There was Snow White, Cinderella, Aurora, Ariel, Belle, Jasmine, Pocahontas and Mulan.
Tiana arrives this fall in the first Disney film featuring a black American princess.
Set in 1920s New Orleans, The Princess and the Frog tells the story of a young waitress and gifted chef who dreams of following her father’s lead and owning a restaurant. The trailer can be viewed online or on the big screen in the previews of Disney Pixar’s Up, which opened May 29.
Tiana’s creation has been lauded as a milestone. She is a first in a long succession of Disney princesses, which began more than 70 years ago. The toys she inspires will acknowledge the beauty of young black women as children of all colors identify with Tiana.
Still, as the mother of two young girls, I fear I will be doing damage control for years after the credits roll.
In a recent New York Times article, critics railed on whether or not Tiana conquers racial stereotypes. Forget about all that. The problem is with the princess mentality.
The princess mentality is pervasive in our society. Everything from baby bibs to bicycles is scrawled with the P-word. A mother has to shop long and hard to find clothing that isn’t glittery or pierced with rhinestones. Just when you think you’ve defeated the princess marketing monster, someone else shows up on your doorstep with the cutest thing ever.
I’m not the wicked stepmother when it comes to princesses. I just want a dash of reality thrown into my daughter’s entertainment from time to time.
Unlike princesses, my daughters, 4 and 2, will be disappointed. They will want something my husband and I can’t afford, or they will miss the mark for some achievement. There will be no magic wand to go poof and make their dreams come true.
Sure, they can dress up for dance recitals, prom and other events, but I’ll be sure to warn them that outward superficialities like glitter and makeup will not compensate for any deeper flaws some women try to hide.
Disney and other toymakers are selling a fantasy, pure and simple. What is troubling is when fantasy mingles with reality. Some little girls are telling anyone who will listen that they want to be princesses when they grow up. If nothing else, I expect a more ambitious and attainable goal from children who haven’t yet learned to read or write. Their goals don’t have to be engraved in their scrapbooks, but thoughts of becoming lawyers, doctors or entrepreneurs is a start.
A princess? Whatever in the world do princesses do? More importantly, how do they get paid? Real life is not a fairy tale, and few folks live happily ever after. So just what are we telling our girls when we dress them up in frilly dresses, dust them with makeup and put glitter in their hair before they really know who they are? We’re telling them outward beauty is more valuable than being responsible, trustworthy citizens who don’t always get what they want. If we aren’t clear what’s acceptable now, we’re setting them up for a time in the not-too-distant future when they want something they can’t have and have no way of dealing with rejection.
Consider this: Simone is my oldest child, and a few days ago, she rushed up to a dress in a department store and cooed, “Oooh, sparkles.”
I have what is called a girly girl—a child who only wants to wear dresses or what she calls big tutus. These days she even casts aside skirts, known to her as little tutus. Shorts and pants aren’t even part of her wardrobe. So she spotted this big tutu from afar, and it looked a lot like, well, a wedding dress—and she wanted it.
“We’re not buying today,” I told her. I distracted her with some more modest dresses, and then we walked away.
Not two minutes later, she scampered up to a counter. “Ooh, sparkles.”
This time she was in the jewelry department.
When the salesman asked if there was anything he could show me, as I arrived a good five paces behind Simone, I informed him we weren’t in the market for engagement rings and wedding bands.
Simone gladly skipped off to the next thing. She didn’t ask for or expect anything. But I shot my husband a concerned look. If she does this at 4, what is she going to be like at 14, when she may not be as easily distracted? Many girls grow out of the princess fascination, while others request the star treatment from their parents and friends for the rest of their lives.
I’m not going to wait around to find out, especially with a black princess making her debut later this year. As soon as I see an opening, the evil stepmother in me is going to pull Simone aside and tell her that princesses don’t make any money.
Monique Fields is a regular contributor to The Root.