My niece, Sophia, likes to dress up as a princess. Every single day. She not only owns several princess gowns (for there are many varieties: Snow White, Cinderella, Jasmine, Ariel and, of course, generic medieval), but is also in possession of tiaras, lunchboxes, t-shirts, DVDs, computer games, books and a plethora of other Disney princess-related items. This may be somewhat acceptable if the connotation was that Sophie aspired to be a political ruler; a leader; a Queen, inspiring her people on to victory. But it seems the princess concept largely means that young girls are aspiring to be The Fairest of Them All, rescued by a Handsome Prince and live happily spoiled ever after.
Paris Hilton - Sexy Bitch Lavender Juniors
I am aware of the counter-arguments to this: princess play is practically engrained in the DNA! Little girls grow out of it! It's just a bit of fun! And that all would sit better with me if I didn't believe that post-Princess socialisation allowed girls to leave their fairytale fantasies behind and concentrate on their intellectual, spiritual and social development as teens and young adults. But the Pretty Princess fantasy is continuing past the pre-school years: witness the rise of spa and nail parties for the pre-teen set, as popularised by Lourdes Ciccone Leon; note the increase of designer lines for children (Versace, Chloe, Armani); behold the horror of MTV's "My Sweet 16th." And worst of all, shudder at the continuing success of talentless, spoilt rotten reality stars like Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian - and remember that for many a young "princess," these two are role models.
Don't believe it? Film director Tyler Perry recently decided to cast Kardashian in his latest film, on the grounds that, "She literally has millions of young people following her ... Whether you're aware of it or not, and to be honest with you I wasn't, millions of young people adore her and are following her every move." Perry clearly knows where the box office money is. Paris Hilton has had her own line of teen wear since 2007, featuring must-haves such as zebra print platform pumps, and pink t-shirts emblazoned with slogans like "Sexy Bitch."
No doubt, tweens and teens have always traumatised parents with their sexual experimentation, musical tastes and sartorial style. But this generation, as many have suspected, is a bit different. First, it seems that it's mainly the girls who have turned monstrous: it's not often you see little boys pouting seductively for holiday shots the way you see little girls do - perhaps they're imitating Vogue's recent 10-year-old cover girl? Secondly, while all previous generations of teens have experimented with sexuality, this one seems to be starting much, much earlier, even before breasts have sprouted. To illustrate: British retailers Matalan and Primark and Irish retailer Dunnes were all recently under fire for selling padded bikinis aimed at 7- and 8-year-olds. Thirdly, there is a sense of deservedness, a narcissism, that many parents and teachers I've spoken to believe is unique to this generation of girls.
And no wonder. While generations of little girls played "princess" at some point in their childhood, increasingly clever and omnipresent marketing means that many girls today grow up unable to leave the princess behind. The women they watch on TV, the internet and in movies seem to make exaggerated, passive femininity desirable, and even profitable. The models they see in the pages of magazines aimed at ever-younger girls teach them how to gain popularity through bleaching, waxing, dieting, consuming and learning how to manipulate men. Whilst older generations had a wide range of role models from which to choose, from tomboyish Buddy on Eight is Enough to nerdy but independent Blossom to Riot Grrl rockers, the best role model today's girls could come up with in one British survey was Cheryl Cole.
There has recently begun a backlash to the "Princess-ification" of childhood: a little girl ranting against the corporate gender division of toys has gone viral on YouTube. "PinkStinks" is a new website dedicated to highlighting the successes of women in science, politics, the arts, and other areas. Hamleys, Britian's oldest and perhaps biggest toy store has vowed to create a more gender neutral layout of their shops, and several books, such as Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein and Living Dolls: the Return of Sexism by Natasha Walter have resonated with many parents, which is a good thing, but it seems the voices of Cosmo Girl, Gossip Girl and their ilk are still much louder.
Ultimately, the princess phenomenon doesn't indicate the end of the world. Our girls will inevitably learn that being pretty won't get them everything they want. They will learn that they are not that special, after all; that men are not human cash machines; that consumption doesn't lead to happiness, and that putting on princess airs is eventually terribly isolating. It will just take them that much longer to realise it.
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