A Modern Girl's Musings

My earliest political memory is of my parents laughing at me when I asked if we were voting for Ronald Reagan. Even I could tell poor Carter wasn't looking so good. I was about five. I think the laughter was accompanied by something along the lines of "for crying out loud!"

Nevertheless I consider myself a Reagan Baby. Those eight years of my childhood were spent realizing that there was still a lot of work to be done, despite Dr. King, in addition to the Kennedys (a lot of them were still alive then), and hopefully including me (if my Quaker education by the hippies was teaching me anything at all).

So after Reagan, after Clinton, after hiding in those Bushes, I am still hopeful, I am still working on my addition, I'm still on my way to a new way of living in this world.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Mirror, Mirror

I am working through my feelings about my daughter’s Halloween choice, which is to be Snow White.

I get the princess thing.  To some extent every little girl fantasizes she is a princess.   I did.  My sisters did.  And now my own little girl does.

But try as I might, I am having a hard time reconciling with the idea of these flipping DISNEY princesses, who are everywhere, in case you haven’t noticed.  Try to buy a knapsack? Boom, there a bunch of them are, mocking all of us with their large and too-beguiling eyes that seem inappropriately suggestive to be placed in the world of a three year old.  Try to outfit your kid with shoes or beach towels or underwear,  and there they are again, waltzing across the fabric, dainty wrists poised, thin waists waiting, for their Princes’ meaty paws.

My husband and I agreed “none of that princess stuff” when I was pregnant with my daughter.  “Or Hello Kitty, either!” I’d often add.  For about two years it worked.  It was easy to keep her cloistered away from all things Disney when her world consisted of my husband and me and our apartment.  We looked with disdain at three and four year olds decked out in full Disney regalia.  That poor kid, her lousy parents just can’t say no.  No way is that going to be us.  Ours is going straight to NASA camp.

But slowly, those princesses wheedled their way into our midst.  A Minnie Mouse dressed as Cinderella here, a rubber ball with Belle, Ariel, and Sleeping Beauty there, and voila, all of a sudden you look around and realize you are surrounded.  While our daughter’s only watched two princess movies—THE LITTLE MERMAID and THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG—I can say with chagrin that if you were to walk through our apartment today, you wouldn’t know of our secret prenatal, pre-parental pledge.

So we’ve been infiltrated.

But I am having a hard time with Snow White.

Perhaps it is her name and the unavoidable mention of her hue.  There’s no hiding what kind of princess Snow White is.  She’s white.  White, white, white;  the fairest of them all. 

But in my daughter’s mind, I don’t think she sees this as a problem.  Last year her ballet school had one class do an entire Snow White number to “Someday My Prince Will Come”, and half those girls in that dance were black.  And not part black, like my daughter who, okay, could technically be in a close running for fairest of them all, behind her dad.  But she knows her dad is not a princess, so I am sure in her mind he doesn’t count.  No, those girls in the dance last year were very black and very pretty and so I am wondering if this is the harbinger of that post racial America everyone keeps claiming we live in.

Cause we ain’t there yet.

Cause this Snow White thing is stuck in my craw.

For a while now I’ve been trying to fix all this princess stuff.

A few friends had turned me on to THE PAPER BAG PRINCESS, where a prince gets kidnapped by a dragon and the princess saves HIM! and in the process loses her nice clothes and hair and when she gets to him the prince says she looks awful and she calls him a bum and kicks him to the curb and lives happily ever after by herself, Single Lady style.  My daughter was kinda keen to it but my niece who is the same age threw her copy across the room and yelled NO at it.  So, perhaps it does not reach everyone in the manner it was intended.

Recently, I also checked two versions of Rapunzel out of the Boston Public Library, one white, one “Caribbean”, thinking I could get her to change her mind to be Rapunzel—a cute biracial Rapunzel—but that backfired, too.  The hair thing freaked her out “why are they climbing up her HAIR?!?” and the black version got too carried away trying to be all Harlem Renaissancey and by the tenth page or so had dissolved into too many poemy words for a three year old kid to take in.  It is probably the only bedtime book that really has put my very hyper kid to sleep.

So the princess thing is hard to “fix”.

But there’s TIANA! others with teeny girls exclaimed when I posted once about my daughter wanting to throw ahem Snow White off that rubber princess ball because her hair was too black and “different” than that of the other princesses.

I had resisted Tiana.  I’d resented feeling left out of the princess circle for so long that when THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG hit theatres last year, I had built up quite an ugly wall of resistance.  It was not until my little eugenics aficionado tried to kick Snow White to the curb that I realized the conversation was happening now, and banning the princesses altogether was only going to make them that much more alluring.  So with great trepidation and my feminist card melting itself in my back pocket, I broke down and bought “Tiana” on DVD.

We’d seen bits of Tiana at Disney on Ice.  Sh.  Don’t tell anyone I actually bought tickets to that thing, or its sequel, which is where we met Tiana for the first time.  I was appalled by my being there and also by the lack of dramaturgical expertise exercised in the evening.  I am a playwright.  Storytelling is part of my job.  So when I could find no through line or arc to my TD Bank North Garden one hundred and twenty dollar night on the town experience, I was confused.  At intermission—during which I held my pee because my daughter refused to leave her seat because this being her first show ever had no idea what an intermission was and would not leave her seat without a screaming scene because she was waiting for “the princesses” to come sliding back—I called my husband: “There’s no arc to this f--king thing!” I growled into the phone, my hand covering my mouth so my swear words didn’t echo in the arena or over to our daughter. “Kirsten, it’s the ICE CAPADES!”  “Yeah, well, still.  If I handed in a script like this to a theatre, they’d laugh at me and I wouldn’t get paid.”  “It’s yeah DISNEY.”

But I must admit I was intrigued by Tiana, not necessarily because she looks like my daughter, but because when we watched her skate around with her prince on the ice, they looked like my daughter’s parents. And maybe, just maybe, I thought, even though Tiana is shades darker than she is, my daughter might be able to have entry into this world of princesses after all.

So I began to love Tiana.

What is brilliant about THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG is Disney knew what it was up against.  It could not have this movie fail.  The one with the black girl could not be crap.  Gone were any fancy cutting edge animation feats and back were hand drawn pictures that harken back to, well, the very first princess, Ms. White in all her classic Disney glory.  I would see this Tiana movie over and over just for its transitions alone.  And, while a child can see it and understand Tiana has less than her rich best friend and her love interest, it is still a few years off before a parent would really have to explain why Tiana lives so many street cars away from all the glitzy action (she’s black) and why her real estate deal falls through (she’s black) and why she probably wouldn’t be at that ball except to serve her beignets (she’s yep black).  The story is all about race and yet manages to transcend it at the same time.

We’ve watched it many, many times.

We play the CD in the car.

I am delighted but still shocked to see Tiana up there with the other princesses.  I get a strange feeling when little blond kids wear Tiana bathing suits and t-shirts. Forget 2012, this is the end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it for me.  Never would I think a black girl would go mainstream in this way, unless she was selling pancakes with a doo rag on her head or the sexay sexay with clothes designed to show off her behind.  Tiana don’t got to do neither.

And yet, this Halloween season, I am searching Amazon for Miss White’s clothes and repeatedly asking my daughter, are you sure?  Really?  Are you really, really sure?

Because what makes me uneasy about the princesses is that somewhere wrapped up inside them, whether it is my beautiful little everything daughter or some purely blond little pig tailed formerly all American looking kindergartener, these princesses carry something in them that is unattainable, something perfect that only exists as an inverse.

And, you know, girls go anorexic over shit like that.

They cut over shit like that.

They sit in salons straightening cause of it and sit in salons curling cause of it and they lie about their age because of it and they have skinny and fat jeans in their drawers because of it and they inject plastic under their skin cause of it and they charge up their cards on Overstock because of it and they drink too much cause of it and they don’t break up with they guy because of it or they marry the guy cause of it and they sit in their friend’s kitchen with the granite counter tops and stainless steel appliances wondering, begrudgingly, why their kitchen still has formica because of it and they covet, covet, covet because of it because those movies promise a dream when it’s life we all walk through instead.

So. Really? Snow White?  Are you sure?


  1. Good one.

    Princesses... as my dad says about this phenomenon - Hollywood poured acid in my eyes. Meaning Hollywood, and stars, and princesses, make us all WANT everything we cannot have. With a grounded mommy like you, I think she has a good shot of not being a looney princess girl though -in the long run.

  2. We should talk about Tiana. It wasnt well received down here on the bayou!
    (sidenote: I auditioned for that damn movie 3 times then "O" swooped in and took my part!)

  3. Kirsten,
    I love you! As the mother of that purely blonde pig-tailed formerly All-American looking kindergartener whose hair is so white she even stands out in the blondest state in the Union, I still fear all the same ultimate things about those darn Disney princesses. She wants to be Alice In Wonderland for Halloween this year because she doesn't have to get a wig to be her. (Previously she was Ariel (red wig) & Dorothy (brown wig.)) Her hair has become something she has started to dislike as more and more people comment on how white it is & she starts to realize all of her friends have hair that is darker & she "stands out." I was happy she didn't want to cover it up for Halloween this year, yet it seems the wrong this to base a costume on. I hate that she is starting to want to "fit in" and that means changing who she is. I, of course, want her to be proud of not just how she looks but also who she is on the "inside." Neither one seems all too easy to instill. Sometimes she wishes she were Chinese so she could be Mulan and yes, sometimes she also wishes to be Tiana. Funny enough she's never much cared for Snow White, even though there is no other way to describe her skin. Pretending to be any of them, however, for her always seems to come down the color of her hair. She does believe if she had black hair, she could be Chinese and the red wig makes her a mermaid. I see a lot of hair dye in our future. We do have a long way to go for our girls to covet life in the real world and not that unattainable something...we do have a lot of work to do.

  4. Amazing post, am speechless.