Picking a Princess

The time had come for us to choose a dress.

My 7-year-old daughter is in her third year of ballet and recital season is quickly approaching. This might actually be her last recital. Over the past few months, she has discovered basketball and softball and is considering not continuing with dance classes in the fall. This makes me a bit sad because dance was the only extracurricular activity I ever stuck with or even came close to being decent at.

I’ve never been good at or had much of an interest in sports. I played soccer in grade school but my favorite part about that was the snacks at halftime. I liked when they pulled me out (which was often) and put me on the bench and I didn’t have to play. Instead, I would roam around on the sidelines, picking flowers and making necklaces and crowns out of them. That said, I always wanted to be an athletic girl. I wanted to be the girl that was good a sports and had good coordination. I wanted to get into watching a game, any kind of game. I just didn’t.

But now that my daughter has an interest in sports, I do too. I’m suddenly seeing them through her eyes, which makes them exciting and important to me because they are exciting and important to her. I want her to follow her interests and passions, not mine.

But for now, she is still enrolled in dance classes, which she has enjoyed over the past few years, so we might as well finish out the season and properly close that chapter of her life.

My daughter is performing in two group dances. In the first dance, all the dancers will be dressed the same, in costumes that were ordered by the studio. They will all match from the costume itself, to the shoes, which the studio has spray painted and sprinkled with glitter, to their feathered hair clips. For the second dance, the girls get to pick their own costume. The song they are dancing to is Disney’s “Every Girl Can Be A Princess”.

The girls don’t have to pick a Disney princess dress, but most of them usually do. Their teacher encourages them to choose any dress that makes them “feel” like a princess.

My oldest daughter has never wanted to be a princess. She has watched all the Disney Princess movies at least once, and she has enjoyed them, but has seldom requested a second viewing of any of them. Her go to movies as a toddler were Cars, Despicable Me, and later, Jurassic Park and Jaws. My child has Jurassic Park t-shirts and wants a Jaws pillow case.

So, when we started looking at princess dresses, she was not into it. She turned her nose up and rolled her eyes at all of them. She asked me if she could just wear a regular dress, not a fancy dress, and not one with a crown. I repeated what her dance teacher had said: “Just choose a dress that makes you feel like a princess,” to which she said, “I don’t want to be a princess.”

I’ll be honest: I kind of hate the whole princess craze. I loved princess movies as a child, and not just the Disney ones, I loved anything to do with princesses. I loved the movie The Princess Bride, and was intrigued by The Princess Diaries book series, and later the movies. (What? An average girl suddenly finds out she is the princess of Genovia?! That could happen to me! Quick! Someone swab me for DNA and make sure my dad is really my dad, I could be royalty for crying out loud!)

Despite my own princess fascination as a child, it is not something I want to push on my own children. I have never wanted to be the type of mom that would assume my daughters would like princesses simply because they are female.

So I rephrased my instructions; “Choose an outfit that makes you feel powerful, strong, and happy.”

My daughter immediately looked relieved and began to flip through the costume catalog on her own; before she had been flopping around on the couch, uninterested, making me look through the magazine on my own. She stopped on a page that contained a picture of Cinderella’s maid outfit and told me she might be interested in that dress. I was curious about this selection, so I questioned her about it, carefully, for fear that I might turn her off from what she really wanted.

I said, “Do you think that dress will be more comfortable?” She said, “Yes, and I like Cinderella in this dress better.” I asked her why, and she said, “She’s nice and takes care of the mice in this dress and I don’t think glass slippers sound very comfortable.” I have to agree with her about the glass slippers.

A few minutes later, we had a similar conversation about Belle and her blue day dress. This is the dress that Belle wears for most of the movie, but the yellow ball gown is how she is most often portrayed, and it is the outfit most little girls select when they decide to dress up as Belle.

When I watched these movies as a child, my takeaway was that neither Belle nor Cinderella were happy in their day clothes. To me, happiness came when they become princesses in fancy dresses and found their true loves.

Cinderella lives with her wicked stepmother and stepsisters. They force her do all the household chores and make her dress in rags. Both her parents are dead and that horrible cat, Lucifer, is either trying to eat her mice or sabotaging her cleaning efforts. Meanwhile, in Beauty and the Beast land, Belle dreams of more than her little town, the townspeople think she’s weird, and Gaston is a scary, creepy stalker.

But my daughter sees it differently. Maybe Cinderella and Belle in their day clothes are more relatable to her as actual human beings instead of girls in fairy tales. Maybe she thinks they are kinder, simpler, more realistic in their regular, less fancy outfits. Maybe she thinks they can change the less desirable parts of their lives, (being a maid, living in a small town) without having to go find a man to save them. Or maybe it’s simply because she has no desire to be a princess in a castle, married to a prince, and wearing big poofy dresses.

I definitely know she is against the big poofy dress.

As my daughter continued to flip through the catalog, she came across a costume that made her pause longer than any of the others: Moana.

I love Moana. If you haven’t seen Moana, I encourage you to watch it, even if you don’t have kids. It is the first Disney “princess” movie in which there is no love interest. In Frozen, Elsa did not have a love interest, but Anna did- two of them actually. To be fair, Merida didn’t have a love interest either, but the topic did come up, as her own parents tried to push her into an arranged marriage.

I don’t discourage portraying love stories in children’s movies, but I do frown on the search for Prince Charming in order to solve a woman’s problems. What I enjoy about Moana is that the story is about her. She follows her dreams. She saves her people. She is brave. She is strong. She is capable. She is independent.

But let’s be honest, when it comes to Moana, she is not the most popular of the Disney princesses. My prediction is that she will fall into the category where Pocahontas, Mulan, and Merida have found themselves. Don’t get me wrong, I know plenty of little girls that love Moana, but I don’t see Moana toys flying off the shelves the way Frozen toys did a few years ago.

Even though Moana is a fantastic movie, with a great storyline, soundtrack, and an admirable lead character, Moana isn’t a princess in the usual way. She doesn’t have a gown, a castle, or a love interest.

Despite all of that, my daughter has selected her as her choice for this year’s “princess dance”. She will be a girl in a simple dress in a sea of girls in fluffy dresses with wands and crowns, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is why she chose Moana. I know it isn’t easy for a 1st grader to go against what is popular, to choose something that doesn’t fit in with what other girls her age are interested in. Hell, sometimes even as a grown woman I find that difficult.

I’m proud of her choice and I will support it every step of the way, even if her interest in this selection starts to wane because she starts to second guess her decision.

She will be Moana on that stage, and she will rock it.

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