Princess-Free Zone

“My friends Brannon and Chris have a little girl named Emme, and before she was born, Brannon and Chris declared their house a princess-free zone. There could be pink, there could be dresses and lace and babies galore, but no tiaras, no wands, and no princes coming to rescue any little princesses. I love this. I think maybe we should all live in a princess-free zone. I think the current cultural messaging that tells women it’s attractive to play dumb and fragile and hope that they are saved by their beauty is incredibly destructive….

If you’re a woman, and you get what you want by batting your eyelashes or faking fragility, and then you wonder why you’re not taken seriously in your career or given responsibility in your church, I think you may have believed the reigning cultural lie about what makes us attractive. And if you’re a man, and you celebrate femininity only as it presents itself in beauty and tenderness, please consider widening your view of what it means to value women. Consider strength, intelligence, passion, and compassion.

I want businesses and government systems and certainly churches to be led more and more often by women. I believe that men and women would both benefit from it in dozens of ways. But if that’s going to happen, I think we have to declare a princess-free zone. No tiaras, no Girls Gone Wild, no pretending we can’t carry things. No fairytales, no waiting around to be rescued, and absolutely no playing dumb.”

(Shauna Niequist) 

How much do I love this. Wow.

This post has sat in my draft box for a couple of weeks now (since I re-read Bittersweet), partially because what can someone even add to that beautiful piece of truth? But the other part of why it has taken up residence in my virtual incomplete drawer is because when I thought about commenting on this, it made me so sad to imagine my childhood without Disney princesses. I loved these movies as a kid! I already wrote this post about losing my voice to the sea witch, and so relish the conversation about what values change in each of us as we grow up.


The “classic” Disney princess movies; Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), Cinderella (1950), Sleeping Beauty (1959), The Little Mermaid (1989), and Beauty and the Beast (1991) perpetuated a relatively shallow and traditional image of what it means to be feminine. Surely, Disney has come a long way through the years, but there is always more that can be done to present a dynamic and versatile image of a woman in any story. It’s interesting to consider what that viewpoint means for little girls growing up today (and I am so glad that there are so many better women in movies now for these girls to take after, and that will continue to improve).


As a little girl, I loved the stories of Ariel and Belle, especially, and it would be misleading to deny the imaginations I had of a prince on a white horse coming to rescue me, or of being the brave and sacrificial young girl who stopped at nothing to rescue her own father. But even when I was young, I knew those were just stories, and I knew that the real stories I want to outline my existence are ones like that of people like my mom and dad, neither of whom needed rescuing by the other and both of whom ascribed to “non-traditional” egalitarian practices in their marriage. Both provided for our family in different ways, and love that uniqueness about us. We learned from a mom and dad who are who they are, honestly, not because that is how “men are supposed to be” or how “women are supposed to be” – and as kids we got to pursue the sports and extracurriculars that we wanted to – whether that was football or cheerleading, band or drama, basketball or baseball. We were taught, as so many millennials were, to follow our dreams, and work hard to achieve whatever it was that we wanted most in life. There were a lot of careers on little Sarah’s aspiration list – but none of them were to be a princess. I knew that was make-believe, and didn’t villainize or idolize those princesses. (I did spend some time as a child pretending I really was Dorothy from Wizard of Oz, but that’s a story for another day). I spent more time imagining my life as a teacher, a waitress, the president, a pop star, or a marine biologist, to name a few. I still want to be brave, and I love to wear beautiful dresses, and I appreciate the idea of being someone’s rescuer!

To me now, as an adult, the question that I’m asking is – Will I endorse these Disney princess movies to my students or even one day to my own children? Or will I encourage, even enforce, a “Princess-Free Zone”? And I am not sure about that. One of the greatest lessons my parents taught me (both intentionally and unintentionally) was the importance of critical thinking. I want these girls to be able to think things through, to comprehend and wisely discern what they model their lives after. I want to teach the young girls that I influence that their stories matter, just as much as princesses’ stories do, and that loving pink and tiaras is okay, as is loving Tonka Trucks and camo print. I hope that they would grow up to be intelligent, strong, and caring, just as I would like their male counterparts to be. I want these young girls to know that they are the author of their own stories, and that they have a Heavenly Father who sees them as so much more than simply passive princesses. They are part of a story of human redemption that is simultaneously deeper and more expansive than any fairy tale. It’s vital to teach young girls what it means to be a kind, generous, loving, human being, rather than perpetuating narrow ideas about femininity that bring about some of the more disheartening and despicable results that Shauna cautioned against, “No tiaras, no Girls Gone Wild, no pretending we can’t carry things. No fairytales, no waiting around to be rescued, and absolutely no playing dumb.” I hope that nothing in my words will ever give a girl (or a boy, for that matter) the idea that diminishing your intelligence or strength is ever necessary or admirable, and that there is always a deeper and more admirable story to be told in each of us.

* There is a whole other conversation here about the way that some of these harmful stereotypes have infested our male-female relationships, and I won’t bother delving into that today – check out The Junia Project for plenty of insight on that!

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