My 3-year-old daughter loves Disney princesses. And I'm absolutely fine with that.
Are the princesses pretty? Yes. They're beautiful. And that doesn't bother me either. Because it's perfectly possible to admire beauty without questioning your own — and I want her to know that.
Still, many continue to attack the princess genre (and judge me quite harshly as a mother) because they think princesses put too much emphasis on beauty and that this can lead to body-image problems in the future.
I get this. I really do. In our hyperdigital world full of Snapchat and Instagram and constant selfies that are endlessly "liked," our daughters will be bombarded with more visual messages about what is and isn't beautiful than ever before.
BUT (and as a parent, this is very important), according to Leslie Sim, the clinical director of the Mayo Clinic's eating disorders program, "Mothers are the single most important influence on a daughter's body image."
That's right. Not princesses. Not Facebook photos. Not supermodels. Mothers! That's us!
Whatever you feel about Disney princesses, the true royal power lies in our hands. We must stop agonizing so much about royal beauty and turn our daughters' princess mania into something empowering.
When my daughter puts on her plastic tiara and sparkly dress, of course the first thing I want to say is, "You look so pretty!" Because she does look pretty! She looks adorable! She's a preschooler in a ball gown — how could she not?
But I've learned to stop myself. And instead, I say this: "You're a princess? That's wonderful! How are you going to take care of your kingdom?"
I'm constantly reminding her that it takes more than a puffy dress and fancy hairstyle to be a princess. I tell her how there are lots of secret princesses out in the real world who aren't wearing crowns or glittery outfits (they're actually in normal clothes!) — but if you look closely, you can tell who they are by how they treat people. Do they share? Are they helpful? Are they kind to everyone? Are they setting an example so others will do the same?
Because deep down, that's the true beauty of a princesses — the essential beauty that everyone likes to forget because they are too focused on animated measurements.
And guess what? Science is on our side. Dr. Sarah Coyne (also the mother of a 3-year-old) recently studied how Disney princesses influence young girls in terms of body esteem and behavior. And much to her surprise, she found that girls who engaged most in princess play had better body image.
These findings only confirmed another study by Dr. Hayes and Dr. Tantleff-Dunn, which found that after viewing Disney princess movies, girls were more likely to replicate princess personalities — their behavior was kinder, more generous, and more helpful. "Who's the fairest of them all" was truly the last thing on their minds — so why is it always on ours?
Besides, we know the allure of royal beauty doesn't belong entirely to Disney. When my daughter asked me about the "pretty girl" named Kate who wears jewels and appears all over my magazines, I told her the truth: she is a beautiful princess, but one day she will be queen and will have the responsibility of looking after everyone in her kingdom. We talked about England and America and I showed them to her on a map. We talked about how Kate doesn't just sit in her palace, but works to help children who are bullied and children who are sick.
And now, when my daughter is dressed in her favorite pink tutu and Snow White tiara, I ask her who she is helping. Lately her imagined philanthropic goals are helping people find their missing kittens and giving food to children who don't have mommies and daddies — and I can't pretend either cause is unworthy.
In The Little Mermaid, Ariel is a princess — but her voice is considered more powerful and more valuable than her beauty. I love that message. Because I want my daughter to know that true princesses will speak out, will take a stand, and will always do what is necessary to defend the greater good. And in that way, they are beautiful.