Breaking The Princess Myth: 6 Criticisms To Raise With Your Daughter

little girl princess

Princess play can be wonderful past-time for all kids, even little girls. Dressing up in costumes, claiming their kingdom, and running the show in a petticoat can be the cornerstone for some our most beloved girly girls. But while there is nothing inherently damaging or problematic about girls modeling their play after powerful women, princess culture — a separate concept entirely — quickly has them waiting around for a prince, counting their jewels, and developing anxieties about their beauty all in the name of Disney.

But no need to toss that plastic castle in the trash and revoke any “princess” shirts you see lying around. If your daughter loves nothing more than a pink dress, a sceptre, and a late night viewing of Sleeping Beauty, let her have her fun — but get her wheels turning about core princess concepts with these important questions.

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    • Jessie

      Alright. I get what everyone’s trying to do with this battle against the princess culture, but I’m a little tired of this “Let’s blindly vilify the fairytales” attitude that’s been taking over the world.
      I grew up in this so-called “Princess Culture” world, my childhood was filled with every princess story and Disney movie imaginable and still to this day I own every Disney princess movie there is. And you know what? I’M FINE. I never once had the idea that I could sit around and wait for my prince to come and all my dreams to come true. Why? Because my PARENTS stepped up and made sure that I knew the difference between fantasy and reality. My PARENTS took responsibility for making sure I knew that if I wanted riches, fame, lots of clothes, or whatever my heart desired, that I had to work for it and EARN it. I never sat around waiting for my “prince” to come and make my life happen for me.
      If people want their girls to stop following the road of these FANTASY characters, then the parents need to step up and teach them from day one that life doesn’t really work that way. It’s the parent’s job to make sure their girls know the difference. As for the girls who have already fallen prey to this mentality, I’m sorry, but the parents have nobody to blame but themselves for not teaching them better.

      Oh yeah, and as for the princesses not learning to do anything but be pretty/get clothes/go to balls… Ariel was fascinated with the human world. This suggests an interest in other cultures than her own.
      Belle loved to read anything and everything, which suggests she loved many subjects that could range from fantasy to history or whatever, and considering the alarming tendency of kids not reading much these days I’d say she’s a great influence for that. Her story also teaches a lesson about loving someone for WHO they are, not WHAT they are, or how they look, or what they can buy you.
      Tiana? She loved to cook. She had a dream of opening her own restaurant, and came from a poor background and a race that was highly oppressed even in her time. Tiana grew up being taught that you WORK for everything you have or want, and nothing will ever come from just sitting around wishing on stars. Getting the prince in the end was just a happy coincidence. Tiana by far teaches the best example of working for what you want in life.
      Pocahontas, while not TECHNICALLY a princess because her culture does not have that kind of hierarchy and she did not marry a prince, teaches about having a respect FOR ALL LIFE. She teaches respect for the earth and all it gives us, and brings together two cultures on the brink of war by teaching tolerance and respect for other people even though they are different from us.
      Mulan, again not technically a princess, is a freaking WAR HERO. She teaches that women CAN break away from the mold society places them in and do something great despite the opposition. Her story shows that just because people expect you to be one way, you do not have to follow along with that.

      Now, I’m not a parent, so I’m sure I’ll get some flak for this little spiel, but I AM someone who grew up inundated with the “Happily Ever After” princess stories just as much as girls are today, and I turned out fine. The princesses are not all bad, and if people just look PAST the fact that they all end up living happily every after in their castles or whatever and look at the ACTUAL STORIES and the lessons they teach, they might see that perhaps placing the blame on themselves for not teaching their kids to read between the lines is a more fitting end than blaming the stories.

      • Mrs.Sharp

        Jessie thank you for saying a lot of what was on my mind. Contrary to you I am a parent and my kids perfectly know what is the difference between the real world and fairy tales. Why do parents insist on blaming everyone else for what their kids believe?! You are the parent do your job and stop insisting that everything else takes responsibility for raising your child.
        Want your child to not to be materialistic? How about you stop throw a temper tantrum at everyone when they don’t get what they want. How about teaching them to be considerate and kind? Something all the princess preach but I see nobody mentioning. Princess stories are there to entertain and amuse your child not raise them. I’m sick and tired of hearing about how bad the princess model is for little girls when in fact it’s parents who need to step up and get their hands dirty.

      • Mrs.Sharp

        *throwing.* Grr, apologies for the many mistakes. I have a massive headache.

      • Frances

        TL;DR

      • Michelle

        Well said Jessie.
        As I child I loved all the Disney movies and *gasp* played the board game pretty pretty princess. Guess how I turned out…JUST FINE! I have a master’s degree in the health field and am in the process of my doctorate.

      • Jen

        This is something I see a lot and I think that means clarification is necessary. NO ONE thinks that showing little girls princess movies (or letting them run around in tiaras all day) is directly going to create adult women who sit around in towers waiting for princes. That would be ridiculous and that is why all of this “well, I watched Disney all the time and I’m fine” is a nonsense response to these sorts of arguments.

        So, what is the real problem with princess culture then? The fact is that we inundate girls with princess culture in more than just movies. Every aspect of life (from before the time they are old enough to walk) is touched by this culture. It sends girls a message that there is only one “right” way to be female before they even understand what gender is. By the time girls are in high school they’ve already been inundated with “princess” messages–dress like this, speak like this, behave like this–television shows, magazines AND the adults around them have all been subconsciously sending this message.

        Did you know that it has been found that adults treat children as young as 2 differently depending on whether they are perceived to be male or female? The males are “toughened up” while the females are coddled and prevented from doing things perceived as “unladylike”. Girls are also being told–both subliminally and straight up–at younger and younger ages that looks are more important than anything else. Read any story involving a powerful female. Whether she’s a world leader, a CEO or other professional I guarantee that story is going to make mention of her clothing or her looks. Heck, when the News of the World scandal broke newspapers were running stories on “What Rebecka Brooks Hair Says about Her” and she was an EiC!

        EVERY Disney princess follows standards of white beauty (in fact, Jasmine was actually based off a blonde, nordic sister of one of the animators). And while you make a point that the women do have some redeeming qualities, it’s their looks that lead to those handsome princes falling for them. And, those redeeming qualities pretty much fall by the wayside once their prince arrives on the scene (I make an exception for Princess and Frog since I’ve never seen the whole film–I found the beginning so exceptionally hideous I could not continue). I could literally write a thesis length paper on the various anti-female messages in each individual Disney film, but I’ll spare you and simply say that EVERY strong female character who is in control of her life without a man is painted as a sexually frustrated shrew or a whorish witch.

        Disney movies are not going to turn young girls into helpless women, but they are a very problematic and very big part of our culture. You say parents need to take charge, but part of taking charge is helping your daughter (and son!) ask these sort of questions when confronted with the kind of female imagery Disney normalizes. Children are huge consumers of media and sitting down with them–as a parent–and teaching them to question the ways that women are portrayed in media (and for young children Disney is the BIG TIME) is responsible parenting.

      • Katy

        Thanks Jessie for saying what I wanted to day! I am a parent of a preschool-aged daughter and did grow up in the age of princesses and never once did I wish to be one.

        I enjoyed it for what it was… fun and fantasy.

      • RKBoogeyman

        Agreed. I never wanted to be a princess either despite adoring all those Disney movies. I wanted to be a ghostbuster lol

    • Krista

      I completely agree, Jessie. And I am a parent of a little girl. A little girl who will not always be little… eventually, she will become an adult. When she does, she will have realistic and modern expectations on life because I, her mother, took responsibility for teaching her.

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    • Dana

      Bravo, Jessie! As a mother to a 5yr old girl that loves princesses and the “princess culture” (that phrase annoys me), I agree that it is our responsibility to put emphasis on the broad scope of the characters, not the jewels and princes. However, I also don’t think there is anything wrong with a little fantasy either. It’s all about balance. I highly suggest the book “The Paper Bag Princess” for any girls that loves princesses. It’s a great example of that balance!

    • Colleen

      I’ve always thought this whole “princess culture” vilification is complete nonsense. I used to work in childcare, and even the girls who were very into princesses were very spunky and even tomboyish at times, they aren’t crippled by some kind of oppression of a feminine ideal. Yes, some people treat boys and girls differently as children, but I have only ever witnessed people treating children individually based on the child’s own personality and interests. Yes, there are those people who cleave to gender stereotypes, and people still want to buy blue things for baby boys and pink things for baby girls. But that isn’t going to make a tomboyish girl insecure and helpless as she feels pressured into being more “girly” and it isn’t going to make a boy who enjoys more “girly
      pursuits such as playing house feel like he needs to be more rough and tumble.

      Disney isn’t the bad guy here, plain and simple. I can pretty much guarantee your young children are not reading into these stories on the same level you are. They are entertaining and enchanting to a child, especially when they are Disney or Barbie or Fox, etc. since those tend to have a lot of fun musical numbers. If you think your child is having trouble separating fairy tales from reality, then A) maybe they’re watching too much TV and B) it’s your job to explain the differences to them.

      I’m not saying that a lot of archaic ideals aren’t represented in fairy tales, because obviously there are – but I think many people are forgetting about a little thing called historical context. In which case, maybe you need to give your child a little history lesson as well if they are not getting the differences between the roles and opportunities available to women at the times these stories were written and take place, and the roles and opportunities available to women today.

      Also, most of the nonsense in here said about princesses is just that – nonsense. Princesses sit around all day waiting for a prince – any prince – and being bored because they have no interests of their own? Are you kidding me? Pick up a history book or a book about the workings of the royal families and the nobility, and educate yourself.

      Even these Disney princesses have their own interests: Belle (though she was a peasant before becoming a princess, remember) was very fond of reading; Ariel had a love of exploring and collected many treasured items for herself; Rapunzel (though her routine was repetitive) baked and painted; they’re also not all sitting around waiting for men as these Disney princess haters seem to imply.

      Ariel doesn’t even think of men until she sees Eric. She’s perfectly fine doing her own thing, and her father isn’t even pressuring her to marry anyone. Belle wasn’t looking for a man, and in fact pushed away the one who was interested in the beginning, though everyone else swooned over him. Cinderella wasn’t looking for a man when she went to the ball, she just wanted to be able to do something fun for once. Jasmine turns away suitor after suitor, to the exasperation of her father. Sleeping Beauty was comatose for a lot of that movie, so she wasn’t exactly going out of her way to find a man – she didn’t even know for a while that she was a princess. Yes, she daydreamed about meeting someone, but come on – what teenage/preteen girl isn’t at least a LITTLE bit boy crazy? You don’t have to be into princesses to daydream about boys at that age. Rapunzel? Same way – she didn’t even know she was a princess, and all she wanted was to see the lights. Tiana wasn’t a princess until the end of that movie – she had her own aspirations of opening a restaurant, following in her father’s footsteps.

      How is any of this detrimental to a young girl’s development and sense of self? And so what if they’re pretty? What, you don’t want your little girl to think that she’s pretty? Or because she doesn’t have the right figure? Disney isn’t the one telling her that. Body image things are EVERYWHERE. If you feel like the princesses thing is a big deal, show your daughter pictures of REAL princesses – paintings of princesses from long ago, photos of princesses from more recent times. Show them that these are just people, and they all look different, just like “regular” people all look different. Maybe that’s also a good time to throw in the talk about inner beauty/beauty is in the eye of the beholder/that sort of thing while you’re at it.

      This whole things just screams “scapegoat” to me. Don’t deprive your kid of something harmless that she loves. If you really have a problem with certain aspects of it, and you think she might be buying into it a little too much, then step up and address those things with her.

      • Jen

        Where, exactly, did the author advocate for anything but what you are saying? She is advocating talking to children about the problems with the representation of women in princess films and creating a dialogue about why those images might exist. That is exactly what you seem to be supporting.

        And, as someone who also works in childcare, I can guarantee you that YOU, personally, have treated children differently based on their gender. The people who do this, by and large, are not doing it because they subscribe to outdated ideals of gender. I know it, because I’ve even caught myself doing it. It’s something that is so beaten into our brains from childhood on that we unconsciously behave differently towards children depending on their gender.

    • Jessie

      WOW! I am surprised by all the support I have gotten for my little rant, thank you.

      Jen, I would like to thank you for being so mature about your rebuttal of my own argument, so many times I have become the victim of a flame war when I stae a differing opinion, so I thank you. I stated before that I respect and understand what is trying to be said by this battle, and I remain steadfast in my opinion that no matter how you look at it the responsibility falls to the parents to ensure that no matter how normal this sort of female imagery is (and probably always will be) in the media industry, their girls know that they do not HAVE to be that way. It’s just a story, nothing more.

      However, I would like to point out that Tiana was in control of her life without a man, as was Belle, and neither of them were painted as sexually frustrated shrews or whorish witches. Yes, they were seen as “odd” because they both lived in times where it was expected of women to want husbands to care for them, but that’s all. Pocahontas and Mulan were also women who took charge of their own lives and neither of them were painted as awful either.

      But this argument could go on forever between each side, I have a feeling that this is one of the parental war subjects that will never end. :)

      • Jen

        Jessie: 1) I guess I just don’t understand what your problem with the initial article is, since the author is putting the responsibility on the parents, not advocating that children be kept from watching princess films or participating in princess culture. My daughter is 4 and she is obsessed with princess culture. If she isn’t in school she’s wearing a dress up dress, a tiara and as much play jewelry as she can pile on without falling over. That’s not a problem for me (or for the author of this piece). The point is that when we do let little children consume this sort of media we should also be getting them to ask questions about the way that princesses (and women in general) are portrayed. Again, that’s not me saying that we shouldn’t let kids enjoy Disney films–heck I still enjoy Disney films–it’s just that we also need to teach them to think critically about what sort of things the films are teaching them about women. This article was directed at parents, showing things they could talk about with their children about princess culture.

        2) I can’t speak to Tiana because as I said before I found that movie so incredibly awful and offensive (from both an entertainment and a sociological standpoint) that I could not watch it in full. I don’t see Belle having any power in the start of the film, yes, she rejects the town “hottie”, but she also makes it clear that she’d rather be somewhere else entirely but is stuck where she is. I’m talking specifically about women in Disney films who have actual power–generally they end up dead at the end of the main male’s sword.

        3) I also find Disney’s representation of other cultures offensive and I discuss that with my daughter as well when we watch the films. I only mention this because I think the problematic nature of Disney’s dealing with other cultures and their stories is far more easy to see and so perhaps will make my point clearer. Don’t keep kids from watching the films, let them. But also make sure that you teach them to be cautious and thoughtful consumers of media and the only way to do that is to expose the problems with the films and ask them questions to get them to think.

        Thank you for being respectful as well, Jessie!

      • Jessie

        I don’t particulary have a problem with the article itself, it’s more that I’m just sort of tired of seeing all this vilification of fantasy movies simply because they might not be as realistic in what they portray as expectations for girls as people would like.

        I just think that making children of the age they usually are when they are exposed to and can understand these films (anywhere from 2 years and onward, from what I’ve seen) think so deeply about a fantasy story is a little silly. It seems to take the fun out of just just enjoying the fantasy when you douse it in the cold, hard reality of the world by asking these questions of your child. Now, this is of course ruling out that perhaps someone has an exceptionally perceptive child who enjoys that kind of thought activity, but from my experience with small children (and I’ve had a lot, the majority of my friends are mothers although I am choosing not to be at this time) most of them just want to be allowed to enjoy the movie and don’t think that far into aside from how fun the songs are or how pretty the pictures are.

    • Daisy

      First off, I agree with everything Jessie said.

      In fact, I think Disney movies have the exact opposite effect. It’s the PRINCES who have no outside interests or lives beyond the girls they chase (more so in the earlier movies than more modern ones). What was Prince Charming up to before meeting Cinderella, or Snow White? Nothin. Prince Eric was a little more fleshed out, but didn’t really have a lot going on either. Admittedly, the Beast sat around his castle because he was cranky and selfish, not because he was waiting for a maiden to rescue, but still–a pretty boring life until a girl came along and “saved” him. Aladdin, John Smith, and Li Shang are the only ones I can think of who did have lives.

      When I grew up, the adjustment from Disney movies to the real world wasn’t finding out that girls needed lives outside dresses and castles–it was finding out that boys have THEIR own hobbies and interests, and don’t particularly need me to come along and fulfill their lives with love and magic!

      Finally, there’s nothing wrong with getting a prince at the end. It’s not the be-all and end-all, but let’s be honest–loving someone who loves you back is pretty darn awesome! :)

      • Jessie

        And I agree with everything you just said! Good point, I never even thought of how the princes look, haha!

    • C

      One thing I never see addressed is that fact that you are teaching young girls to aspire to be something that is literally impossible to attain. A large percentage of little girls want to grow up to be a princess, but it requires a royal title–something limited to a select few. It’s rather unhealthy, disappointing, actually kind of mean to show little girls all these images of an ideal that no amount of hard work or accomplishment will ever bring them.

      • Jen

        That’s a really good point! I just had a discussion about this with my princess obsessed four year old a few weeks ago. I explained that being a princess was a meaningless and outdated title that simply said you were born into royalty or born pretty or connected enough to marry into royalty. Then we discussed some of the things she liked about princesses and wanted to emulate and talked about how A) ALL of those things were possible without being a princess and B) being something because you’ve worked hard and/or are really good at it is WAY better and more fulfilling than being something because you or your spouse was born with wealth and power.

      • Suzy

        “literally impossible to attain”? That’s not what I see.Why are you only looking at the princess’ beauty or clothing or wealth? Why can’t you see the good example they provide for little girls in this terrible world? Look at the media, its filled with girls making bad choices. These Disney princesses provide whole-some values. They are patient, caring, kind, gentle, good, and lovely. I believe those things ARE literally possible to attain.
        When babysitting and a little girl forgets to say please I say, “What do princesses say?” and it reminds her to say please. Once I asked a little 7 year-old girl why Cinderella was her favorite and she said “because she is nice to everyone”. The world picks at people trying to find every little wrong with them and it is terrible that our girls feel that way, but many people are doing the same thing to these characters of righteousness. I am not saying princesses are perfect, but who is?

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    • Hannah

      My four year old’s favourite princess is Fiona from Shrek. Phew.

      • RKBoogeyman

        Yeah, my niece likes Cinderella…but it’s because she’s so nice and patient and generous despite the cruelty of others. Also because she wears blue and my niece loves blue. She was 8 when she told me this.

        Personally, I’m a Tiana fan. Stunning, determined, hard working, and very independent. Even as a princess…she worked and ran a business.

        My niece responded with “She’s great…but I still like blue.” LOL

      • Guest1

        Cinderella is not a princess. She is a poor hardworking girl. She dresses up as a princess when she goes to the ball. Its a dress up to fit in.

    • Colleen

      Actually, Jen, what I’m taking issue with is the blatant and ridiculous Disney/princess-bashing. None of the arguments against the Disney princesses is even valid.

      Also, you don’t know me and you have never seen me interact with children. So it might surprise you to find out that you are wrong. I treat children the same way I treat adolescents and adults – which means I don’t treat them any certain way based on their sex. I treat people individually based on how they act and what I know about their personality.

      • Jen

        Colleen: You might want to try and do a little bit of research on the issue before making assertions. Multiple independent studies have found that men and women unconsciously treat children differently based on their perceived gender starting from when the child is about 2. I’m not implying that you are purposely behaving differently towards the children you interact with, simply pointing out that ALL adults have ingrained attitudes about gender and gender norms and behave accordingly, even when they do not intend to.

        And, sweetheart, you might want to try and actually back up your arguments with a little something I like to call facts. Simply stating that something isn’t valid doesn’t actually make it so. I dare you to find me a SINGLE Disney princess who does not conform to gender norms, white beauty standards and who does not give up EVERYTHING for a man.

        Also, once again, reading comprehension doesn’t seem to be a strong suit of those who blindly “defend” Disney against “bashing”. No one is saying girls shouldn’t be allowed to watch princess movies—my four year old ADORES princesses. What this author and I are both advocating for is to acknowledge that the messages princess culture sends to girls about life values and beauty standards are not optimal and to open up lines of discussion about the inherent problems in these sorts of portrayals of women.

    • Colleen

      -sigh-

      “Sweetheart,” don’t patronize me.

      I know how research works. Multiple independent studies are great, but anyone who does research in the social sciences can tell you that 1) you are collecting data from a relatively small sample of the population – we like to make generalizations, and for the most part they do apply to a majority of people. But there are always exceptions. I didn’t say you were wrong. I said I personally do not do that. I’m not going out of my way to be contrary, that is just how it is for me, personally.

      As for your dare, since you even proposed that, it leads me to believe you didn’t actually read my entire first comment to this article. And if you did read it, then you didn’t really get what I was saying.

      And no, I do not see the arguments as being valid. But neither did I say that my statement is the ultimate truth just because I feel this way. You presume far too much. The arguments are not valid because they do not come to any conclusions that are logical truths – they’re not true under all interpretations. They – as you yourself pointed out – cannot be backed up with fact. I never said they aren’t good arguments, just that they aren’t really valid.

      This is not to say I think everyone should have the same opinion as I do on this matter. Far from it. I also was not belittling or otherwise attacking those who do not see the issue from my perspective. So I fail to understand why you’re so defensive. My reading comprehension is excellent, but a lot of what you say points to there being flaws in your own ability where that’s concerned, and I would encourage you to reread what I had to say initially.

      I know you’re going to be tempted to make another presumptuous, false, and snarky remark in response to this, but do yourself a favor – don’t, because your apparent penchant for petty drama wearies me. I have better things to do than explain my point of view multiple times and get a headache over all the inane things you say while you try to be condescending.

      • Jen

        I DID actually read the entirety of your first comment, which is why I say you lack comprehension skills. You seem to have not been able to logically process what happened in any of those movies. Additionally, you actually ended each of your little defenses by making the SAME suggestions as the author of this piece (you repeatedly point out that parents should discuss the issues they have with Disney princess with their kids…which is EXACTLY what the author was saying).

        And you either are purposely ignoring major aspects of all of these movies and characters in order to make yourself feel better for defending them against someone who isn’t even suggesting they be taken away OR you really don’t understand them.

        PS: A point I missed before, so THANK YOU for telling me to reread your first comment. You DO actually treat girls differently. First in your assumption that parents want their girls to think they are pretty and secondly because you don’t even seem to THINK about the fact that girls are not the only ones receiving messages about the female body from Disney.

    • Livia

      I raised this question to my daughter when she was 4. How long does it take for a prince to fall in love with a princess? All of 5 seconds. Meaning he is loving her for her looks alone. What if she is mean? The stories always depict beauty and kindness going hand in hand and that is so wrong.

    • Livia

      Thank goodness the female leads are getting more kickass.
      Think Fiona in Shrek, Princess and the frog, Rapunzel and Barbie and the three musketeers.
      Hard work, perserverance, courage to follow one’s dreams is encouraged and rewarded.

      Just skip all the classic disney stories that are so outdated and meaningless.

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    • Suzy

      Many comments I am reading only talk about the princess’s looks and beauty. You are so concerned with their appearance. Why is that all you see in them? So what if they are pretty, everyone of them represents kindness and love. Aren’t these qualities we want in our daughters? I know I do. When I look at the princesses I see girls with pure hearts and who care about others. Why do we always find fault with people? Why can’t we see the good they do? Many people think princesses don’t do anything. I disagree. Snow White giver service to others. Cinderella gives service. Sleeping Beauty helps in the home and is kind. Ariel pursues her dream. Belle saves her father and breaks a spell. Mulan saves China. Pocahontas is a peacemaker. Jasmine helps others and is determine. Tiana works hard for her dream. Rapunzel goes on an adventure and helps others on the way. Merida helps her mom and their relation improves.
      These girls are consistently kind and selfless. I don’t know about you, but I want my daughter to always think of others and give service. Being caring and helpful is literally impossible to attain. That is the most important lesson we can teach our children.

      • Suzy

        *literally possible to attain