Princess on the Playground

Yesterday at the park I met a 3 year old girl named Princess. It wasn’t a nickname or short for something else. Nope. It was her full legal name. I asked her mom to make sure. Now, I realize I live right smack in the middle of Hollywood so we have kids named things like Pilot Inspektor and Poppy Honey, so it didn’t seem all that unusual. Except that it was a three year old little girl dressed in a short purple sequined skirt wearing hoop earrings and her name was Princess. And she doesn’t stand a chance to be anything, but well…a princess.

I just can’t wrap my head around why you would do this to a little girl. Girls live in a culture that already places so much value on being pretty as if being beautiful is the most important quality a girl could possess. To add to this absurd ideal seems ridiculous. In Cinderella Ate My Daughter, Peggy Orenstein discusses how the “princess complex” effects every aspect of girls’ development. She does a great job describing her struggle with bringing up her own daughter in a culture that thrives on looking good.

Today I babysat a friend of mine’s daughter who is nearly three and is the most gender neutral child I have ever met. I couldn’t help watching her throughout the day as she played with Gus and thinking how refreshing. She is just a free spirited little girl who runs from playing Batman to playing in the kitchen and back to cars. She lives outside the confines of what others say it means to be a girl. I’ve never even seen her wear pink. How did her parents avoid all of the gender stereotypes that little girls are bombarded with from nearly the moment they are born? I realize some of this is her personality, but her parents certainly played a role in protecting her from it and fostering a sense of identity separate from tiaras. However, soon her world will be larger and her parents won’t be able to shelter her from the message that her worth as a girl is dependent on being cute and pretty. What happens then?

As I go along on this journey, I am appalled at how early we turn our little girls into objects. I always have to walk through the rows of girls clothing at Target before I get to the small corner of boys clothing and just have to shake my head at the short skirts and skimpy tops that are in the toddler section. How do any of our girls stand a chance?

At Gus’s third year doctor’s appointment his weight was in the 85th percentile. His pediatrician raved about what a strong, healthy boy he was. Three of Gus’s girl friends went to their three year checkups around that same time. They were in the 85th percentile for weight as well. Their pediatricians had a talk with each of the mothers about watching their daughter’s weight and what they were eating. I wish I was kidding.

Moms with girls: how the hell do you deal with this?

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