Alanna got her BA in English and her MA in humanities at BYU.  Somewhere in the middle of her second degree, she met and married Craig, who now teaches TV productions while Alanna takes care of their two kids (ages three and two next week).  They all live in Northern Virginia and wish it would stop snowing.  She has a private blog, and if you’re just dying to be invited to it after reading this post, let her know.

It’s not that I actually have a problem with the Disney princesses. I was just as enamored with The Little Mermaid as anyone else my age when that movie came out; I have fond memories of trying to swim like a mermaid whenever possible (and being thrilled that one of Ariel’s sisters was named Alana!). And in all honesty, I think Beauty and the Beast‘s Belle is a fabulous role model for little girls. But despite that, there is something in me that cringes when I see the way princesses have been thrust upon young girls as the ultimate life goal. It was for this reason that I smugly purchased Mulan for Kendra this Christmas, rather than any of the other more princess-y movies that Disney has to offer. Mulan takes charge of her life, becomes a warrior, and saves China. This is the kind of role model I can get behind.

Most of my ideas about this came from Marjorie Williams’ article about Princess Di’s death, titled “The Princess Puzzle.” Williams noted that “it is rare the little girl who wants to grow up to be queen. To wish to be a princess is not simply to aspire upward, to royalty; it is also to aspire to perpetual daughter-hood, to permanent shelter. To dependency.” Williams explained more precisely than I could ever say the problems I had long felt about our obsession with princesses. I have seen this in friends who come home from visiting their families only to sink into a depression because “mom is no longer around to take care of me.” One of my best friends commented that it’s so hard for her to go back to doing everything for her toddler after her parents leave, as if life were unfair for hoisting this chore on her when her mother was perfectly capable of doing it all. And this attitude perplexes me, because while I absolutely love spending time with my own parents, there is always a sense of relief when I return home and can be more fully in charge of my life once again. I worry for these friends who would rather be taken care of than take ownership of their own lives.  Will they learn to be happy on their own?

After mentioning the several bad romances that Di was involved in during her life, Williams states that “for all her fame and her thirty-six years and her accomplished motherhood and her millions, the life of a princess prepared her very poorly to look after herself.” And Williams finally concludes that, “The moral of the story is that whether she’s riding in a gilt carriage that bears her to St. Paul’s Cathedral for the wedding of the century, or in a black Mercedes that bears her to her death, a passenger—which is the most a princess can hope to be—is never in charge.”

I don’t want that fate for myself, or for my daughter. I may call Kendra my Princess, and occasionally Principessa (thank you, Life Is Beautiful), but in reality I want a lot more for her. I want her to be strong and independent. I want her to aspire to be a queen some day. And while I am sure that she will one day discover and fall in love with all of the other Disney princesses (I know I can’t keep her watching Mulan for forever), for me to encourage this “I’m a passenger in my life” mindset would feel akin to pushing her to try to come in second in a competition. Why would I hope for her to win a silver medal when what she should be striving for is the gold?

Postscript: Just now as we were watching Mulan, Kendra declared, “Bad guys! Fight them!” and proceeded to poke the Huns on the TV screen with a plastic sword. I’m very proud.