Don’t Shame Me for Calling My Daughter a ‘Princess’

I am a staunch, unapologetic feminist. I know that statement may be off-putting. Maybe you assume I’m a bra-burning, man-hating buzzkill — and in some ways, I am. Bras suck. A lot of men suck. But I am also happily married to a man. I enjoy the company of men, and they don’t all suck. But that doesn’t stop me from fighting for what is right — and that includes women’s rights. It also doesn’t stop me from instilling those values in my daughter: my smart, sassy, energetic and enigmatic little girl. And on the flip side, my feminism doesn’t stop me from calling my daughter a “princess.”

Of course, the moment I learned I was having a girl, I was terrified. I know how hard it is to be a woman — even now, in the 21st century. I fought against gender stereotypes. I bought her gender-neutral kid gifts and toys like blocks, history books and “boys” clothes. I encouraged her to play with dinosaurs and stare at the stars. And I vowed I would never, ever call her a “princess.” After all, the term is a degrading, isn’t it? My daughter is more than a pretty face.

But my daughter had other thoughts on the princess problem. She had other plans. Instead of shunning tiaras and tutus, she embraced them. By the time she was 3, I was Prince Charming, and she was an unnamed maiden laid out on our kitchen floor.

At first, this bothered me. At lot. I was furious that my daughter saw girls and women in this manner. But I soon came to realize that princesses weren’t the problem; I was. Because there is nothing wrong with playing pretend. There is nothing wrong with make believe, and there is nothing wrong with little dreams. Princesses aren’t inherently bad.

photo of Kimberly Zapata and her daughter
Courtesy of Kimberly Zapata.

Many people disagree with me. They believe princess culture teaches girls to be fragile and delicate. That it trains girls to be subservient and coy — that  the entire concept is toxic. Princesses are “damsels in distress,” right? Unable to take charge or take care of themselves?

I get where the critics are coming from, honestly. I truly do. Most Disney princess movies portray their female characters pretty questionably. The princesses in these flicks are almost always docile and need to be rescued by a strong, valiant male — and that can send mixed messages for sure.

But my daughter likes these movies. She enjoys watching them. So instead of banning them from our household, I use them as conversation pieces. We talk about the characters’ courage and inner strength. We talk about what it means to have power (and be empowered), and we discuss what the princess could — and should — have done differently. We also talk about how real princesses embody various positive traits, i.e., Belle may have fallen in love with her captor (the Beast) but the entire film wasn’t about their strange romance. Belle was a strong woman, one who walked through town with her nose in a book and couldn’t care less what others thought. She was smart, witty, loving and brave and, at one point, she even sacrificed her freedom to save her dad. How’s that for regal?

Good princesses, like good people in general, are wise, strong, confident, humble, selfless and self-assured. They can love, be loved, and break from tradition all at once. They can pave their own way, and they are leaders. Princesses carry themselves with poise and authority. What’s more, they are special.

Calling my daughter a princess is my way of letting her know she is important in her own way.

photo of Princess Sofia and Kimberly's daughter
Courtesy of Kimberly Zapata.

Of course, I don’t just I call her “princess,” nor do my compliments remain superficial. I compliment her intelligence and her keen sense of compassion and empathy. I tell her she is sweet and smart, silly and sassy. I tell her she is funny. I tell her she is witty. I let her know she is both gentle and strong, and I compliment all aspects of her mind, body and being — because I want her to be confident. I want her to be self-assured, and I want her to be empowered. And yes, being a “princess” can be empowering.

So before you shun me or my daughter for her nickname and my words, remember: People — and yes, even princesses — are what you make of them. Plus, this here feisty feminist grew up dressing up and watching Disney, and I turned out just fine.

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