3 Years, 9 Months & 2 Days into Daddyhood

A friend of mine recently asked, What is it with little girls and princesses? – or words to that effect. To which I started to write an email response, then realised it was a more complex issue than first thought (being a writer/blogger, most issues are more complex than first thought).

It starts with aesthetics. Little girls want to be beautiful. They want to be seen as being beautiful by their friends, their parents; as beautiful as these mythical creatures who are wafted before them, through the media of films, of Barbie dolls, of dress-up outfits (my own little princess is presently only three-and-three-quarters, and to her the validation of parents and other doting grown-ups is still a pretty significant factor, although the ratio is already starting to tip in favour of her similarly-aged peers… Call me daft, but I hope she never completely stops wanting her dad to think she is (as) beautiful (as a princess)).

I suspect the aesthetic factor never really leaves us, or most of us, particularly little girls who become big girls who become women – but as much as my little girl is the most beautiful, wondrous, splendiferous little girl that ever walked the earth (and if you don’t believe me, then you’re not my best friend anymore), it is my hope that she and all little girls grow up with a more complex and meaningful (how meaningful a word is ‘meaningful’?) sense of what defines ‘beauty’. It is also my hope that my Princess Talise is already starting to develop this sense of complex meaningfulness through, in particular, the Disney Princesses, of whom she has lately become extremely fond, and similarly the Disney Fairies, who serve a similar (if not identical) psychological function to the princesses. Okay, as a responsible father, I should not be relying on Disney films/stories to impart a wise and benevolent morality upon my progeny… but as she is into these things anyway, and they clearly have a significant impact upon her sense of human being, why not make life easy for myself and use them as tools for the imparting of values?

So then… princesses… yes, they are beautiful. Of course they are beautiful. I don’t think Disney would ever dare inflict upon its fans a princess who didn’t reach a certain bar of physical attractiveness. Maybe this is wrong. Maybe we should start a campaign to force Disney to create some ugly princesses. But can you really blame them for wanting to sell their films? So they are physically attractive – in an innocent, almost childlike way (although Rapunzel, of the recent animated film, Tangled, is possessed of a certain spunkiness, which, if translated to a real-world female, would no doubt set hearts, if not loins, of the male populace aflutter). But invariably the films/stories in which these pretty young maidens feature contain a strong underlying moral thread along the lines of, beauty is only skin deep… and other such timeless clichés. The cynic in me rails against the irony of a beautiful princess telling my daughter that physical attractiveness is far less important than other (deeper, more meaningful) forms of beauty – but then I think, as long as she gets the message, who cares who she gets it from? She is, after all, only three-and-three-quarters, and if the powerful pull of physical attractiveness (of the princess, any other ‘good’ characters to whom we are supposed to relate, and the film/story itself) is what it takes to draw her into more the more subtle content (which may in large part only be affective subconsciously), then so be it. Like I said, as long as she gets the message.

And by the way, and this relates back to the question right at the beginning of this entry, the appeal of (Disney) princesses, particularly to girls of about my daughter’s age, is not just their physical attractiveness, nor just their relatively overt message about the value of real beauty (which I suspect my daughter may not yet really get), but their true, unquestionable and generally unflagging goodness. Yes, they will meet with peril, danger, challenge, even tragedy, but their unflinching morality in the face of all manner of adversity, their belief that one should always try to do what is right and be nice to people, is what I believe will always draw little girls (and perhaps also older girls, and even persons of the male persuasion) to them. And how can this be wrong?