Posted by: notdeaddinosaur | May 6, 2014

Princess Dressing; or, You Can’t Fight City Palace


Daughter of a friend turns 7. Proud mama posts pic, with apologetic self-flagellation about having “given in to princess dressing.”

Question: What do you think mothers in the ’50s and ’60s would have done if they’d had things like Facebook, Twitter, and the Internet?

  • OMG! How is my poor little Agnes ever going to find a husband, going around in dungarees like that all the time?
  • All this pressure on young girls to “express themselves” by dressing however they feel like is preposterous!
  • This “women’s lib” is such a scourge. It’s not like when I was a girl!

I thought the whole idea behind raising girls (and boys, for that matter) was teaching them that it’s what’s inside that counts. Wasn’t there something about not judging a book by its cover? I understand that there’s still this pesky thing called “the outside world” populated by the ubiquitous “other people”, where external pressures and snap judgments are rampant. But isn’t the whole idea of parenting to instill that internal sense of Okay-ness that allows the child’s genuine self to shine through, however clothed?

I’m not talking about appropriateness. Certain venues call for certain modes of dress, which young children are not equipped to accurately judge. Party dresses aren’t worn to school, and jeans shouldn’t be worn to church. But if there are other times when kids are offered the choice of what to wear, the least we can do is respect those choices.

What’s the difference between telling a girl, “Oh no! Not a princess dress!” and “Oh no! That’s what boys wear!” Don’t both statements have the effect of devaluing the girl’s choice?

I have another friend whose daughter used to put together the funkiest outfits for school. The kid was a hippie whose mother had worn Catholic school uniforms. Teh horror! Bottom line: so what? Advice was given (and taken) to choose one’s battles, and the kid ended up a lawyer.

I understand that “society” (the collective version of “other people”) is doing terrible things to girls (and women): hypersexualizing them, objectifying their bodies, devaluing them as thinking, feeling, inherently worthwhile beings with a right to, well, themselves. I agree that it’s a fight that needs to be fought.

But it’s still okay for a seven-year-old to dress up like a princess from time to time.

Happy Birthday!



  1. I agree. It’s all a part of ‘pretend play’ developing creative imaginations. Rile wants to be Elsa with her Ice Powers. Now what she plans to do with those powers is anyone’s guess, sinc she was googling it…


  2. I’m going to have to disagree with the assessment that putting a hard stop on princess dress up is the same as saying “oh no, that’s what boys wear.” My issue with princess dress up relates to the princess specifically…not the dress, the shoes, or the tiara individually or even in concert as it relates to dressing up for a party. I’m not trying to girl-shame her. I recognize that I have a gender conforming daughter and it is not my place to attempt to change that.

    My issue is specifically with “princess culture.” This culture is about looking pretty for the sake of impressing others and particularly a potential prince. It isn’t about individual agency, personal growth or empowerment. It really is all about external appearance and getting others to look at how beautiful one is.

    As you can see from the photo of my munchkin, my daughter would be beautiful covered in mud and wearing a potato sack. Yet not only is she beautiful outside, she is also beautiful inside as well as being scary smart. She hears external and internal accolades from her parents all the time, yet from the external world she only hears about how beautiful she is. Despite our best efforts she has begun to crave that attention believing that she *needs* a princess dress in order to be beautiful. That is what wounds me as her mother. No matter how much I have tried to instill the importance of inner beauty in addition to external beauty, the messages have yet to be incorporated. And by giving in and buying her the dress, she is even more focused on being a “beautiful princess.”

    When I hear 4 year old girls panicking about having to wear a dress to school so that they can look beautiful and find a husband, I die a little more. Pink and Purple Princess Culture is much more insidious and damaging today than it was even 10 years ago. Now there is no such thing as a toy. You must choose between a girl toy and a boy toy. Our kids are pushed into limiting gender boxes right from the start. And the last thing I want is for my kidlet to be stuck in any societal box.

  3. OK, that was me, not anonymous above. I am confused about your account linking system for comments.

  4. Oh for goodness sake.

  5. I have a friend who is extremely conservative and an elder in a Southern Baptist church. His 4-year-old grandson came into the room where we were visiting to show us that a cousin had put pink fingernail polish on him. I held my breath to see my friend’s reaction. He smiled and said, “You like the color pink, don’t you?” The boy said yes and happily ran back in the other room. The boy never wore fingernail polish again, didn’t seem to show any interest in cross-dressing, and now is in high school and seems well-adjusted and straight. My take: kids don’t think about these things too deeply, and the adults’ reactions — accepting or rejecting them and their likes/dislikes — make a big difference.

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