Why I Reject Princess Culture for My Black Girls — Even Princess Tiana


In 2009 Disney released The Princess and the Frog, making Princess Tiana the first black Disney princess.  I know many black parents rejoiced knowing that their daughters would finally have a princess that looks like them.  We finally got some representation in the Disney princess line up.  I know I almost had a fit when we watched the Main Street Parade at Disneyland and saw all the princesses except Tiana on the float.  However, they surprised us by putting her on her own float after all the other princess marched before her.
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Last year I was introducing longer books to my daughter, so I picked up A Stolen Jewel, the story that follows Princess Tiana after she becomes a princess, and after she marries Prince Naveen.

If you had issues with the film The Princess and the Frog, then you probably won’t find the extended storyline too comforting.  There are a  few things that upset me while reading this book.   Although Tiana has gained royalty in name, she has not gained any benefits from that royalty.  Tiana is still a struggling, working class, small business owner that, despite her royal status, still has to worry about the day to day operations of running a mom and pop restaurant.  I remember having an online conversation about it, and some felt that it was a good thing for Tiana to have earned her own.  She was independent, not relying on her new marriage for financial support.  She was a “new” princess.  But I was not happy with that.  I wanted Tiana to be a rich princess, like the others before her.  I wanted her to have a stress free life that included servants and royal chariots. I wanted her to be a REAL princess.  If she loved cooking, why couldn’t she own a chain of restaurants and have people working for her.  Why is she still scrambling around in the kitchen trying to get the meals prepared?  This whole princess philosophy made me think deeper about what I expect from a princess and what I want for my daughters regarding princess ideology.  So after digesting this story, I began to dig a little deeper into what it really means to be a princess and what values princess ideology represents.

The first questions that I want to raise is: Why is it that in a democratic society we are so obsessed with having an absolute monarchy for our little girls?

Besides the idea that princesses must wait for her savior prince and princesses are generally helpless, dainty girls  there are a few more reasons I cannot buy into the princess party:

  • Princess ideology says that young girls should focus on make up, jewels, nails and the like for beauty.  Most princess toys are focused on beauty.  Training a young generation of girls to be addicted to make up and beauty products.  I am a big believer in natural beauty and feeling comfortable without make-up, nail polish, etc. I am not saying I never wear makeup, but honestly I rarely do and I like it that way.  I want my girls to have confidence in natural beauty, and to have high self-esteem, but not vanity.
  • Princess ideology teaches girls to strive to be the “it” girl.  Most girls are commoners but everyone wants to be a princess, why is that?  Why not find happiness in being a commoner?  I feel like this is akin to everyone wanting to be a celebrity, a singer, a professional basketball player a rapper, etc.  There is merit to having high goals and dreams, but why not make being a regular person something cool? Some say playing a princess is just a fantasy and it helps children use their imagination.  However I’d rather see my girls playing doctor with Doc Mcstuffins than playing princess with Princess Tiana.
  • Princess ideology  teaches girls to value riches that are inherited or attained through marriage, not earned.  If your daughter has inherited a lot of wealth that is awesome.  But if they are like the 99% of Americans that are not living in mansions or castles, its a good idea to let them know that they need to work hard to achieve wealth, if they want it.  How about instead of playing princess, teach your daughter to play scientist, businesswoman, or president?
  •  
    I know princesses are a loved part of our American girls’ culture and everyone may not relate to my opinion, that is okay.  I am not saying I am totally anti-princess.  We still have a few princess books that we own and read. Also, I am not necessarily throwing out all the princess toys, but I do believe in challenging my own way of thinking about things.  This area of princess play is one I am constantly revising.  Even as I am typing this blog, my daughter just came up to me and said, “Mommy, you are the queen and I am the princess.”  Am I going to correct her? Not exactly.  I wont discourage her current playtime.  I will not throw away her princess toys and books that she currently has.  But I will gently suggest that we engage in other types of play.  Let’s pretend to be astronauts, politicians, or scuba divers.  We will read books about women who did great things throughout history, like Bessie Coleman.  I will encourage her to be more that a princess, put value in more than her physical appearance, and play with ideas that revolve around compassion, love, intelligence and service.  Overtime I think it will stick.

    Mommies what are your thoughts on girls and princess play, princess toys and princess movies?  Please share.

    Angele is a wife to a wonderful creative husband, mother to two beautiful intelligent daughters and a lover of art, education and laughter.  She is the creator and author of ABC remix.

     

    Angele

    About Angele

    Angele is a wife to a wonderful creative husband, mother to two beautiful intelligent daughters and lover of art, education and laughter. She is the creator and author of ABC remix


    • youngin girl 1

      Thank you for pointing this out. I never thought of that. I like princess Tiana, She’s my favorite princess. I use to be Cinderella for halloween when I was a kid but I gotten over that. When I saw Tiana for the first time, I was like,”I dig it.” I find that she doesn’t get the same privilges and hienesty baffling since Disney is suppose to be supporting their workers. But this all comes down to history when our ancestors had to be servants and butlers in the rich families house so thet idealogy came to my head. Maybe mothers should start teaching their children to play with dolls that look like them because if they want people to give them benefits and embracement, they need to play with dolls that look like them so they can see the princess in them. It starts with you! There’s nothing wrong with playing with all types of dolls. I had played with all types of dollls that had brunette hair, blonde hair and black hair but It wasen’t a hate thing with me. I played with them because it caught my eye. I like princess Tiana but I would buy her for like house decoration. Other than that, I reject princesses too, including brat dolls.

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    • http://www.lovepeaceandtinyfeet.com Ari A.

      Great post! I totally agree with you on the problems with the whole “princess” ideology. As a woman, of course I feel deceived realizing that I can never be a real princess, life is no fairy tale, and there’s no such thing as happily ever after. As a mom of 2 daughters, I find that it’s a delicate balance between setting realistic expectations and crushing their dreams, so to speak. I was elated when a lady asked my 5 year old daughter if she wanted to be a princess when she grew up and she replied, “Yes, but after I become a doctor who takes care of animals.” Still, she loves getting dressed up “like a princess” and is obsessed with everything sparkly. She calls herself a princess, me the queen and my husband the king – although are far from “castle life.” I think I just have to remind myself that at what she sees on tv and movies will only guide her dreams but so much. At the end of the day, it’s what she sees in us that will ultimately shape who she wants and expects to be in life. If I’m not a woman who was “rescued” by my husband in order to make a good life for us, I hope she will naturally be open to other possibilities and dreams for her future.

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    • Faidah

      You sound like me! I hate those movies! I also didn’t like Princess and the Frog because the Prince wasn’t African American. If little white girls can have a white prince, why can’t litle black girls have a black prince?

      I did finally watch Frozen with my daughter and I was pleasantly surprised. That is what a “princess” movie should be.

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    • Stephie

      I have been teaching self love to my daughter since she was born and it has been such an eye opener as to how ignorant and white washed our culture is in 2014. I tried to keep her away from princess anything for as long as I could and when she started noticing it, all we have is Tiana and no I did not like the movie. I hated that Tiana had to take someone else’s love interest and that she was a frog for 75% of the movie, not being able to show her beauty like the other white princesses. I didn’t like the fact that the prince was by-racial and broke. Now of course my 2 year old doesn’t know any of this she just loves the music. As we were introduced to Tiana, then came Doc McStuffins so now my daughter could aspire to be either. I don’t buy white dolls. My daughter is told she is beautiful and smart all the time. I feel like it should be ok to want to be a princess. How many black princesses do you know? How often are our girls treated like royalty, why can’t they have that same dream? It’s totally fine to teach them all aspects of life and that we as strong,intelligent, beautiful, valiant black women, deserve that same dream too but to also know that it’s ok to be just a commoner like the rest of us.

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    • Liz

      My favorite princess as a kid (prior to Tiana coming out and doing what I feel like was a hard “attempt” at brown culture), was definitely Pocahontas. I mean, she got to RUN outside, have adventures, had a personal canoe, and knew how to live in the wilderness for days. She was SO self-sufficient. I actually didn’t pretend to be her, but rather pretended to be her friend Nakoma who actually wasn’t even a princess, but appeared to have all of the benefits. At any rate, all girls are different–find out who your daughter is and train her self-sufficiently accordingly.

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    • Amber

      I totally love this post. Ironically, growing up, it was my father who hated Disney princesses. Even though I remember liking the movies, I only really liked Belle and Mulan. Belle had the library, Mulan saved her entire country. If those movies influenced my life in any way, it’s given me a love of books and adventure. However, I had a different value system growing up. I was not influenced by the Princess culture alone. I agree with you, we can’t make “princess” the ideal for young girls. It can be there, because I think there are good things to be cherry picked from Princess movies, but we need other things.

      There is more to life than finding princes and wearing pretty dresses.

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    • NubianPrize

      Love this post !! Can’t stand all the pink stuff in the stores & the frilly nonsense. I was a tomboy growing up; played sports with boy cousins, had both boy & girl toys : dolls, trucks,cars, microscopes, telescopes,train sets,loads of books on science & wildlife ( we lived in a rural area)& I looked up to & read about women who DID THINGS ( Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth,etc)& didn’t just sit around worrying about clothes & makeup, looking pretty & waiting for the handsome prince. Terrible values for black girls living in a racist world. My parents were educators & I grew up during the civil rights era. Education,self sufficience & accomplishment were the values I was raised with.

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    • Jenny

      Brought up some pretty good points. I agree with it all…
      I’m glad to see the real life princess is of a beautiful dark skinned complexion (nothing against my light skinned sistas)
      —Now if we could take that weave out… 😉

      I would like my future daughters to be fully exposed to doctors/lawyers/scientist..ect. I don’t see the issue with a few princesses here or there.
      The reality is, most little girls like pretty sparkly things–and princesses are just that. There has got to be a happy medium between allowing a kid to be a kid–fantasies and all, and making sure they are not caught up in a fairy tail for life. I think being a kid should be fun and exciting–that includes fantasies and imagination…Just because we live in the serious–real world doesn’t mean kids cant enjoy the make believe world–just for a little while–as we were allowed to as kids.

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      • Angele

        I was glad to see a beautiful dark skinned sista as well Jenny. That picture was taken in 2010 when we took our daughter to Disneyland.

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    • Sabi

      I reject relying on TV and movies to instill values/morals/etc. in my child.

      But that’s just me.

      If my daughter is a tomboy, good for her.

      If she is girly, good for her.

      Too many women these days thinking they’re tomboys and attempting to shame ‘girly girls’…I have 6 damn brothers, love princess movies, played with barbies, the works. I’ve also been natural my entire life, and never struggled with the same self esteem issues so many Black girls have as children. I guess because my mother raised me, not the media. Try taking your child outside once in awhile.

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      • Angele

        I also reject relying on TV and movies to instill values/morals/etc in my child. We have actually never shown our kids any princess movies, however we have read the Jr. novel I mentioned in this post. Although we are avid readers, I also do not rely on books to instill values/morals/etc in my child. Stories, whether they are in the form of a book, or audio/visual media are merely tools.

        I also agree with you: If my daughter is a tomboy, good for her. If she is girly, good for her.

        I do not equate being a girly girl with princess culture. You can have lots of girly girl characteristics without the princess culture. We love ballet, the color pink as well as outdoor activities.

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      • Teri Davis

        I see no reason in rejecting the princess culture. My daughter has always loved princesses and I didn’t grow up loving them. My mom didn’t buy us princess anything but I loved them just as much as my daughter did ( and I bought it all). I also taught my daughter that she can be whatever and whoever that she wanted to be not what society chooses her to be. She is in college now earning her degree in sociology and that didn’t not come from her love of Disney Princesses at all. She interns as a case worker helping others in domestic violence shelters, homeless shelters and the like. And she loves what she does at helping others. So, it’s all about how the parents teach and raise their daughters.

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    • Cathy

      The only two “princess” stories I could stand:
      The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch (where-in the princess rescues the prince, who calls her out on her fashion choices) and Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe (two girls sporting natural hair and a prince who’s adorbs).

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      • Angele

        Thanks for sharing Cathy, I haven’t heard of the Paper Bag Princess, I will look that up 🙂 and I remember Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters from Reading Rainbow, we have a copy of that book as well.

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    • Pingback: A Response to “Why I Reject Princess Culture”… Why I EMBRACE Princess Culture For My Black Daughters | Baby & Blog()

    • http://dontgonatural.wordpress.com/ Honey Girl

      The American definition of a “princess” isn’t mine. A princess in the African tradition is a young woman who is learning the ways of womanhood, queendom. She is strong, proud, wise, lovely, honored, revered, and sacred. She is becoming a warrior, a huntress, a gatherer, a wife, a mother, a healer, a dancer, a scout, a scholar, a markswoman, a diplomat, or all of these things.

      I don’t praise Disney for creating what they want us to receive as a Black princess. Tiana is a white woman in Black face; she’s their definition of a princess which has nothing, really, to do with who we are. The idea that Disney created a float for her that followed the other white princesses speaks volumes.

      I wish we didn’t even depend on Disney, or any other global media outlet to give us a princess. They’re version will always be skewed.

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    • PDX Mom

      I always appreciate this ongoing convo. So many great angles always pop up, and it helps me continue our dialogue at home.
      When the princesses crept into our home – via one child at preschool despite the “no character or media” rule (that family ignored it) – I had to figure out a way to navigate the tricky balancing of a magical childhood with everything wrong with the princess empire.
      We are a bicultural family, so I drew upon the real royal family of my husband’s country as the example of what a “real” princess does in the “real” world vs the pretend, completely unreal Disney princesses. Ok, ok, I overemphasize the amount of community and charity work Kate Middleton does, but it has really helped keep my daughter in check.
      She’s still more interested in playing baseball in a mermaid costume, flying to the moon in her cardboard rocket ship while dressed as Catwoman, and playing drums, singing, dancing and fronting her own band (like Sheila E) than she is in emulating Cinderella.
      And I think that’s ok. We talk, pretend, process, read, learn and keep it all in check.

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    • Jane

      This view is coming from a college student who doesn’t have any kids of her own yet but has “grown up on Disney princesses” so to speak. All of this is my own personal opinion.

      Before Tiana, the only princess I “admired” was Cinderella. The concept I got out of it was a lady who worked, cleaned, and a a loving spirit, no where like her step sisters. I remember when Brandy was cast to play her, I was delighted. For the first time in my naive mind, there was a princess that looked like me!! I was well aware that girls that looked like me didn’t have fictional character to relate to. Even the black barbie doll had straight hair, so of course a lot of little black girls had theirs kitty-permed!! I believe that since a lot of ladies, when they were younger, were bombarded with the American image of beauty (lighter complexion, straight hair, “pretty eyes”), they tried to fit the mold and began ostracizing those (their own kind) that didn’t.

      Fast forward to 2009 with princess Tiana. High school days, and I became more self loving. I was kind of interested in seeing the movie but not really. She was turned into a frog by voodoo. Excuse me!?! I understand that Snow White’s evil stepmother used magic to poison her, but being of Haitian descent, you get annoyed easily when someone references voodoo. It was only 2 months ago that I finally saw this movie!! I was relatively surprised that I enjoyed this movie but still have a few comments about it. The concept that I grasped was that if she worked too hard, she’d miss out on enjoying life and love. She received negativity when the cook laughed at her dreams and when she nearly loss her dreams to a higher bid for the old sugar mill. I mean the movie’s realistic, but it put all too harshly into focus what black girls and women deal with on a daily basis. We don’t work hard, we viewed lazy and we get nowhere. We work “too” hard, and we’re viewed as a stick in the mud. Eventually she marries the prince (who by the way couldn’t have been of African descent!?!) and with his help, she gets her restaurant, love, and a happily ever after… making this another typical princess rescue movie.

      I write all this to say that we must constantly remind young black girls that they’re princesses because of the right values needed in life, not the superficial things society deems important. I will say that princess Tiana did have the right values, nurturing, and wasn’t looking to be rescued. I hope that last part doesn’t make me sound contradicting.

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    • flouncingtart

      Little black girls don’t get to be princesses (or much else) in American culture, so I’m not sure I’m 100% down with this.

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    • Kimberly

      Hey. Let me preface this by saying I have not read any of the other comments under this post, but I would like to share my point of view. First a point of clarification. Princess Tiana isn’t a rich prince because she chose to marry the prince that got cut off from his family fortune because he was too spoiled. This point is why I would use the story of Tiana to help instill some values into my little girl (if it’s a girl – I don’t know the sex yet). First the story could be used to teach you that hard work is necessary to accomplish goals. It also helps you understand that riches may not last forever, but love (and the movie shows different types of love – romantic, friendly, family) will bring you a joy that is greater than what money and fame can bring you. By showing Tiana as a regular person it reinforces the idea that you don’t have to have the glitz and glam of the royal life to be beautiful. The fact that Tiana is a frog the entire movie and has to believe in herself and love herself and know what she wants in order to change into the person she longs to be is a great lesson. We can’t be who truly want to be in life unless we learn to dig a little deeper than focusing on our career goals alone, focusing on money and riches alone. Now I will admit that the princess culture of mainstream America is about the glitz and glam when you put on a nice dress, get your hair done, paint your nails, and put on make-up. But I disagree that it is teaching our children that. We are teaching our children that that is what is important by reinforcing that belief. I played princess stuff as a child but my mom taught me very young that I was beautiful and that make-up doesn’t make you beautiful it just makes you sparkle a little more. Although I played dress up and wore pretty dresses and heels, I was not allowed to wear make-up until I was going to prom my junior year. Through that restriction I learned that my natural beauty was indeed beautiful. I didn’t even get my ears pierced until my 16th birthday. You teach your child that natural beauty is beautiful whether they love princesses or not. Lastly I believe that by rejecting Princess Tiana because they didn’t give her the lifestyle of the other white princesses is reinforcing the idea that the white princesses are better and that being rich is better. Which in turn, could teach your little girl that if she doesn’t have riches and isn’t living the rich lifestyle than she too is not good enough. That could have the reverse effect on what you want to teach. A part of my mentor philosophy (which will soon be incorporated into my parenting philosophy) is that I will spend more of my time focusing and teaching what I want them to know than I will defying the things society may teach that I don’t want them to believe. I believe in doing both; however, I believe the equal balance is 80/20. Spend 80% of my time teaching them the core values and beliefs that I want them to have using anything that will help teach them that. Spend 20% of my time letting them know what in mainstream they shouldn’t follow. BTW thanks for having this blog. I am reading lots of good conversations as I am soon to be a first time mom.

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    • Lauren

      You said you feel your daughters should imagine being businesswomen…but Tiana is a businesswoman…Even if she is a princess…

      I think imagining the real world is boring. Imagination is to imagine the impossible. The real world is something REAL. That’s not too entertaining for kids who face the real world in their own little ways all the time.

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