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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23 Responses to Princess on the Playground

  1. Miss Bliss says:

    As you know I don’t have kids but I do have eight goddaughters of varying ages. I remember when my first goddaughter was young (she’s 27 now and about to give birth to her first child, a girl). She was, and is, very tall. Her Dad is 6’9″ and her Mom is 5’8″…so yeah TALL. Everyone asked if her she wanted to be a model when she grew up. It made my head spin and steam come out of my ears. I was rather famous for snapping at people that she was actually planning, at the ripe old age of five, to be a really, really tall totally HOT research biologist who cured cancer! GRRRRRRRRRRRRR!

    • Mommy Psychologist says:

      It’s so frustrating. Yes, world it is possible to be smoking hot and smart! These two things can actually co-exist. It’s funny because when you said tall I immediately thought- basketball!basketball! But, see, that should tell you a bit about me.

  2. TheCheekyKea says:

    When my daughter was turning one, I asked if people could give clothes as gifts instead of toys, and most of the clothes that turned up were so super girly and princessy, that they were totally impractical. I was even given lace up biker boots for her – they would have looked great if they were my size, but totally inappropriate for her. Especially when paired with the slutty leopard print mini skirt with PVC belt she was given by another friend. I even felt dirty giving them to Goodwill.

    • Mommy Psychologist says:

      Thanks for commenting! I’m continually horrified at what I see little girls wearing. I want to find an article that I read recently about how you should give girls compliments. It was really great. I’m on the hunt. I’ll share it as soon as I find it.

  3. Penny says:

    As a mother to three daughters I enjoyed this post. I agree it is a minefield . Teaching the girls to embrace their uniqueness as a female and enjoy their femininity without taking it too far. Making daily choices towards this goal is hard but I guess its part of the territory. I find it so hard to actually find practical clothes for the girls, ones that will actually keep them warm!I rememeber sitting down one day and brainstorming other words instead of “pretty” to call my daughter…lovely, sweet, angelic, happy etc

    • Mommy Psychologist says:

      Glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for stopping by. I think if I had a girl I would have no choice but to take up sewing:) Hope you come back.

  4. Eileen says:

    Like the blog

  5. Rach says:

    Hi there! I found you through another blog I visit and popped in to check things out.

    As the mother of three girls, this post really struck a chord with me. My husband and I have had long talks about nature versus nurture. I’ve had the same talks with my sister (mother of three–two of them girls). We tried to avoid the fru fru frilly things for my oldest, and yet, she embraced anything pink and sparkly–the gaudier and tackier the better. Think “Fancy Nancy”. Now, with that said, she also had an avid interest in hiking, rocks and minerals, geology and woodworking with her father. While she wanted to “be” fancy and glamorous, she also was rather practical.

    My middle child is more eclectic in her tastes. She likes a full pettiskirt to twirl around in, but most of the time prefers to pretend she is a kitty, donning kitty ears and tails. She doesn’t have a lot of pink in her wardrobe and for the longest time her favorite color was red.

    The youngest is not quite two, so we’re still waiting to see what happens there.

    I figure my job as their mother is to nurture their interests and accept them for the strange and wonderful creatures they are (and let me tell you, there are some moments…). However, I LOATHE the whole little princess culture that seems to be sweeping through much of childhood. I don’t know if it’s the moms embracing it and forcing it on their daughters (hence “Princess” :shudder:) or if the girls themselves are the ones being sucked in. So far it hasn’t happened in our house.

    As for the clothing thing, GAH! Do you know how hard it is to find APPROPRIATE clothing for little girls that doesn’t make them look like mini-hoochies? Sheesh!! Stop hyper-sexualizing our little girls!!

    One last thing (since I seem to be rambling all over your comments section), was the article you referenced above this Lisa Bloom article?

    Sorry about the length of this, but you really started me thinking!


    • Mommy Psychologist says:

      Thanks for coming by and commenting! I loved the article you provided. It wasn’t the one I was referring to, but it was a great article. Did you notice that Bloom also wrote a book for women as well? I might have to check that out too.

      You made many interesting points. The question about nature vs. nurture can’t be overlooked when it comes to this topic either. You talked about your daughter just naturally gravitating towards what we would label “girlie” things and this certainly has to be considered in this discussion because so many girls make these choices regardless of outside influences. I see it in my son as well. He walks right by the girl toy aisles. Doesn’t even glance at them. And not because I say, “hey, go look at the trucks.”

      Interestingly, there was a time when toy stores didn’t segregate by gender and found that it simply wasn’t practical.

      Thanks for taking the time to bring up the other side of this issue.

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  8. Julie says:

    I know you’ve mentions Peggy Orenstein in some of your other posts but she has some great resources on her website for “avoiding” (can’t think of a better word) the princess culture.
    Here’s a great list of books, movies, TV shows, toys and dolls for girls that speak to empower young girls without over-sexualizing or being too “princessey”.

    I’m pregnant with my first child- a girl. From the very beginning I said that if it turned out I was carrying a girl I would do everything I could to avoid pink and frills and lace and BARBIE. I grew up playing with G.I. Joe’s and gosh darn it, so will my child! But I know that’s not completely practical. I can try as hard as I want to to steer her in a direction away from all that, but when it comes down to it, if that’s what she likes I’m not going to deny it to her. All I can do is try my hardest to teach her that there’s more to life than the way we look and that it’s O.K. to be pretty and girly as long as that’s not all you strive for. I want my child to be well read, educated, worldly and opinionated AND I want her to feel really good about herself while doing it.

    • Mommy Psychologist says:

      Thanks for your comments, Julie. I just got through checking these out. I’m certainly going to pass it on to fellow moms.

  9. katie says:

    I’m a mother of two very young boys. I feel very strongly that one of my many many jobs is to teach them early how they should regard girls. When my one-year-old would watch girls curiously (the way he does everybody) I used to say something like, “yes, she’s a very pretty girl, isn’t she?” I’ve realized that if I were to continue doing this, I’m doing him and his future female friends and wife no favors. Now, I say things like, “Did you see how well-behaved that girl is?” “Look at the way she shared with the other girl!” “She seems very smart/nice/sweet doesn’t she?”
    As my boys and the girls that they pay attention to grow, my comments will become more mature, but I want them to notice a girl’s good character, not her good looks.

    • Mommy Psychologist says:

      Thanks for your comments, Katie. I try to do the same thing with my son.

    • Just another mom says:

      How about “Do you see how smart she is?” because truthfully, being well behaved is overrated….especially as girls get older, the nice ones are walked all over – unless it is made clear that they have a brain and think for themselves.

      • Mommy Psychologist says:

        Thanks for your comments. I have to admit that right now in my world living with a toddler, being well behaved is highly rated:)

  10. Beki says:

    I am one of the parents that gave their child an odd name… my son is named D’Artagnan Mercutio Zayn Kole… 3 middle names. My son goes by the name Kole or D’Art, but he doesn’t think he is a Muskateer…lol…

    As for the nature vs. nurture… One of my older sons (he is about to turn 14) has worn “girl” shirts and pants for a good portion of his life. I bought “boy” cloths and he would take his sister’s cloths because he said they were “prettier than those boy cloths”. Did I WANT my son to wear girl cloths and get picked on? NO. But that was what he felt comfortable and happy in, he is now starting to wear “boy” shirts and like them… Is that nature? or nurture?

    I know this article was about girls so I will throw in about my daughter as well… She chose to wear boys cloths for a while because she said you can’t climb a tree in a dress, now she wears pants and it isn’t an issue. She is a smart, friendly, helpful and yes, pretty little girl that was taught not to show to much skin.

    • Mommy Psychologist says:

      Thanks, Beki. I don’t have problems with “odd” names. I live in Hollywood so I am surrounded by them:) I really like that you allowed your son to be himself and to wear “girl” clothes when he wanted to. I wish more parents were as open minded and as accepting as you!

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