My daughter loves princesses. Specifically, Disney princesses.
She spends her free time dressing up in crowns, tutus, and frilly, dresses that she can twirl around in. She reads about princesses, watches movies about princesses, and otherwise loves the princess world.
Inherently there isn’t anything wrong with this. Except for the fact that my daughter is biracial.
Why does that matter? Because most Disney princesses featured in movies and books have historically been white. Even now there are only a handful of multicultural princesses. With National Princess Week upon us, it’s the perfect time to discuss the importance of diversity in the movies, books, and characters our children are exposed to.
Why Do Multicultural Princesses Matter?
Not all princesses are white, nor is every little girl who wants to be a princess. Before having children, I was unaware of the lack of diversity among Disney Princesses. Now, however, having a biracial daughter who adores the princess world, it has given me a lot to think about in terms of role models and influences that affect her self-identity.
Children begin to develop self-identity at the same time they are discovering characters on TV and in books and are comparing themselves to those they love and admire.
If you loved princess movies growing up, you probably pretended you were a princess too. If you are white you could have been many different princesses depending on how you felt that day because there was no shortage of characters that looked like you. But imagine if there were no princesses you could identify with. You may have felt left out, or that you weren’t “pretty” or “worthy” because you didn’t look like all the celebrated princesses in the movies.
Little girls of color should be able to have several princesses that look like them, someone they self-identify with. My little girl needs princesses who are diverse and come in many shades.
Teaching Diversity to Your Children
Instead of focusing on what princesses look like, discuss the positive qualities TV and book princesses have. Ask your child:
What makes a great princess?
Who is your favorite princess and what is it about her that you like?
Discuss with your little girl how she can focus on the traits she loves and strive to be like that.
My daughter currently loves “Beauty and The Beast” and when I asked her why she loves Belle, she said because she is kind to the Beast even though he’s mean. So we talked about how she can be kind to others like Belle is.
In our house, we also talk a lot about princesses who have strong characters and fight for what’s right. Princesses are much more than frail girls who need to be saved from danger by a prince whom they fall in love with and then live happily ever after with.
Some of our favorite princesses to read about and watch are:
Merida from Brave
She is the only Disney princess with oodles of huge curly hair, which my daughter can identify with! Plus she kicks butt with shooting a bow and arrow and pushes back against the tradition to get married because she wants to live a life different than what her parents have chosen for her. I also love that it’s a movie about a mother and daughter mending their relationship instead of the traditional love story.
A Native American princess, Pocahontas has to face an internal struggle of doing what she believes is right versus what her father and community want her to do. She does wind up following her heart and doing the right thing, (sticking up for someone in need). Pocahontas also does not follow the predictable path of choosing love at the end of the movie. She continues to follow her heart and stays in her home with her family and community.
Tiana from The Princess Frog
Tiana is an African American young woman who doesn’t start out as a princess. She is a hardworking young woman who knows that instead of wishing on a star, it takes hard work to accomplish your dreams. She teaches the value of hard work and humility to a snobbish prince and helps him see value in being kind and hardworking.
Elena of Avalor
Elena is a princess of Hispanic origin and she rules a kingdom with the help of her family and close friends. She has to balance the hard work and responsibility of managing a kingdom, with her duties of helping to raise her little sister and being a good friend.
Moana is a Polynesian princess who has a calling to sail the Ocean to return the heart of Te Fiti, to its rightful owner. In doing so she has to go against what her parents want her to do, (which is to never leave the village). With the support of her grandmother, she decides to go on a voyage to return the heart because she believes it will help everyone in her village. This is another movie that isn’t a love story! Instead, it focuses on Moana and her journey of finding herself and gaining confidence in who she is.
She is our honorable mention. Although she isn’t a princess she is a brave girl from China who goes to war in order to save her father. In doing so, she has to work very hard to be the best soldier she can be. With her quick thinking and abilities she learned as a soldier, she saves China from the Huns.
Final thoughts and further reading
Multicultural princesses have so much value. They can introduce children to people from other cultures. They are the heroines little girls of color need because they can look up to and identify with them. Seeing positive role-models who look like them can help raise their self-esteem. While I love that there are more multicultural princesses these days, my hope is there will be many more. Until then, (and if you’re celebrating National Princess Week), you can support your daughter’s love of princesses by focusing on the positive traits they have instead of focusing on what they look like. For more on this topic, please visit the following links:
15 Multicultural Princess Books and Dolls To Add To Your Collection
10 Crafts and Toys That Support Racial and Cultural Diversity
10 Diverse Books For Strong Girls