If you grew up in the late ’80’s and ’90’s, chances are you had a favorite animated Disney movie, and chances are it featured a princess (If your favorite animated film was “The Lion King,” skip to the bottom of this column).
My Disney movie was and always will be “The Little Mermaid.” In the first grade, I became obsessed with the movie, the music and mermaids in general. My arts and crafts projects featured mermaids; during trips to the pool, I pretended I was a mermaid, and all I wanted for Christmas that year was a singing mermaid doll.
I don’t remember what I loved about “The Little Mermaid,” though I suspect I was jealous of Ariel’s voluminous red hair and ability to sing underwater. I do remember that I got a singing mermaid doll for Christmas, played with it for about a month and then buried it at the bottom of the toy box. Getting the doll wet ruined its hair and shorted out its electronic voice box. What’s the point of a mermaid princess that can’t go underwater?
I’ve been thinking about “The Little Mermaid,” and other Disney princesses recently since I read “Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Girlie-Girl Culture,” by Peggy Orenstein. In the book, Orenstein writes about Disney princesses, Miley Cyrus and toddler beauty pageants and what sort of effect all this pink and pretty stuff might have on girls.
The book was published a year ago, but the debate over what’s good for girls and what’s warping them continues. Just Google phrases like “princess” and “pink” and you’ll come up with several articles debating whether it’s okay to let a child don a tiara. Do girls naturally prefer dolls over trucks, or are they conditioned to believe they should? Why do Legos marketed toward girls feature pink blocks and beauty parlor sets, while boys get superheroes, laser guns and cars? When did being a girl, or raising one, become so complicated?
It makes me wonder what sort of adverse effects the pop culture fads of my childhood might have had on me. What, for example, was I supposed to take away from My Little Pony, Rainbow Brite or even The Little Mermaid? She does give up her voice just to get her man, you know. That can’t be healthy behavior. And what about real princesses? Granted, the Duchess of Cambridge is probably a better role model for any girl than say, Lindsey Lohan. But I don’t think I’ve ever heard her speak, seen her eat or do anything except stand still and look pretty.
Read too many studies and articles about the negative effects of “girlie-girl” culture and you start to become paranoid. While I believe you should be smart about the pop culture you consume and question what sort of messages it might send, sometimes, there is no message. Sometimes a princess is just a princess. No worries. Hakuna Matata.