My family and I were shopping for a child’s birthday present this weekend when we came upon the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic section at a local Target store. As I’ve discussed previously, MLP:FIM is an unusually good children’s cartoon. My three-year-old son loves it, and he was excited to see these toys.
My son searched for his favorite character, Rainbow Dash, but there were none to be found. Then, the largest MLP toy in the aisle caught his attention: the talking My Little Pony Princess Celestia.
My son pressed the bright yellow button on Princess Celestia’s cutie mark, and her wings lit up. He was entranced. But as the toy began speaking, my husband and I exchanged annoyed glances. This toy repositioned Princess Celestia as a conceited, girly-girl princess stereotype—not the wise, powerful leader and mentor portrayed on screen.
So, I grabbed my phone and took this video:
What’s going on here?
We captured 12 different sayings, which I think is all of them. I later transcribed them* and categorized each saying according to topic, in a miniature content analysis. Here are my findings:
I love when you comb my hair!
Oh, my hair looks beautiful.
My wings are so pretty!
My barrettes look so pretty!
I love to make new friends!
You’re my best friend!
I am Princess Celestia.
I’m a princess! Are you a princess too?
Let’s fly to the castle.
I will light the way.
In short, 5 out of 12 of this toy’s sayings are appearance-centric—possibly more, depending on your interpretation of the phrases “Spectacular!” and “I’m a princess! Are you a princess, too?” So if a child plays with this Princess Celestia toy, about half of the time, he or she will be subjected to pretty princess rhetoric—the kind of vanity discourse that the show, happily, is free of. For parents who appreciate the show’s generally informed approach to girly-girl stuff, this toy would present an unpleasant surprise.
In relation to this, it’s important to consider this toy’s appearance. Although Princess Celestia is portrayed on screen as a white pony, this toy is pink as can be. (In the video, listen to my son’s surprise: “She’s Princess Celestia?” and “She supposed to be white!” Yup. Sorry, sweetie.)
So, why is this pink Princess Celestia toy obsessed with stereotypical pretty princess interests?
Princess Celestia’s pre-production history offers some insight on the issue. Lauren Faust, MLP:FIM‘s creator, originally planned for Celestia to be a Queen. At Hasbro’s insistence, however, she was made a princess. Faust has explained:
I was told [by Hasbro] that because of Disney movies, girls assume that Queens are evil (although I only remember 1 evil queen) and Princesses are good. I was also told that the perceived youth of a Princess is preferable to consumers.
She does not have parents that outrank her. I brought the weirdness of that situation to my bosses, but it did not seem to be a continuity concern to them, so I’m letting it alone. I always wanted her to be the highest authority, and so she remains so. And I certainly don’t want marriage to be what would escalate her. (Bad messages to girls and what not.)
[...] I put up a bit of a fight when her title changed, but you win some, you loose some.
In short, Hasbro wasn’t interested in fighting stereotypes in this instance. Their execs just wanted to cash in on stereotypes about pretty princesses. They apparently couldn’t resist the opportunity to have a princess instead of a queen.
Toy manufacturers are content to market stereotypes to consumers who, unfortunately, they see as little more than stereotypes: “Girls love princesses! Princesses are girly and pretty and pink! Let’s give girls what they want.”
As critics such as Peggy Orenstein have argued, this is a huge problem in our culture–for girls, for their imaginations, and their visions for their own futures. And it’s the antithesis of girl power.
Consider Lego’s recent and controversial decision to create a separate girly-girl line of Legos for girls, instead defying the stereotype that girls will ONLY play with pink toys and inviting them to build with regular legos. It’s the same kind of logic.
Toy manufacturers need to stop pretending that what’s good for their bottom line is what’s good for girls.
So, Hasbro: I have some ideas for future iterations of the Princess Celestia toy. She could say:
I’m a princess! I rule my country with wisdom.
I love teaching my students. Do you love school?
You’re so smart!
You remind me of Twilight Sparkle, my best student.
Can you tell me what you learned today?
Together, we can do anything!
There. Now, that wasn’t so difficult, was it?
Parents: Have you had similar issues with toys in the past? Do any of your children own this Princess Celestia toy, and if so, what are your thoughts on it? (Bronies, what do you think?)
Update (1/17/12): I’ve set up a petition at Change.org, urging Hasbro to reprogram the talking Princess Celestia toy. Please sign itif you agree.
Also, if anyone has other ideas about what the talking Princess Celestia toy should be saying, I’m all ears. Post your ideas below, and I’ll consider adding them to the petition.
* A full transcript of the video, including what my son and I are saying, is available on the YouTube page.
Note [added 1/20/12]: In my list of suggestions, I originally offered, “You’re beautiful, outside *and* in,” meant as a corrective to the emphasis on external beauty in princess toys. But some moms have persuaded me that, really, we don’t need any additional beauty rhetoric! (Smart moms, you rock.) So I’ve replaced it with, “Can you tell me what you learned today?” which is very much in line with the character on the show.