I know I’m in murky water here. Early in my daughter’s infancy, my husband and I began the argument: is our daughter a princess?
Now that we have two daughters under six, the lure of the princess is in full swing, and I’ll be honest, I haven’t completely answered the question myself. One the one hand, what’s so wrong about them? The princess ideal seems rather conservative and noble compared to childish characters that dominate the entertainment landscape today. It hearkens back to medieval forests and stories of love and self-sacrifice from ancient times, rather than the hip crayon-colored world of Elmo.
But then on the other hand, I can’t walk through the nearest dime-store without being shlacked by mass-marketed princesses: Pepto-pink hair-bows and toothpaste and bubble bath. It doesn’t take long to get the idea that little girls who are attracted to these things are not after ancient ideas of nobility and self-sacrificing beauty. As my sister-in-law put it once, “It’s all about the dresses.”
Christian kids’ book authors and publishers have come up with a new approach to the parents’ princess dilemma. Series like the Gigi books present girls all dressed up in ribbons and bows, with the same sort of visual appeal to external beauty as their secular counterparts, but with a twist at the end. In the first Gigi book, Gigi, God’s Little Princess in particular, called aptly by one reviewer “God’s Fancy Nancy,” a young fashionista finds out that while she may not have a crown, as a daughter of the King of heaven by faith, she is “God’s little princess.”
I doubt very much that this sort of book will, on its own, do much to either damage or uplift your child. My feeling is that the warp and woof of daily life—disciplining them, praying with them, teaching them God’s word and about His world—these things will go a lot farther than a picture book in defining their self-images.
But, as you seek to define your own family’s boundaries when it comes to this issue, I thought it would be good to consider three aspects of the princess story: beauty, power, and love. And if as my sister-in-law put it, it’s all about the dresses, I think I had better start with beauty:
- Beauty is good, and is ultimately found in Christ: As opposed to a Disney Cinderella story in which kids are told their dreams for love and beauty will magically come true, in the Gigi stories we find the author connecting the dots between God and beauty for us. It is easy for me to sometimes think my child must be unmoved—and therefore not tempted—by beauty in order to be holy. Yet holiness isn’t a denial of beauty, but a recognition and worship through earthly beauty to its Source—God. Gigi books it seems to me can serve some good in this area. They remind children that they are made by God, and no matter how ugly they (or life) may feel down here, they are beautiful in Christ. I will add one more thing here. I don’t think you need a Gigi book to make this connection. When I read my children the Disney version of Cinderella, I take a half-second to say, “You know, we don’t have magic, do we? Who helps us when we’re sad?” Their answer, “God!” Or in the Fancy Nancy book we have, she trips and falls. Then her parents pick her back up and tuck her in bed and it is their love that makes her feel beautiful again. Earthly parental love is intended to be a reflection of divine, and therefore as I make that connection explicit in our daily talks, Fancy Nancy books can be just as spiritually helpful.
- We must deny ourselves (beauty) and take up our cross daily: You’ll notice that the solution Gigi books give—girls who love Jesus are God’s little princesses—comes after a discouragement. A child is made to feel her inadequacy in some way, and then in that moment of doubt, she is reminded of God’s love for her and her beauty in Him. However, one of my worries with stories like this is that kids will hear the princess part more than the Jesus part, and they will totally miss the death to self that is required in loving Christ and being found in Him. I want my children to love beauty and seek it passionately. I want them—especially my little girls who seem to have been entrusted by God in a special way as caretakers of beauty on this earth—to care for their bodies, their clothes, their children and all of their sphere of influence with passion for beauty. But I also want them to be able to abandon that beauty should God require it of them. I want them to be like Paul, content in both want and plenty whether in the case of basics like food and health, or in the case of ribbons and bows and frilly dresses. It seems to me that the Gigi books—and the hearts of little girls generally—don’t fair so well on this point. I know, because I’ve seen what happens when I ask “God’s little princess” in my house to take off her tutu and put on overalls. I know also because of the struggle in my own heart, to not think less of myself if I have to put off dieting in order to have enough energy to take care of sick kids. Fancy Nancy, Gigi–and for that matter, Better H0mes and Gardens and Southern Living–all uphold the ideals of beauty and in doing so can encourage us. But they may also be a stumbling block for that very reason, coming between us and the life of faith that God calls us each to live.
Thus, the second thing I want to teach them about beauty, besides its goodness and source in God, is to lay it down. To let God write their story, to let God make their lives beautiful. And only in that freedom, to pursue beauty with all the joy and gusto of a Gigi.
I think I’ll save my thoughts about love and power for another post. I wonder if any of you have other thoughts on the Gigi books? Or princesses in general? Do you have any suggestions on how I can teach my kids both to love beauty and hate it for Christ’s sake?
Further Redeemed Reading: For other girl-friendly reviews, try Tall Telling by Janie, At Home with Anne of Green Gables, and an off-site Gospel Coalition article by Mike Cosper, Are Fairy Tales Finished?