I was so much against the Princess thing in general that I was compelled to tell Perfect Granddaughter (while playing a game of Disney Princess Go Fish) that one of those princesses, Ariel or Belle or the beautiful Chinese one, didn't really love that charming prince who came a ‘calling.
"Oh, yes, she loves him," replied Perfect Granddaughter. "She really does."
"Sorry," said Nana. "She's just marrying him for his castle. It happens."
When I confessed this to my husband, he said for sure I was going to end up on the cover of "Bad Grandma" Magazine.
I just didn't want that little girl to grow up thinking everything was perfect in princess-land. Truth is some—not all—of those princesses really are marrying those square-jawed, six-packed hunks for their castles. The whole role-model-dolls thing is about little girls growing up with unreasonable expectations. It's a question of girls growing up thinking that—actually; it's a question of girls growing up thinking.
Rather than being totally smashed-to-the-beach by waves of custom, comfort, or hormones. It might be nice for females to learn to think and consider the possibilities as well as the ramifications of their choices. (As indeed we hope boy children will learn the same thing).
The princesses en masse didn't show up as a marketing model until the 1990s, but many of us grew up with Disney heroines modeled on the gals in the Grimm Fairy Tales who were often treated badly as children, mainly by wicked stepmothers. (Is there any other kind of stepmother than a "wicked" stepmother? Talk about horrible role models.) They found salvation from their rotten families through marriages to handsome princes.
Well, 60-Somethings how'd that work out for you?
Barbie has gone through changes as our ideas about female possibilities expanded: careers, education (did she ever get married and have kids?). And the Disney Princesses have gone through changes, too. The latest stars admitted to the princess pantheon are notably more active, self-assured and more independent than their predecessors.
This brings me to the most recent controversy, the story of Meridia.
MERIDA (BRAVE): I bought Perfect Granddaughter this coloring book and I was happy to see a gal much like Katniss Everdeen in "The Hunger Games," handy with a bow and arrow, and comfortable in her non-Barbie-body. The red-headed heroine was loved by kids, as well as mommies and daddies.
This was before Merida became an official princess and glammed up. Her body was “skinny-fied,” her face was changed and the archery went away. Everyone on the Internet hated the makeover.
"Brave" writer and co-director Brenda Chapman said, "Because of marketing, little girls gravitate toward princess products, so my goal was to offer up a different kind of princess—a stronger princess that both mothers and daughters could relate to, so mothers wouldn't be pulling their hair out when their little girls were trying to dress or act like this princess. Instead they'd be like, ‘Yeah, you go girl!’”
More than 200,000 folks signed a petition with Change.org telling Disney to put Merida back like she used to be. Even Jon Stewart, of “The Daily Show,” chimed in on behalf of Merida, who was brave, passionate, and confident, not "literally lying in a coma waiting for a man to give (her) life.”
In the end, though, Stewart satirically reserved the toughest criticism for fellow parents who perhaps lean a little too heavily on pop culture. “The point is this, Disney: You need to reconsider this makeover because you have an arrangement with the parents of America, of which I am one,” he said. “Our job is to make sure the children are sitting in front of the screen. Your job is to raise them right. And if you keep teaching them the wrong lessons, then we’re going to have to start doing it ourselves, and that’s not cool.”
NEXT WEEK: THE RANKS OF THE DOLLS