What if Cinderella was homeschooled?

When I was little, I loved princesses. I couldn’t stop drawing them. I wanted to read stories about them. I had a collection of fairytale books that I couldn’t get enough of. I loved to dress up as a princess. I loved illustrations of princesses, especially if they were ornate and intricate and had gold detailing.

My friend Virginia writes an amazing blog called Beauty Schooled. Today she’s talking about princesses. The book Cinderella Ate my Daughter came out recently. It’s about how dangerous princesses can be for little girls. Virginia talks about it very eloquently, so I’ll let you read her thoughts over at Beauty Schooled, rather than attempting to summarize them here.

But I do want to say this:

Making decisions about princesses can be a big deal for homeschoolers and unschoolers.

Let’s say your daughter is in love with Cinderella. She wants to pretend to be Cinderella at the ball, all the time. Do you buy her the Cinderella Barbie, and the calendar, and all the plastic toys, and the original Disney film and “Cinderella’s Sing-Along” and whatever else Disney has squeezed the poor princess into? It’s all so easy to find. It’s all pretty cheap to purchase. And now your daughter can fit in with the other little girls who are obsessed with Cinderella. If you say no, will she look weird? She already doesn’t go to school. The other little girls might already be asking her, “Why don’t you come to school with us?” And now they’re asking her, “Why don’t you have the super singer Cinderella deluxe Barbie with the hair that you can cut and style?”

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Or maybe making decisions about princesses doesn’t feel like a big deal at all.

After all, you’re already doing things your own way. And your daughter isn’t surrounded by a ton of little girls exactly her age who all crave the same toys. So some of the pressure is off.

My mom didn’t like Disney princesses. She didn’t like the way they looked. She didn’t like the way the princes swooped in at the very end and saved them. But she was fine with me wanting to dress up as a princess. We made princess costumes and paper crowns. Once, she let me wear full regalia to a birthday party, when I was six or so. I realized, as soon as I walked in, that it hadn’t been such a great idea. But the other little girls thought my dress was very pretty, and I got over the embarrassment.

Later, when I was ten, I watched Disney film after Disney film, bleary-eyed and listless in front of my cousin’s TV. I thought the princesses looked ridiculous. Their dresses were so plain. There was no gold brocade. It was all very disappointing. Also, what was wrong with their waists? Why were they so tiny? How could they even breathe? Disney had clearly gotten it wrong. Princesses were nothing like this. Princesses were like me.

My mom wasn’t too worried about me fitting in.

Maybe she was too worried about Disney princesses, though. Some people are totally fine with their daughters collecting any type of princess paraphernalia they’d like. And maybe, if you’re already homeschooling, Disney isn’t really so much of a big deal. After all, it’s not just the way the princesses look. It’s all the other messages that girls receive about how to act and what to want that keep popping up everywhere they turn.

If Cinderella is just a phase, as she usually is, and the next phase is star charts or wilderness exploration, and all of that is just a part of your education, then maybe the impact of Disney is not so big and scary after all.

I don’t really know. But it seems like, for unschoolers/homeschoolers at least, there might be more to the whole princess story. It is a little unfair how she got to stay out until midnight, though. I always had to be home by 11:00. My parents could have learned a thing or two from that story.

13 comments to What if Cinderella was homeschooled?

  • I wanted to be Daisy Duke, not a princess. I wanted to drive my jeep and totally elude Rosco P. Coltrane. I practiced in my go-cart at my grandparent’s ranch. I was only 10 I guess, but I had on my blue jean shorts, my half-top and my long, knotted, mud-spattered hair flying out behind me.

    Princesses?
    Bah!

    • kate

      Ha! I don’t know why I was such a girly little girl. Biology? My brothers were making guns out of paper towel rolls. I’m glad I got princesses out of my system fairly young, though, and I really did move on to wilderness exploration. Which was much harder on my parents.

  • Marina

    I wrote this whole paper in college about how little girls playing at being Disney princesses are actually totally subverting the Disney message. Because little girls pretending to be Cinderella aren’t, you know, literally sitting in a corner waiting for a boy playing the prince character to come do something. They’re running around and casting magic spells that make the world bend to their will and having everyone love them madly.

    The Disney movie of Cinderella is actually kind of fascinating to watch as an adult. Maybe 1/3 of the movie actually has Cinderella in it–most of it is about the mice. Go figure.

  • shevrae

    I wanted to be Florence Nightingale. Or Sarah Brightman.

    My homeschooled girls love Disney Princesses, Miyazaki films, Barbies, and Thomas the Tank Engine. They just watched (and loved) “Megamind.” They are currently obsessed with “The Indian in the Cupboard” – I find plastic figures in the weirdest places! :) I have girls that pretty much enjoy anything they are exposed to. I think it’s wonderful, and I really don’t think “commercial” or “non-commercial” matters much – they just enjoy LIFE. That’s one of the big reasons I wanted to homeschool in the first place.

    I have friends who refuse to let their daughters have anything commerical. I tell them they’re setting themselves up to be grandparents stuck buying every commerical thing out there when their girls start compensating. :)

    • kate

      The Indian in the Cupboard!! I loved those books!

      I don’t have a ton of complaints about either approach. Kids will always find something awesome to play with. Doesn’t have to be plastic. Doesn’t have to be wood and cloth.

  • Val

    Princesses are one thing, but the movie I won’t allow in the house is Disney Beauty and the Beast. Yeah, I loved the singing, “Be our guest, be our guest…” But in the end, this movie is nothing but domestic violence served on a platter to little girls, abuse with a musical score. Maybe other versions are different, I don’t know, but this one is baaad. love, Val

  • Theresa Vaz

    The problem I have is parents who don’t like princessy things, or disney things etc. and are so harsh when making comments. I always had a problem that my daughter liked so many princess movies etc. but I always thought that this is her “thing” and she enjoys it and who am I to take away something that she enjoys. We often have conversations about who is a princess. Mulan, is a soldier. Pocohantas saved Adam Smith and his co-horts. Cinderella was kind to the mice.

  • Kendra

    I also wrote a paper in college on Cinderella titled “More Than Bibbity-Bobbity Boo” I went into the origin of the story and the fact that every culture in the world has a “Cinderella” tale. The Disney-fide schmaltz that they serve up now is nothing like the real stories (fable and folklore) of princesses who took matters into their own hands, risked all sorts of dangers and hardships and went on to solve problems themselves. Yes, they usually ended up with the prince, but because they wanted it and accomplished what they wanted. Those were the princesses of my dreams. They wielded swords and used their heads. I don’t forbid the Disney versions, but I always encourage the others more. My 13 year old wants to be Eowyn from The Lord of the Rings. She wants a sword for her birthday. And a princess cloak. My 3 year old wears her tutu everywhere, but she usually has a nerf gun tucked into the waist. As you say, it is really about letting them be themselves.

  • I’ve done some research into Waldorf education… one of the tenets is that kids go through various socio/psychological stages, and one of them involves fairy tales, king/queen/prince/princess play, black and white good and evil etc. It’s all about the child making sense of the order of their world, and a society’s fairy tale mythology is an important part of that. And Kendra’s point about the Cinderella story is an excellent one — fairy tales around the world have similar themes, and Waldorf deliberately uses this.

    In fact, much of Waldorf’s methodology focuses on turning education into stories, which feature seasonal characters like “King Winter”, and math concepts might have “Prince Minus”, etc.

    Kids — not just girls — are naturally drawn to the fantastic realms of royalty and dashing saviours of helpless folk (little girls don’t necessarily absorb guys-must-rescue-girls as long as there’s balance in their stories — they see it more as heros-rescue-people-in-need, and that’s a good lesson)

    Looking at it this way helped me to overcome my princess phobia with my young daughter (currently 4). We don’t watch much TV, but she has seen most of the Disney movies at some time or other. And she has a Snow White costume, and a Disney Princesses chair, and a magic wand toy, and an Aurora dress, and a mermaid costume… And she also has various non-Disney, non-specific wands, fairy wings, dresses, crowns, etc.

    She LOVES to dress up as a princess. It’s one of her favourite things. Sometimes she’s a specific Disney princess… but sometimes she makes up her own. She loves to get all pretty and girly, and she loves to dance and sing and be a sweetheart.

    She also loves to play in the mud, build massive lego towers, play video games, and wear boy clothes.

    And she’ll sometimes play mommy, nursing her baby dolls and carrying them around in her sling. And she likes to help me cook, do laundry, feed the cats.

    Princesses have not taken over her life — it’s just a particular part of her entire spectrum of creative play (which also includes a menagerie of imaginary friends!)

    What we will NOT do, is like you said… buy all the princess dolls, movies, assorted paraphernalia, to deliberately feed into an obsession. The few things we’ve picked up from birthdays and halloweens is enough!

    And of course, as much as possible, we read read read to her from OTHER fairy tales, including more original versions of the Disney stories, tales from other cultures, etc etc.

  • Well, there must be a large genetic component to this. I owned one doll that was very “non-princess” like, and much preferred playing with G.I. Joe and Breyer model horses. My daughter is almost 9 and has never been interested in anything remotely princess-y. In fact, she finds it all rather annoying (the marketing aspects especially). I’m glad, frankly, because it excused me from this whole issue! 😉

  • I’m not anti-Disney or anti-princess. My three daughters love all things princess-related, Disney or not. But the Disney princess that bugs me is Ariel. The message of the Little Mermaid movie seems to be, “Disobey your parents! Do all the things they don’t want you to do! Your father will do whatever he can to rescue you, and you can live happily ever after!”

    • Hannah

      I loved Ariel!!! But I think that was mostly because she had red hair, like me and that she was in the water and that she sang awesome songs.

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