Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Princess Phenomenon

The recycling of Christmas presents brought up some impassioned discussion at our house last December. The concern wasn’t that the gift was used. The problem wasn’t that one daughter’s kids were tired of their glitzy makeup table and gave it to a younger cousin as her Christmas present. No, that would have been too simple. The center of the controversy was a light-up princess makeup table that plays music and features a sugary-sweet voice telling the child how pretty she looks. The 22-month-old recipient’s dad didn’t want her swooning in front of it. He didn’t just think the toy was silly; he really didn’t want her to have anything to do with it. Why such strong reaction?

He explained that if you focus a little girl on the wrong stuff -- blinking lights, music, soft voices telling her she chose the right color for her nails -- you risk programming her into a young woman who depends on glitz and glamour to define who she is. I mentioned how I fell in love with Snow White’s kindly character and with Cinderella’s forgiving spirit when I was a child and found them useful in growing up. Yeah, I wished upon a star now and then. I did kind of look for a prince to be my hero but, as I grew and matured, I realized a girl doesn’t need a prince but a partner. What stuck with me from those characters wasn’t materialism or vanity but compassion and concern for others.

Then the loving, wonderful young father looked me seriously in the eyes and said, “But, Phyllis, I’ve known too many girls and young women who play this fantasy out in their lives. They end up with eating disorders and relationship issues and a lack of confidence in what they can do and who they are.”

This conversation stayed with me. I look for balance. I appreciate this father’s genuine concern about what will shape his daughter’s definition of beauty and self-worth as she grows up. We know what he’s talking about, and we see it in too many women we know. But will taking our daughters away from princess movies solve the problem and shape them into content and focused young women?

I wish it were that easy. Our society constantly tells our girls to value themselves for the wrong things. One way to fight this trend is to say with the psalmist in the Bible, who recognizes the great design in each of us, “I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14a). You know what? That sure beats what the mirror says about the princess -- that she is the fairest of them all. There’s no problem with mirrors, as long as we put things into perspective. God sees us inside and out as someone He created with unique gifts to serve Him and others. That’s a good “look” by anyone’s definition!

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