Dads: Conquer Your Daughter’s Princess Industrial Complex without Having to Abolish Disney

Dads: Conquer Your Daughter’s Princess Industrial Complex without Having to Abolish Disney

Source: For the full interview, click here.

As a bootstrapping entrepreneur, I love watching Jason Calacanis’ “This Week in Startups.” His hour-long shows are usually full of “insider baseball” tips and tricks that help founders, like me, navigate the murky waters of starting a business. Today, however, he and guest Chris Sacca—both fathers of little girls—deviated away from the typical business chatter and shared their thoughts about raising young daughters in today’s hyper princess world.

Jason asked Chris, “What do you hope most for your girls?” The father’s answer was simple: He hopes his girls would be treated like kids, not like princesses. Chris went on to talk about the ills that the Princess Industrial Complex—a popular term coined by Peggy Orenstein in her book Cinderella Ate My Daughter—can have on young girls, even into adulthood. “The data are clear that people who grew up in a princess ideology have worse body image issues, eating disorders, higher likelihood of having early sex, unprotected sex, underperform in school, underperform in math and science…,” he says. And the list of offenses goes on.

As a woman, I know firsthand how awful it is to grow up in a world that revolves around unrealistic standards of beauty and behavior (damn you, Kate Moss and Calvin Klein!). While I’m now more comfortable in my own skin, I honestly still struggle with my own internal Princess Industrial Complex every day:

“Just snap a photo of the babies, dear, they’re so cute!” Princess Subtext: “I don’t want to be captured without my make-up on, not so cute.”

“I love wearing my yoga pants every day, really I do. They’re so comfy.” Princess Subtext: “I’m still carrying 15 extra lbs from Baby No. 2 and I don’t want to deal with my muffin top today.”

“I’d like a grilled chicken salad with dressing on the side, please.” Princess Subtext: “Ohh, that burger and fries look soooooo good…Don’t cheat again…Don’t do it, you’re trying to lose those last pesky 15 lbs, remember?”

Yes, I know these thoughts are completely illogical; I’m confident that I’m objectively healthy and beautiful. But that’s not the point. The point is that the Princess Industrial Complex is a real struggle that many of us face as children and adults, both women and men (yes, boys are also affected by the “Prince Industrial Complex”, too!), young and old. But this doesn’t change the fact that we all want better for our daughters, right?

So what can we do to help our young girls grow up strong, healthy, and confident?

Don’t Bother Hiding from Disney, Because You Can’t

I have two beautiful girls under the age of five. Just like other “Anti-Princess” parents, I tried my best to protect them from the evils of Disney and all things pink, sparkly, and stereotypical of being a “girl” as defined by our gender-biased culture. With my oldest daughter, I insisted that we give her only gender neutral gifts, bedding, clothes, toys, etc. because I didn’t want my baby girl to be brainwashed into being a Princess.

But just as Andy Hinds found out, trying to bury Disney and the Princess Industry under the rug is basically impossible. The Princess Monster doesn’t hide in the closet. And not only are the Disney Princesses and Barbie omnipresent during your child’s early years, but Vogue, American Apparel, Victoria’s Secret, and music videos dancers are just waiting to prey on our children from adolescence onward. We can’t hide our children from the world. (Unless we lock our kids in the house and throw away the key? Uh…No, thank you.)

Protectionism Can Actually Be Counter Productive

As I witness my daughters growing into themselves every day, I don’t actually believe that “protecting” them from all things princess is the right answer anymore. In fact, it can actually hurt their development. Here’s why.

On the surface, parent protectionism is the most obvious and seemingly best thing to do to help our children grow up with the core values we want them to develop. But these acts of paternalism can undermine our children’s self-confidence and ability to make quality decisions for themselves. In sheltering our daughters from all things pink and “girly,” wouldn’t we be just as guilty of treating them as helpless bystanders to their own ill-fated destinies, just as princesses are treated in most fairy tales? Rather than ordering for them, as men used to do for their wives, shouldn’t we encourage our girls to make sound decisions and speak up for themselves?

What if my 3.5-year-old genuinely loves the color pink, shiny things, and having tea parties with her stuffed animals? Or, the fact that her favorite activities these days center on “soft skills,” such as playing “mommy” with her dolls and creating arts and crafts, rather than building blocks and exploring bugs in the backyard? In curating her personal interests for the sake of making playtime more gender neutral and focused on “hard skills,” like math and science, would I truly be supporting her personal development and growth? As a strong believer of child-centered learning, I don’t think I can honestly support my child’s natural interests and keep a No Princess Zone, if that’s what she digs.

How to Slay the Princess Monster

While we can’t and shouldn’t shelter our children from Disney and its Princesses, we can expose our daughters to plenty of positive influences to help them make the right decision to love themselves unconditionally for who they are. And, do you know what our biggest weapon is? It’s your child’s father-daughter relationship! Not that moms aren’t important, mind you. But, there’s a real dynamic between a father and daughter that can greatly impact your child’s self-concept of herself, affecting her relationships, self-confidence, body image, and ability to achieve in education and career.

Dads, here’s how you can help your little girls combat the evils of Princess culture.

  • Model positive male-female relationships with your daughter(s) and spouse. Dads are their daughters’ first and foremost role model of how a relationship with a man should be. In her article, How Dads Shape Daughters’ Relationships, Jennifer Kromberg, PsyD states that dads are essential in setting the standards for how their daughters give and take love, negotiate relationship issues, consent to sexual intimacy, and shape expectations for future partners. Because our girls grow up observing and absorbing everything we do every day, be sure to form intimate bonds with your daughters by taking an active interest in their personal lives, spending one-on-one time together (e.g. Daddy and Me dates), sharing a favorite pastime (e.g. root for the same sports team or make boats in a bottle), and treating Mom with respect and admiration (this is really important, even if Mom and Dad are separated or divorced).
  • Focus on your child’s character and intrinsic qualities to instill a sense of self-confidence. Meg Meeker, author of Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters, states that fathers can help their daughters develop inner strength and self-confidence when they give attention to and praise for their children’s inner qualities, such as being a good listener, caring for friends, and having integrity and courage. On the other hand, if a father primarily commends his daughter for her appearance and achievements, she will more likely tie her self-confidence to her external self, which is difficult to control. Helping your child feel good about herself inside and believe that she is in control of her life encourages true self-confidence.
  • Stay close and connected to your daughter from infancy through adulthood to develop positive body image. A lot of research has proven that fathers play a key role in helping their daughters develop healthy body images and prevent eating disorders. In fact, many eating disorders are treated by prescribing more quality time with Dad. By staying connected and close, a father can make his daughter feel accepted and loved for who she is rather than rejected for what she’s not. Again, taking your little girl out for some one-on-one time will do her psyche and self-worth a whole lot of good.
  • Encourage your daughter to be a high achiever in education and career. According to the Institute for Family Studies, “Daughters whose fathers have been actively engaged throughout childhood in promoting their academic or athletic achievements and encouraging their self-reliance and assertiveness are more likely to graduate from college and to enter the higher paying, more demanding jobs traditionally held by males.” In fact, girls who do not have brothers tend to have higher representation in leadership positions because they received more encouragement from their fathers. Help your child believe that she can achieve anything she sets her mind and heart to by actively staying involved in her education and pursuits of interest.

From one parent to another, Jason and Chris, don’t worry so much about all the “pink sh*t” your daughters are bombarded with every day. Because as fathers, you ultimately hold the key and power to helping your girls grow up to be healthy, strong, and self-assured women that flaunt “Cause I am a champion, and you’re gonna hear me roar!”.

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Yvette Hwee

CEO & Founder at Playful Bee
I'm the momma of Gemma, a curious 3-year old, and Foxin, a rambling 1-year old, so I'm deep in the trenches every day, just like you. I'm deeply passionate about early childhood education and policy. On any given day, you'll find me 1) running a mile a minute chasing after my tots, 2) busy at work with Playful Bee, 3) cuddling with my dogs, 4) chowing down on a delicious meal with my hubby, and 5) enjoying a bit of zen during a hot stone massage. As young parents, our days may be long and years short, but can be good if we let it.
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