Parenting  •  May 29, 2009

The Princess Problem

It appears that all little girls love Disney princesses. There are very few exceptions. My daughter loves them too. It’s somewhat embarrassing because it’s so unoriginal and predictable. In fact, the little girl who lives downstairs from us sends her daddy off to work by saying, “See you later, Prince Charming!” So, whenever my daughter tries to call me Prince Charming, I tell her that Prince Charming lives in apartment 3B.

Until I read this article about “princess syndrome“, I didn’t realize that there is a princess boom right now. I thought every generation of girls loved princesses just as much as my daughter does. After all, isn’t it true that every generation of boys love superheroes? Or, is that a current fad too?

What I’m not clear about is whether the idea of princess is part of our evolutionary psychology (even biological or genetic), or it’s strictly cultural. I have a feeling that Disney has tapped into the collective unconscious of all women. My wife and I did not push any princess stuff on our daughter, Annika. In fact, my wife hates Disney princesses, and she tried her best to keep them away from Annika. My wife is not alone; other mothers we know have tried the same in vain. Sooner or later, they discover Disney princesses through their friends. Some people blame Disney’s relentless marketing but I’m pretty sure Annika would love their pricesses even if she was the only person in this world who knew about them. Their appeal is quite universal.

What exactly is a princess? Technically speaking, a princess is someone who marries a prince, but from the perspective of little girls, that’s a minor aspect. The most important aspect of a princess is that she is the most beautiful woman in the world. A superhero’s source of power is his physical strength. Similarly, a princess’ source of power is her beauty. In both cases, it’s about power. Little girls quickly realize that beauty is the easiest way to obtain power. Little boys realize the same about their physical strength. Both princesses and superheroes are feeding their desire to have power over others. And we can’t blame them for that. It’s only natural.

The idea that being smart is more important than being beautiful or being physically strong, is thoroughly unconvincing for little kids because they cannot see any evidence of that in real life. They see beautiful girls and strong boys getting what they want. At least with boys, soon enough, they do realize that intelligence is indeed more powerful than physical strength. These days, being physically strong doesn’t get you so far in life. But the same is not true for girls; beautiful women continue to wield power well into their adult lives. So, it’s only natural that they dream of becoming a princess.

The problem, however, is that we all know where that dream leads to; an eternal suffering. Nobody can stay being the most beautiful woman forever, not even a Ms. Universe. The more dependent you are on your beauty, the more you will suffer as you get older. At some point, you have to find some other meaning in life. This is why we worry about our daughters obsessing over princesses. But how do we teach them the danger of depending on their beauty? They’ll never listen to us. When the idea of death exists in your mind only as an abstract concept, you are essentially living in eternity. You wouldn’t worry about the future. You wouldn’t care that you might become ugly once you are old. That’s someone else’s problem.

So, what should we do about this princess problem? For now, my attitude is: Let them live in a fantasy; they’ll have a plenty of opportunity down the road to face the reality. For every subject, there is an appropriate time to learn/teach. Teaching the wrong thing at the wrong time could result in developing a complex, a hang-up, a resentment or a fetish. Until the time is right, let them have a cake and eat it too.