Pierced by a Princess

I was so excited when I saw the commercial.  It drew me in.  I was enthralled.  It turned the idea of a princess on its head.  Girls were galloping on horses – in britches, not flowing gowns.  They were shooting arrows.  Swimming laps.  They were real.

They weren’t prissy.  They weren’t waiting for a handsome male to save them.  They weren’t sitting in repose filing their nails or coifing their hair.  They weren’t doing the stereotypical things that mainstream media deems as femininely appropriate. 

In other words, they weren’t filling the mold cast by Disney and its multi-million dollar princess industry. The commercial flew in the face of all that Disney defines as princess.  And I was tickled pink.  Finally, another voice in the conversation of young female identity.  I was psyched that my daughters were being bombarded with this media message, albeit a small bullet amidst the other bombs.

Then I realized the smooth transitions between live shots of the young female archer and clips of Merida plucking her bow; a snippet of the young woman’s dialogue stitched up with the princess’ Scottish brogue.  A sharp arrow pierced my heart.

There was no way Disney would loan their highly lucrative Brave empire to a media campaign designed to encourage girls to courageous authenticity.  To eschew animated perfection.  To forgo licensed merchandise for practical attire and tools.

Wherever there’s a princess, Disney isn’t far behind.

They know there are people like me – women, mothers, fathers, grandfathers – who abhor the exploitation of young girls into this gateway of unrealistic expectations of beauty, behavior, being.  They exploited that need in me for another option for girls. 

And while this commercial is, in many ways, the antithesis of the whole royal empire they’ve created, if such a message comes from them, they’ll seem sympathetic.  They understand.  They aren’t the evil mongerers of petticoats and pink.  They want girls to achieve their full potential even if that means they’ll muddy their knees on the soccer field and go to university for engineering.  Oh, they support the young females of the world in whatever they may do.  And if they happen to find inspiration in the snippets of computer-generated heroines seamlessly interspersed with real girls, there’s merchandise for that.  There are DVDs these young ladies can watch for further inspiration.  Movie premieres and theme parks they can visit dressed in appropriate thematic garb for research and encouragement.

Well done, Disney.  You almost had me.  Which means you most likely hooked every girl in America and beyond that you hadn’t yet.

It’s a brave new world indeed.

* Related article: Great read on Brave’s creator’s misgivings on Disney’s treatment

Put the Sexy Back

Décolletage.  Cleavage.  Bare belly.  Unbuttoned jeans.

These are the images that welcomed our band of second graders as we traipsed through the mall to escape the rain on a field trip.  There were sights to see.  We were headed to the upper level and the wall of windows overlooking the river and city skyline.  The foul weather turned what should have been an outdoor river walk into an educational excursion of another kind.

Beyoncé flaunting her barely there bikini on a banner was the first thing my daughter and her friend noticed.  Somehow, the larger than life photos in the Victoria’s Secret storefront seemed to escape everyone’s notice except one of the male chaperones.  The mannequins in various states of undress in another window didn’t, however.

Women have breasts.  We all have abdomens, some even with six-packs.  There is a certain allure and attraction to the human body.  It is beautiful.  But should a shopping center be an inappropriate place to take our children?  Should we be bombarded with images that remove the natural beauty of the human form and replace it with sexually loaded suggestions?

I realize my eight year-old is not the target audience for these shops.  I realize there is a demographic who wants to look sexy and physically inviting.  But if my child is receiving the same subliminal messages as these others are, how can she differentiate the expected outcome?

How will she learn that there is a time and place and stage of life when these things are appropriate?  That her body is to be respected and guarded, shared with a select few who will care for her someday.  That modesty is to be valued.  That the beauty of the human form should not be determined by the amount bared or shape of one’s skin.

I know.  That’s my job.  But it becomes a whole heck of a lot harder when walking through the mall becomes a minefield.  And their marketing budget is a lot bigger than my measly mom one.  They’re everywhere.  Posters, posing, pitching.  Their message will come on the bodies of friends as she ages, in movies, television shows, magazines, in the affection of suitors.  How can my quiet, safe message compete?

I can only try by building up her inner reserves.  By giving her the self-esteem that beauty is not skin-deep.  By teaching her the attitude that her mind, her soul, her sense of humor are something else, something stronger and sexier than the dip of her décolletage.

It’s a tall order.

It seems like a small drip in the swell of the siren’s song, but I will sing.  I will sing for my daughter and all others like her.

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