ok w/it now. It will be interestinng to see what happens!!

Ladies... EVERYTHING IN MODERATION!! Maybe we don't have as many things in South Africa as u do in America, but I bought the Disney series of story books before my first child was even born! My son is now 17 and my daughter is 14 year old. Neither one of them has been "damaged" in any way by exposure to Disney movies, books or paraphernalia! It IS a phase when they "love" a particular character above all others...

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Mary, Your friend was very understanding, caring and kind to you. She was open to you not liking what she and her daughter are enjoying. I feel that you writing this is stabing her in the back. I hope this is not a true story. Even if the princess thing is over-done in her household, I do not feel it is your place to judge her. I especially think it's rude to write about it in such a public format. I thing you wishing this little girl would move to a new neighborhood is more concerning...

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Thank you! We had decided that we were not "doing" Disney, and even without all of the stuff and movies, and everything, my daughter (3) somehow decided that princesses wear all of their clothes off the shoulder. I discovered this when every day she would pull her shirt or dress down and "be a princess" at about 2 years old. I am constantly surprised by the values in these books and movies adn how we as a culture have all become immune to what and how we teach our children to interact...

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I don't know. All things in moderation and all that. My daughter has loved dinosaurs since she could carry one around. She also loves princesses. I think fairy tales and folk tales should be told to our children because those stories feed their souls. Note that I say told to them and not shown in a movie. The greatest fear a child has is that his/her parents will leave or be taken away. These stories help them see that life goes on and they can be strong and win in the end...

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I am so sick of people telling us we are doing everything wrong as parents. My little girl has wooden toys, no batteries, she has Thomas trains and princesses. So what? She's a kid. As her mum I am her most influential role model. I am assertive. My family and I respect one another. I am happy. We have open communication. Give parents some credit!

I agree with Kristina. And I would add that judging something without looking for good qualities isn't the best way to protect children. Parents who think they are above other parents who allow Disney might be surprised to discover that visiting with children about body image, strength and taking care of oneself without a male-not taking away a harmless fantasy world that I might add most girls outgrow by age 6-7...

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I think you did the right thing by standing up for what you think is right for your child. I know it can be difficult to do, but we are our childrens' advocates and we do what we think is best for them out of our love for them. My kids do not watch Disney for many of the reasons you mentioned. If you think about it, some underlying messages in movies, especially when watched over and over, can start seeming alright with children...

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