O: Mom, when can we go to the snow and build a snowman and be Elsa. Today? Can we go today?
I have a unique relationship with the Disney princesses. Not only did I come of age during the rebirth of the of Disney princess movie musical, I played that Little Mermaid audio tape so often in my walkman the tape actually wore through, but I also, well, this is tricky, I also worked at a major Southern California theme-park portraying beloved characters who may or may not have been royalty. They made me sign stuff. I'm still scared.
And now, I have daughters. I have two smart, independent, strong daughters and want nothing more than for them to know that they will never need to wait around for a prince to come, or for true love's kiss, or to be part of his world. I want them to know that there is more to them than a ball gown or a tiara, that their worth in the world is not measured by how adorably they pout or how lovable some man finds them to be. I want them to have goals they chase, not wishes they wait for.
It is hard. I have some warm, nostalgic memories, even of the stuff I now see as negative, the stuff I hope my kids don't feel they need to take on. It is too easy a response, to say, "Well, I grew up with it, and I'm fine." I'm not even sure that is true. I spent a good chunk of my late teens and early 20's unlearning a lot of what that Little Mermaid cassette taught me.
But, I do remember so fondly seeing Beauty and Beast in the theatre. It was one of the only movies my little sister and I ever agreed on. We were both entranced, by the music, by the story, by the romance, and we rarely agree, to this day, on anything. I do remember working in the park and seeing so clearly the love and awe on countless little faces as they lifted up their autograph books, reached out for hugs, or lifted up their sun dresses to show me that I was, in fact, on their underwear, to the intense embarrassment of their parents.
And now, as a parent, I see all of the stuff, the heavily-marketed merchandise, that fills the toy chests and rooms of little girls I know and love. I see the agressively-branded costumes, the big-eyed dolls, the cheap plastic knick-knacks. I see the way these types of toys limit play, especially for little girls, defining so early the roles that they are permitted to hold. The tiny lucite high-heels are a particular sore spot, so completely non-functional, destined to result in a twisted ankle, reminiscent of the clear plastic shoes I imagine a stripper would wear. They seem to be the first thing both of my girls are drawn to, as if to punish me for my participation in the Big Mouse Machine, where, by the way, all of the princesses wore sensible character shoes which may not have been suitable for running, but were, at least, suitable for dancing.
I want to believe that I was involved at a simpler time, when there wasn't so much stuff, when the culture of the princess was not quiet so damaging, but that isn't true. In fact, if anything, the more recent female Disney role-models are stronger and more independent than the princesses of my youth. Plus, at least, the conversations are being had. At least, the questions are being asked.
I am conflicted. I want them to be in the world. I want them to be able to engage with their peers about popular culture. I want them to be able to take joy in the positive things about Disney, no matter how short or long I might believe that list of positives to be.
I don't have an answer, just a dilemma. O has seen Cinderella. She has seen Tangled. We had an aborted attempt at watching Brother Bear, whose warm, familial title is misleading. (Spoiler Alert: EVERYONE DIES.) I held off until mid-April, but they have both seen Frozen, and now, at the end of April, O can sing and recite every line and Jim is pretty certain he heard P singing a twenty-months-old rendition of Let It Go.
I have not taken them, or allowed them to be taken to Disneyland yet. My memories of the park are of a loud, crowded place, full of people who spent a lot of money to have a good time, their anxiety hovering a little too close to the surface, causing them, at times, to lose touch with their own humanity. I am overwhelmed at the mere mention of a visit to Disneyland. I can only imagine what it might look like to someone who stands barely three feet off the ground, someone who is struck dumb by the magic of magnets, someone who still goes to bed at 7:30pm, someone who gets overwhelmed at a family party where she only knows half of the people. It still seems too big and too bright for their tiny eyes.
I know countless families who love all things Disney, who embrace the costumes, the park, and the films with a wild abandon. I see the joy that it brings to them and to their children and I have nothing but respect for them and their choice, but I still cringe anytime O asserts that she is a princess. P would probably just encourage me, in song, to let it go. After all, how do you hold back a cultural avalanche. I suppose, we will continue to take it one movie, one tiny lucite high-heel, one magical Disney moment at a time.