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Jousting with the Princess Factory


I’ve done my best to keep the Disney Princess invasion at bay. We have none of the movies or, uh, “books” which are just ads for the movies, and none of the merchandise or apparel or personal care items that feature the Royal Threat. Except. We do have one Disney Princess ball. No, not the kind with music and party dresses. The kind you can kick.

It was an Easter egg hunt prize, and as hard as I try to “lose” it, it keeps getting found. Lately, my preschooler has taken to asking me what each princess is named.

“Mommy, who’s that?”

“Snow White.”

“Oh, she’s pretty. Who’s this?”

“Sleeping Beauty.”

“Sleeping Booty?”

“Yeah, something like that.”

Not one of my mom friends is a fan of the Princess Pack. Some helpless woman, lying around, waiting on the man to rescue her just doesn’t cut it for a role model. And, yet, all of us with girls around the ages of three to six are facing the fascination our daughters have with all things pink, fluffy and Disney.

Where does this come from, this whole princess thing we work so hard to shut out? In the beginning — just like all the colds, stomach flu and communicable diseases — they get it from their friends. As an observer-type, I’ve also noticed a strong correlation between the onset of the princess phase and the first bout of backtalk and experiments with “We don’t like (this girl) …” and other irritating behaviors associated with girlhood. Coincidence? I don’t think so. Rapunzel may have been shut away in that tower for good reason. By her real mother.

The best thing about this whole phase is that it is normal and temporary. But for Disney, the phase is like money in the bank. For at least three years of each young American girl’s life, Disney can count on raking in some bucks. It’s a marketer’s dream, the sure payout.

It is not, however, quite like hitting the lottery. That title belongs to Disney properties like Cars, a movie released several years back that is selling more merchandise now than when the film was first released. So successful is this particular property, that it will be given it’s own theme park.

The thing is, the movie doesn’t even have to be great, as long as the merchandise and concept take hold in kids’ minds. Ratatouille won an Oscar, but cookbooks and cooking tools aren’t exactly high-demand items. Don’t expect a Remy theme park or even a video game anytime soon.

It works like this, after the release of a movie — with the minimal amount of merchandise on hand — Disney looks at the audience response and the likelihood of the “property” being successful across all of their businesses. This is everything from apparel and toys and consumer packaged goods to books, food, breakfast cereals (note, these were NOT included in food), video games, spin-offs, television, DVD release, online properties, amusement parks, events, live shows on- or off-ice … and so forth until the cash registers ring eternal with your child as their golden instrument.

And, that’s what gets me most. I could handle the princess years easier if it were just entertainment; a few fairy tales, or a DVD on a rainy night and a one-time Halloween costume at most. It’s gone way past entertainment into a new kind of advertising scheme where the movie is just a sales tool, a great big entertaining commercial that fuels demand for merchandise — merchandise that fills every aisle of the store because the branded character is used as a shill on every shelf. There is no escape as the crush of marketing permeates even the most princess-proof home. And that, most of all, is a royal pain in the butt.

Stock Photo © Maureen Rigdon | Dreamstime.com

[This post was written by Beth Bader.]


  1. Gah… I don’t have kids, but I taught theater for several years and found myself constantly controlling myself every time the little girls would want to dress up and play Disney princesses.

    Disney always bothered me because of the gender role stereotypes, but now I start thinking about the massive amounts of Disney merchandise that must be clogging up landfills.

  2. I, too, want to keep all the princess toys, stories, and movies to a minimum for my daughter. However, this post got me thinking about my own childhood. I devoured these stories and even dressed up like a princess on occasion . . . yet I still turned out with my feminist aspirations intact. As I grew older, I questioned the messages in all these “a prince is going to rescue me from my miserable life” narratives. As a kid, I even rewrote some of these fairy tales, giving them a more progressive slant. So I think there is some hope for all those little princesses out there!

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