Sunday, February 13, 2011

Elevating the pink

The discussion around Peggy Orenstein’s new book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter caught my attention. See, I have young girls, and there’s a lot of princess talk in my house, too. And most of it is coming from me.

I tell my young daughters to sit like princesses, no feet on the table. Meals are served in “princess portions,” and if they finish that, they can ask for seconds. When they behave in a way that is beneath their station, I tell them, “You are princesses; I expect more of you.”

I encourage my girls to see themselves as princesses, but I’m not talking Disney. Orenstein describes the effect of the princess culture as creating a reality where “how a girl feels about her appearance – particularly whether she is thin enough, pretty enough, and hot enough – has become the single most important determinant of her self-esteem.” That is not my aim. With all the princess chatter, I’m pushing for something a little deeper and more ancient than Grimm.

I am an Orthodox Jew. My concept of a princess comes from Psalms: “Kol kevuda bat melech penima—all the glory of a princess is within.” This is the opposite of the image of a pretty princess all in pink. The true value of a princess, according to the Psalms, is her internal reality, her essential self. Her image, her physical appearance does not define her. It is not here that her value lies. She is not rescued by the prince; she builds her relationships and her family through her greatness and nobility.

According to the mystical tradition, royalty (malchut) is a feminine trait. The Jewish concept of regality implies both grandeur and dignified humility. This is the royalty I desire for my daughters, this is what I am trying to teach them. The glittering tiara, the pink everything—this is not what it means to be a princess. A princess is someone so confident in herself that she can make space for other people. A princess radiates majesty and self-possession that come from within.

My twin girls are three-and-a-half. They love trucks, construction work and dinosaurs. But soon they will enter preschool, and all of that is likely to change. They will be assaulted by the “girlie-girl” ridiculousness that Orenstein critiques. My hope is that I can inoculate them by painting an alternate picture of what a princess is, so that when they hear, “You are such a pretty little princess,” they will recall that they are capable of true greatness. I hope they won’t be blinded by the sparkle. I can’t push back against the pink entirely, but I can try to rechannel it and elevate it. 


Unknown said...

Chaya you are a lovely sister and a strong woman. My nieces and nephew are blessed to have you. Beautiful writing.

Lisa Mechanick said...

yay chaya great

Unknown said...

You are a Princess raising Princesses.

Pamela said...

All they have to do is look to their mother to see what authentic royalty is, Chaya. You make your mother proud.

Kira said...

Fantastic. I never thought to teach Moriyah this way - great educational tool - thanks!!!

Rachel said...

We have actually found the princess analogy to be quite useful in many areas. When we wanted to teach our (now 7, at the time 4) year old not to throw her skirt over her head, we pulled out classic Ladi Di pictures from when they were dating- demure, tzanuah. We showed her that this was a "real" princess. We used even the Disney version to our advantage about how they are always shown sitting nicely, being kind, speaking softly... overall I am not as anti princess as many of my friends. I have found many useful lessons in them (and, of course, the occasional helpful forest friend to hang the laundry...)

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