My daughter is about to turn one. Which means that my mailbox has mysteriously turned into a repository for all things related to birthdays (yes I’m about to whine about something I got in the mail. Again). Not sure if the hospital sold us out or what, but we got on some mailing list and now we are getting catalogs full of all the “stuff” we “need” to celebrate her first trip around the sun.
Aside from the paper and manpower wasted on these things I suppose there’s nothing terribly harmful about them at first glance. It is upon second and third glances that the less obvious but more insidious nature of the publications and their wares become apparent. *Insert disclaimer reminding you this is just my opinion and my ponderings*
First off, there’s this notion that you have to mass consume in order to properly celebrate a birthday for a person who is no more likely to remember the occasion than they are their birth itself. I know that in some cultures the first birthday is historically a HUGE deal, and I get that. And if you’re a member of those cultures, then swing away. But I’m not, for instance, Hawaiian. And I’m just not going to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on my child’s birthday. I digress. The issues about money and grandiosity are not even my biggest beef here, anyway.
The real hair-raises-on-my-neck-and-I-breathe-funny-and-my-blood-pressure-rises problem I see in these catalogs - and pretty much EVERYWHERE anything is marketed to little girls - is that they shove my daughter into the princess box before she’s even really out of the gate. Or really even before she enters the arena as there are also maternity shirts that I could have worn that would have told the public that she was a “Princess in the Making”, “Princess to Be” or “Princess in Progress” “Daddy’s Lil Diva”. The most common theme for a baby girl’s party –or life really, if you follow mainstream marketing- is that of a Princess/Diva. Does anyone else remember when it was more of a slam to be called a princess or a diva?
If I were to succumb and drink the Pepto on this one and order a Deluxe Birthday Kit (or two, or three) from these people there would be pink and lavender tulle covering her highchair and pretty much every other surface in the room. Her bib would say something quippy about being a diva in training and she would be wearing feathers (not sure if it would be just trim or a full boa or both, but rest assured once I decided I could buy them!). There would be a good chance that some kind of animal print would be involved – it might be “natural” in coloring or it might be some gaudy representation of the hide of a most unfortunate African creature that due to some hellacious genetic misfortune was born in tones of magenta and violet with outbreaks of glitter sparkles on it’s hide. Her bottle and her clothing (which would be festooned with “bling” no doubt) would also declare her, in some sparkly bubblegum-colored way, to be a princess as well.
Part of why I might be particularly sensitive to this right now is that I just finished reading “Cinderella Ate My Daughter” by Peggy Orenstein. So I’ve been stewing on the implications of this princess-obsessed girl culture that has been steadily growing over the past decade or so as of late anyway. I foolishly thought that I might be able to put off deciding just how I feel about it all for another year or two. And then I opened the mailbox. Turns out the only thing I can avoid at the moment is the actual purchasing. The bazooka of marketing associated with the princess lifestyle has already been aimed –and fired- at my daughter and me. It is astounding to me the number of products available that feature the Disney Princesses alone (something along the lines of 2,600 if I remember the figure from Ms. Orenstein’s book).
So I guess I’ve made my bias obvious. I’m not a big fan of all of this princess stuff. I don’t appreciate contemporary American culture trying to shove the princessification of my daughter’s generation down my throat at every turn. I also know I can’t live in a vacuum and ignore it or be foolish enough to think it can be avoided altogether. I can even see how some might view it as a celebration of the feminine and a fun way to celebrate the little ladies in our lives that we all esteem highly enough to crown with cutesy royal titles.
But is it that innocuous? Or should I be concerned about this role being fed my daughter before she even has 4 teeth? Are there princesses out there that don’t have to be rescued by a prince, forfeit something dear to them to get their prince, or be transformed into something/someone else to be noticed by a prince? If there is such a princess tale, is it possible to deliver that message through the pink fog of the mainstream princess propaganda? And why on this green earth would I want to encourage my child to act entitled or like a diva (the definition I assume this term is referring to is that of “a haughty, spoiled woman” and not an opera star)?
Particularly those of you with daughters – how do you navigate these waters in your house?
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