Parents of young girls today are inundated by all things pink and frilly. It’s often taken for granted that every girl wants to be a princess.
As a tomboy who grew up with little interest in barbies; an environmentalist who seeks to minimize my footprint; and a feminist who wants to prevent my daughter from measuring her worth by her beauty, I decided to limit the impact of the “princess factor” on my daughter. Enter the fairies.
While every child has innate interests, there are also many that are developed through social interactions. Using my influence as a parent, I subtly and sometimes not-so-subtly steered my daughter away from princesses and toward the fairies. And I’ve been very pleased with the results. Here’s why.
Fairies engage in environmental stewardship. They take care of the plants and animals, and are careful not to kill any living thing nor introduce non-natural items (like plastic) into the natural habitat. These are values that help to build a healthier future for our planet, and frankly they’re much more exciting coming from fairies than from mommies.
Princesses value material wealth and external beauty. They seek to acquire beautiful dresses, shoes, jewelry, and other princessly accessories like makeup tables and palaces. These desires are very cleverly played upon by marketing giants such as Disney, who also engage in questionable business practices like marketing “educational” videos to infants (whose brain development is harmed by screen time) and selling products to children with toxic chemicals like PVC.
Tips for parents whose girls love princesses: you may want to look to your child’s own closet for “fancy” dress up clothing and work together on creating tiaras from headbands and embellishing hair clips using materials around the house to create a fun and inexpensive opportunity for hands-on creative play.
Fairy play involves creative activities like building fairy houses from the natural environment. You can learn more about the rules of the forest from the fairy houses books (affiliate link). Fairy play also involves using your imagination to explore what it might be like to have magical powers. It can engage children in exploring leadership challenges like being charge of the weather or animal welfare.
Princess play involves dress up, and princesses often engage in role play around traditional story lines like making themselves look beautiful by wearing the right clothes and meeting princes at balls. Princesses often need to be rescued by a prince, which may lead to marriage. This storyline creates an idea that women need to make themselves weak in order to be loved.
Parents of princess-loving children can work with them to identify the gender assumptions behind those story lines and rescript a more empowering story.
Paths to learning.
Fairies open doorways to loving the natural world. One passion that has grown out of the fairy realm for my daughter is learning about and working with medicinal herbs. A fabulous series that we’ve been using to explore this area more deeply is the herb fairies. Another product we’ve used to cultivate her knowledge and conduct kitchen experiments is the Kid’s Herb Book (affiliate link).
Princess obsessions often lead to reading princess stories, AKA fairy tales. There are some decent newer stories out there (we like Part-time Princess), although the traditional volumes often contain fear-inducing and/or disempowering plot lines which I do my best to avoid for my 4 year old.
If your child is already interested in princesses you can discuss the roles women play as leaders, and which leadership qualities can benefit humankind. Other royal topics worth exploring are social welfare issues and conflicts between nations. Together, you and your princess can engage in creative problem-solving through role play.
Fairies or Princesses? It’s all in the presentation.
Parenthood is a maze marked by competing interests. As parents of young children, it’s our job to get clear on our values, and shape our kids’ worlds accordingly.
I love the fairies for the gifts they’ve brought to my daughter. But even princesses have gifts to share if we can co-create them to reflect the brightest future we can imagine for our children.