The Princess Paradox

20 Apr

Princesses are a permanent fixture in the landscape of products for young girls.  Not just any old princesses, mind you, but Princesses with a capital P, the pink and plastic Disney ones, with indulgent fathers and evil mothers whose only hope in life is to be rescued by the muscular-and-musically-talented princes/beasts/frogs with the tight pants and the gilded 70s shirts.  The Princesses who embody the stereotype women have been trying to shed for the past 50 years.

These Princesses are everywhere.  They’ve infiltrated everything from sleeping bags to greeting cards to school supplies to electronics. It’s impossible to enter any big-box store without finding at least one of them, peering out from a lunchbox or nightgown.  And, as part of the vast, self-fulfilling prophecy that is consumerism, little girls LOVE them.

So what’s a parent to do?

The Princess Paradox

As parents, it’s our responsibility to bring toys into our homes that nurture, educate and foster our children’s sense of play.  It’s our responsibility to set an example for how our children should behave, how they should treat others, how they should value themselves and how they should evaluate their decisions. But it’s also our responsibility to encourage our children to be who they want to be, to be proud of who they are, secure with what they like, and confident about their choices.  Hence, the Princess Paradox.

The good news? It’s possible to establish a strong working relationship with the Princesses, to celebrate their strengths, minimize their shortcomings, and turn their very existence into a meaningful learning experience for little ones.  Here are some ideas around how to do that.


Your child may long to fill her toybox with all things pink and pretty, but it doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing situation.  You can give her some Princess items, to show you respect her interests, but round out the selection with gender-neutral toys like soft blocks to build big towers, crayons and paper to create fantastic artwork, cars and trucks to zoom around the floor, and dolls to nurture.  Don’t push her towards specific toys, but let her pick and choose what she wants to play with.  She may favor the Princess stuff for a little while, but will most likely integrate the other offerings into her play routine over time.

Be Picky

One good thing about the prevalence of Princesses is that they are on EVERYTHING.  You don’t have to settle for dolls and DVDs, as there are Princess products that support learning, creativity and innovation, believe it or not.  Be selective. Look for licensed-character items like educational games, electronics, art projects and musical instruments, items that push past the clothes/make-up/hair stereotypes.

Get Involved

When your kid’s playing with her toys, get down on the floor and parallel play with her.  While she’s playing with a Princess toy, grab her blocks and build a tower, or grab crayons and draw a picture. She’ll notice how much fun you’re having with the non-Princess item, and even if she doesn’t come over to join you, she’ll remember for next time that Mommy or Daddy really enjoyed playing with the blocks or crayons and it might be a good idea to give it a try.

Because, after all, she looks up to you more than any pink plastic Princess.

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One Response to “The Princess Paradox”

  1. Lori Widelitz-Cavallucci May 8, 2011 at 9:10 am #

    What an outstanding post in showing how we can balance the gender-specific toys to better enhance our children’s learning on all levels. Your ideas are really great ways to combat what society tells us is appropriate for each gender.

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