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Snow White, as seen by Dina Goldstein

Snow White, as seen by Dina Goldstein

What parent has not worried about the impact of Disney’s princess marketing juggernaut on their young kids? It’s ubiquitous, poisonous and almost impossible to avoid.

Today, a good friend sent me this link to Fallen Princesses, a photo exhibit by Dina Goldstein. She is, apparently, a mom and a photographer, and these photos are her answer to the dark questions the Disney princesses stirred up when her three-year-old became besotted with them.

Because it was sent to me with no warning about what it was, I happened to look at it with my five-year-old daughter on my lap.

Let me tell you, we had some fascinating conversation about what those princesses in those pictures were doing. I was only a little dismayed when Rio cooed at Snow White, “Look, Mama, this is when she has babies! And a husband! And a dog!”

uh…yes. To her credit, a little later Rio looked more closely and said, “They do seem to have a lot of babies.”

After we’d looked at the whole series, Rio wanted to know what was going on with these princesses. Especially with Belle, who is depicted having plastic surgery.

“She’s having surgery on her face,” I said.

“Why?”

“To make her look like a princess,” I said. I did not want to be having this conversation. I don’t want my five-year-old to know about plastic surgery, or the desire to be someone else, or the beauty industry.

“Why would she do that?” This is one of those moments, I realized. One of the moments when my daughter asks me hard questions and I owe her real answers.

“She doesn’t know how beautiful she is,” I said. “She’s confused.”

And then I told her that real women sometimes have surgery on their faces to try to be prettier. That real women sometimes do all the things these princesses are doing – get sick, have babies that no one helps them care for, get sad, grow old and lonely.

Rio expressed the opinion that princesses are great, and she understands why any woman would want to look like one. On cross-examination, she agreed that I am beautiful, and don’t look like a princess. That’s because I’m not one, she explained.

“I wish I was a princess,” Rio said. “But I can’t do anything about that.”

“You are better than any princess to me,” I said.

“No, I’m not,” Rio said very matter-of-factly. “Princesses are better than me. Because they are prettier.”

um…

Deep breath. What to say? This is the textbook Disney-is-evil stuff I’ve read about but never expected to encounter in my own home. Lost, I repeated myself.

“You are better than any princess to me.”

“Even the world is not better than princesses,” Rio explained patiently, the way one talks to someone very slow. “Princesses are the best.”

After that she wanted to know if princesses are real. I showed her a picture of Princess Di, and talked about how hard her life was. Rio wanted to know if Real Princesses are real, and I assured her that all of Disney’s princesses are entirely fake.

I’ve always been a bit of an apologist for Disney. I don’t buy that stuff, obviously, and we don’t watch TV at home. But I haven’t worked to keep it away from my kids either.

Very early in my parenting, a mom I admired made a case for princess-worship as a little girl version of goddess worship, in which young kids deify images of beautiful, magically gifted, powerful young women. I liked that reading, and clung to it when my two-year-old became obsessed with the Little Mermaid.

Beyond the female divinity argument, I’m an avid fan of Bruno Bettelheim. I’m sure he wouldn’t defend Disney; they whitewash fairy tales in exactly the way he advises against. But I think one of his most basic points is that children experience stories differently than adults do. They are drawn into a story for reasons opaque to their parents, and are satisfied by elements that elude us. This should be obvious to anyone who has ever let their preschooler pick the story at bedtime and then been stuck reading a Clifford book aloud for the 37th time. So while the princess schwag looks appaling to me, I’ve rested happy in the knowledge that I am not the target audience, and can’t know what my kid is getting out of it.

Finally, like most of my peers I survived a childhood riddled with Barbie, GI Joe and Strawberry Shortcake, and still grew up to be a self-lovin’ hippy feminist. Rio will do just fine no matter what crappy gender stereotypes she plays with as a kid. By the time she’s old enough to read this, I’m sure the fact that she ever wanted to be a Disney princess will be an embarassing footnote on a glorious life as a self-possessed, beautiful, brilliant young person.

That said, hearing my own daughter (who, let’s face it, has had a pretty sheltered life when it comes to media) say that she thinks princesses are better than her because they are prettier cost Disney all their credit with me and then some. Rio will be fine, but they are not helping. They are hurting.

Why am I posting about this? It’s not because I’m all riled up about how Disney is undermining my daughter’s self-esteem. I do plan to write them a letter, which I expect them to ignore. Whatever.

I am posting about this because Rio asked me to. “Mama, can we put these on your website?” she said. She wanted everyone we know to see these princesses. Because, you may recall, princesses are The Best. I agree with her. I want everyone we know to see this – both the photos and the discussion they provoked – in the hopes that a few more of us will wake up and stop turning a blind eye to what Disney is doing to our girls.

I am a little late to the party in blogging about this, but in case anyone missed it, Consumer Reports took a broad swing at attachment parents this week with an article entitled Five Products Not to Buy For Your Baby.

The article asserts that because there are no safety standards or good research studies on cosleepers or baby slings, one should avoid these products in favor of more traditional options.

I’ve never used a cosleeper, personally, so I can’t vouch for their safety. My babes just slept in my bed. Under a mountain of soft blankets. Yeah, I’m a safety rebel. They are happy healthy kids. There you go.

My baby sling remains the one prized baby item I’m not willing to pass on to friends or Goodwill. Probably my most joyful hours with my babies were spent wearing them in their little wrap carriers.

I feel sad that Consumer Reports biased article might dissuade some parents from experiencing the joy and ease I had as a new mom wearing my baby, and angry that it might impact some of the small businesses that make slings and wraps for babies. Apparently the author of the article is a dad himself, and professed shock at the uproar his article caused. Dude. You wrote an article called “Five Products Not To Buy For Your Baby” and included several popular items with nothing but hearsay and cultural bias to suggest they are unsafe. What did you think would happen?

I bet I’m not the only with an opinion. If you follow the link above, you can let them know how you feel, too.

Lisa Belkin at the NYT has a great column about Slow Parenting.

I think this may be my new favorite word to describe what I do as a mom, beating out “attachment parenting” by several miles. As her interlocutor puts it, “Slow parents understand that childrearing should not be a cross between a competitive sport and product-development. It is not a project; it’s a journey. Slow parenting is about giving kids lots of love and attention with no conditions attached.”

Exactly. I feel this so acutely when I look at my life with my kids. I just posted about the work I’m doing to scale back my desires for them, and my growing awareness of how I sow desire in them.

Slow parenting relates to that. I remember when I was choosing, last year, to homeschool the kids. I kind of fell into it when we were deciding whether or not to send our kids to private school. The school was so good, but so expensive. It raised so many questions: am I doing the right thing? Will my kids get The Best Education? Do they have Enough?

I felt so intensely that what I consumed on behalf of my children would define them, would make their lives richer or poorer on a grand scale far outlasting the cost to me of a new toy, an enrichment class or even a private school education.

For me, the real temptation is to consume experiences for them. I’m not a big shopper, but I wanted to enroll them in every enrichment class. We did Music Together for the first time when Rio was 9 months old, and we’ve done music classes, gymnastics classes, yoga classes, nature workshops, etc. ever since.

I felt, as I think many parents do, that I had a moral obligation to buy the best of everything for them, at any personal cost.

And then that started to change. To go to private school, we would have relied on a financial aid grant that requires both parents to work full time. This would have meant putting our girls not only into school, but into after-school programs, starting now at their very young ages.

It didn’t feel right. I wondered if it might actually be better for them to live more simply, to go to school in our neighborhood or right in our living room, and have access to me – my energy, my love, my simple presence in our home – for their whole lives growing up.

Now, as we live our abundant, simple life, these questions fall away. I’ve come to terms with not having a Brand Name education for my daughters. Not only did we choose homeschooling over private school, but I dropped out of the Waldorf teacher training program I’d enrolled in. I don’t need it any more than I need the charming, expensive hand-made toys they sell in the Waldorf School gift shop.

I’ve learned to genuinely love what we have, and to reach outside myself less for happiness or wholeness. In a sense, this is an exercise in radical self-love, loving myself enough to believe that I am all my young kids need to flourish.

So far so good. We are enough, unto each other. Today I asked Rio what she wanted to do with our afternoon, and gave her several “enriching” choices – the library, the museum, the bookstore. She responded by performing a song and dance (literally) about how wonderful it would be to stay home with her mother and sister and cats.

So that’s what we did. We baked cookies, drew some pictures, and played with the wooden trains. Again. The same thing we did yesterday, and the day before. I think maybe she likes it. It’s Enough. The Best, even.

Why do I breastfeed? Too lazy for bottles.

Cosleep? Too lazy to put the baby in a crib.

Babywearing? Too lazy to carry a stroller around, keep it clean, set t up and break it down, etc…Why is my baby napping in a sling on my chest? Too lazy to take her upstairs and put her to bed.

Why do I cloth diaper? Too lazy/broke to buy diapers every week.

Today, I am SERIOUSLY considering homeschooling on the grounds that I may well be too lazy to take my kid to school every day and pick her up again a few hours later.

(this came out of a conversation with another mom about how we do all these things that look like work because we can’t be bothered with modern “conveniences” that actually take more time/money)

Flickr Photos

Holding hands

Emerson graduation smiles

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More Photos

A little bird told me…

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