Ask LIE: Princesses have to be pretty, but do they have to be white?

Dear LIE:

I am a long time reader of the Love Isn’t Enough blog and recently had a conversation with my daughter at the breakfast table that I need your help on.  First let me give you a bit of background.  I am white American and my husband is black Zimbabwean.  We have two wonderful daughters, ages five and nine weeks.

During breakfast this morning my daughter had noticed that I had taken off the pictures of Barbie that were around the party favors that she had found somewhere in the house.  She asked me why I had removed them and I said that that princess had blond hair and blue eyes and I wanted to find some princesses with black curly hair and brown eyes (she, of course, has black curly hair and brown eyes).  Then my daughter tells me that princesses can’t have black curls and brown eyes. When I asked her why she said because princesses have to be pretty…

This is where I paused.  She is five, princesses are big in her life.  Not something that we encourage at home but something that is pervasive everywhere.  I try to make a point of dolls and images in our home reflecting the brown skin and black curly hair that she has, but the princesses are everywhere and typically they have pale skin and light straight hair.

At this point in the conversation, I told her that she has black curls and brown eyes and that she is pretty.  Then she got defensive and tried to tie it back to the princess argument.  My husband explained to her that people in most other parts of the world have brown skin and black hair so there must be princesses that match.  Of course, when my daughter refers to princesses she is talking about the ones portrayed in Disney films.  So I tried to reassure her by talking about Princesses Tiana from the Princess and the Frog.  We pulled up some pictures of Tiana and it was not apparent whether she had curly hair.  This was not enough to convince my daughter.

All of this aside, back to the statement that is so bothersome: “…because princesses have to be pretty…”

Does this mean at this early of an age she does not consider herself pretty?

I realize that the idea of what society thinks is pretty is pervasive and she is bombarded with it on a daily basis.  So the question is: how can I counteract this?  How can I ensure that I raise a girls confident in their abilities and appearances?  I realize that I am not addressing the unrealistic feminine characteristics of these characters that every little girl struggles with;  for now, my focus is specifically on race.

Such a big question, so important.

Thanks for any insight or resources you can give me.

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