When I was a young girl, I loved princesses. How could I not? They were gorgeous, sparkly, and talked to small furry animals. But I also loved rock stars (thanks to my gorgeous and sparkly Barbie and the Rockers doll), tiny horses (thanks to my gorgeous and sparkly ponies on My Little Pony), and, for a short period of time, Pee-wee’s Playhouse’s Miss Yvonne. (Hey, she was sparkly.)
My point is, young girls will love anything covered in pastel hues and sold on a TV screen. So I can’t help but feel a bit dismayed that Disney is banking on the success of a new character aimed at 2- to 7-year-old girls, Princess Sofia. According to the New York Times, Sofia – pictured above – will star in her own TV series, Sofia the First, and film. It’s a character that makes sense within the confines of Disney, a company that owes a large portion of its success to its Princess line, which stretches all the way back to 1937’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. But it’s also a disturbing character to see grabbing the spotlight in our modern world, which rightly prides itself on bucking gender stereotypes.
Disregard the fact that Sofia looks like a Toddlers & Tiaras beauty queen. Even disregard the fact that this young princess looks caked in more makeup than your typical Beverly Hills Housewife. All of that matters much less than the simple fact that Sofia only continues to sell dangerous, out-of-date gender norms: Young girls should aspire to be beautiful, dependently wealthy, and the object of affection for a future Prince Charming. And, of course, to Disney’s credit, kind-hearted. As Disney Junior Worldwide’s Nancy Kanter told the Times, “What makes a real princess is what’s inside, not what’s outside … We saw girls have an instant relatability to this character.”
That’s what I’m worried about. It was bad enough that young girls of yore hoped to become beautiful Sleeping Beauties waiting for their one, life-saving kiss when they grew up. With Sofia, young girls might hope to become beautiful princesses… right now. The small screen is already overrun by shows like Hannah Montana and iCarly, in which girls live their lives as famous, high-profile figures. Sofia the First will show a girl living her life as a diamond-clad princess. Not only is it an unattainable image for toddlers and young girls – who, let’s face it, should just focus on being kids – but it’s also unnecessary. Yes, girls love princesses. But they’d also love, for example, a young math-loving character who also enjoys wearing a bedazzled top or two.
Believe it or not, it’s not about the princesses. It’s about the packaging. Heck, even the ugliest toys in history, Troll dolls, appealed to young girls through their jewel-encrusted belly buttons. And it’s easy to sell an intelligent non-princess character – we fell in love with Beauty & the Beast’s impoverished, literature-loving Belle long before she put on that majestic yellow dress. (In fact, as a youngster, I remember thinking the most beautiful thing about Beast was not the dress, but Belle’s library.) Disney simply doesn’t have to rely on its princess-obsessed history to appeal to young girls. What appeals to girls most is being told they can do anything when they grow up, tiara not required. Here’s hoping Sofia takes a page from her more ambitious, awesome cousin over at Nick Jr., Dora the Explorer, and soon learns that brains are the thing that will help you travel far.
Anyone else disturbed by Sofia?
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