I wrote this in 2011 and an edited version appeared in Nurture Magazine (a now defunct publication of Leader Community Newspapers).
My eldest daughter, who is five, is heavily into the Disney Princesses at the moment.
I flip between worry that this interest is going to give her unrealistic expectations about what it means to be a girl and her role in the world, and then enjoyment in watching the dvds with her and playing with the dolls and dress ups.
Lately she has been very choosy about what she wears and if there is an item I put on her that she doesn’t like (brown and navy blue are no longer colours she wishes to wear) there will be tears, tantrums and screams of “I don’t look pretty in that”. This attitude worries me. The general advice from friends and the staff at her childcare is that it is a phase. I am not a “girly-girl” or someone who is very fashionable or cares that much what I wear so I am finding it challenging having a child who changes her clothes five times a day and only wants to wear dresses (I rarely wear dresses and when I do she says “mum, you look pretty. I want to look just like you.” That melts my heart and then I realise I should relish the moment because I doubt she will be saying that in 10 years!)
If we are in a store, all she wants to do is look at the make up and twist the tester lipsticks up and down. I don’t let her play with makeup at home (real or fake) but she does watch me when I put it on and she wants me to pretend to put it on her.
My husband and I are careful about the clothes that we buy for our daughters (no slogans like “It’s all about me” or “I’m a princess in training” etc.)
Despite this, I am not one who believes gender-specific toys or things that are pink are totally bad. I think there is a mini-hysteria from parents who want to be seen to be hip and cool and edgy by eschewing the kinds of toys that we played happily with as kids (My Little Pony, Barbie, Fisher Price etc.) Take for example the UK group PinkStinks who believe pink toys and branded products could be damaging to girls’ body images and self esteem.
PinkStinks says one of its aims is to “challenge the ‘culture of pink’, which is based on beauty over brains..”.
But does pink really stink? Am I wrong to buy thinks that are cute and pink and girly?
My concerns were tamed a lot when we were discussing with my daughter what she wanted for her birthday. She stood in her Snow White dress and pink sparkly handbag and informed us she wanted a workbench and tools so she could make “everything”.
Oh, and her career ambitions are to “wear a pretty dress, buy a sword and fight dragons”.
Postscript: My daughter, now six, still loves sparkly things. She plays with Barbies, loves reading and writing, wearing dresses and has joined chess club at school. I’m still not wild about Disney Princesses and avoid buying any related products but I’m using them as a constant source of dialogue with my girls about gender expectations.