Imagine this scenario:
Four-year-old Madison is obsessed with princesses. She wants to eat, sleep, breathe nothing but Disney Princess products, and it’s becoming a point of contention in her household. Her parents are tired of all the little battles over what she will wear, watch, and play with.
Madison’s mom blames herself for this situation. She loved princesses when she was a little girl, so she’s been buying princess products for Madison since Madison was an infant. She thinks sadly, “I can’t believe I did this to my daughter.”
But summer is coming, and Madison’s parents look forward to spending time outdoors. They think involving her in a little gardening might encourage her to branch out a bit–develop new interests.
It’s time to start planting, so they plan a visit to their local garden shop. Building up Madison’s enthusiasm, they tell her, “You can choose any seeds you want to plant! We’ll help you take care of them and you can see how they grow.” She is excited. “Maybe I’ll plant some carrots,” she says.
That’s right: Burpee, capitalizing on the popularity of Disney Princesses, has licensed the names and likenesses of Belle, Sleeping Beauty, Jasmine, and Cinderella to adorn their flowers’ seed packets.
Upon seeing the display, Madison wants Princess flowers and nothing else. Her discouraged parents remind her that she wanted carrots, but Madison insists. “I want a princess garden, Mommy! Daddy, don’t say no.”
Looking around the corner, her parents see that Burpee does offer Disney-branded vegetables–but they’re not princess-themed. The logic must be that princesses are meant to be gazed upon; they are delicate beauties; so they only adorn the packages of flowers, which share these qualities. The veggie seed packs go to Mickey and friends:
Madison’s parents never dreamed Disney would co-opt their gardening experience, and they DID tell her she could choose any packets she wants….so despite her parents’ reluctance, the princess flowers win.
For this “privilege” of purchasing seeds that have Disney characters on their packaging, her parents will spend $1.99 a package, instead of the $1.00 to $1.19 Burpee charges for otherwise identical packages of seeds with no licensed characters on them — making the outing twice as expensive as it should have been.
Oh, and don’t forget the princess-themed plant labels, which cost $2.97 for a package of six–way more than the plain ones, which cost $1.99 for a package of twenty. Yikes.
(Hey, at least Tiana’s on the packaging.)
Now, I don’t mean to knock Burpee for licensing Disney characters on their products. Gardening isn’t very exciting for modern kids; it’s slow-moving. Maybe Disney-branded seeds are actually a great way get them involved in a healthy, satisfying activity that requires more patience and work than they’re used to. (And as far as the princess-flower / animal-food divide goes, maybe Burpee’s team is just not creative enough to realize that even beautiful princesses have to eat.)
No, my point is this: The Disney Princess marketing machine is SO huge, so far-reaching, that it’s hard to avoid and even harder to resist. Parents sometimes blame themselves for their daughters’ princess obsessions, but who’s really to blame–the parents, or the billion-dollar industry that is invested in profiting by shaping little girls’ dreams?
I think the answer is clear. In this kind of context, it’s hard to choose freely–and that’s something to think critically about.
Note: I took these photos at my local Home Depot about a month ago. This week, the princess-branded flower seed packets are nearly entirely sold out, while most of Mickey and friends’ vegetable seed packets are still in stock.
For further reading, see the post “Disney Princess Grapes?” on Sociological Images.
In other news: Dr. Jennifer Shewmaker cross-posted my Katniss Everdeen post on her blog. (Thank you, Jennifer!) Her blog explores the sexualized messages that the media send to children. If the topic interests you, be sure to check out her work!
Oy. I have a two and a half year old girl and I’m doing my darndest to keep her off this bandwagon. I don’t think I could take it.
you can do it.
Flipping out. Just shared this on FB with an epic rant.
I did my best to avoid it until my daughter started school – now all her friends are obsessed with princesses and she’s headed the same way 😦 I never used to hate Disney, but I do now, really really hate them.
Ugh! What do you even say to little ones about these? I’ve really been struggling with the words to use with my kids when they light up at the sight of these products in store aisles. Sharing my opinion that they’re really not so great/fun/interesting has been less than effective in encouraging them to question princess products, and explaining my thoughts on advertisers and marketing hasn’t had much of an impact. I’m not giving up on the dialogue, but I’d love some help with the script.
Hillary, that is a really tough question. I think media literacy is key, but it’s incredibly hard to constantly engage in that dialogue. It’s no fun to play teacher on every outing with kids. It bothers me is that the deck is completely stacked in the marketers’ favor: every time we take our kids to the store, we are being set up for a hundred little arguments. I guess it’s the nag factor in action.
For my part, I don’t have a little girl to discuss princess junk with, but I DO have a three-year-old boy who LOVES Disney’s Cars and Thomas and Friends. There are so many toys available for each, and they’re so ubiquitous, that keeping them down to semi-reasonable quantities in our home can be a struggle.
The other day, my son approached me with a “book” that was actually a Thomas and Friends Yearbook (aka catalog). I’ve no idea where it came from. Anyway, he wanted to know why some of the trains that looked like his were just a LITTLE different–e.g., with battery-powered lights on the front, or a different design painted on the back.
So, I used it as a media literacy moment. I explained it was because the book was trying to trick him into thinking he needed to buy even more trains, when really, he already HAS those trains. He nodded and said, “Mama, I can’t have all the trains; I need to leave some for other kids.” Yay…. except once he realizes there are thousands of copies of each toy, I hope he still accepts the idea that he doesn’t need to have one of everything!
How about, “Mommy is not paying extra for a picture on the package we will be tearing open and throwing away. Mommy will buy the princess labels, because they will last, but princess seeds are just a way to get more money for the same thing.”
We are not anti-princess here but we vary our exposure and limit ridiculous branding.
Good one Susie!
me to i love it
Um you can keep the packaging and tack it somewhere nice for decoration.
I have a 33 month old who I have, so far, managed to steer away from the whole Disney Princess monopoly (and TV in general actually). It feels like an avalanche though and I don’t know how much longer I can hold off the whole Princess, Barbie, Bratz etc. Sure she plays at being a princess, but also a queen (we’re in the UK). She also pretends to be a Doctor and a Mummy and a fairy. She also pretends to get married with her baby shawl as a veil!
How about Tinkerbell? Kara really likes her, and I don’t object to her so much. Sure I question why she needs to have a short dress, tiny waist and big boobs (do fairies breastfeed????), but she’s a problem solver and works hard. How do people feel about her?
With her 3rd Birthday coming up, how do I stop her getting all manner of toys that could limit her expectations? Do people feel it’s OK to request not to have these kinds of toys?
A lot of parents here in the states, at least, do let friends and family know if there are toys they’d rather not receive. I also have heard from some parents who will let friends and family give what they like, but then hide or give away toys their child received that they disagreed with. I can’t imagine the latter getting past the attention of older kids, though!
I read a post where a mom will “buy” back the toys from her child a week after the birthday, with the money to go towards something the child is saving for, like a bike or something like that. So if child gets 2 or 3 unwanted toys then mom offers to put x amount of money towards the bike, then child and mom take the toys to donate to a charity, something like a shelter for battered women and children. I thought it was a really neat idea!
I like that idea!
I have straight up told my daughter that princesses don’t DO anything. They sit around wearing pretty clothing; they don’t get to run, do tae kwon do, somersaults, dig for worms. They do nothing. My daughter (4) seems to get it but I have yet to contend with the onslaught that school will bring. Nearly every girl in her pre-k class has a princess backpack, dresses princess-y etc etc ad nauseum. So far so good but a lot is out of our hands once they are in school.
This bit of marketing is suddenly very sad to me. It’s as if Disney wants to co-opt EVERY part of your daughter’s life!! Oh wait, that’s exactly what they want. I have told my family, on no account are they to buy princess crap or Barbies (I’m not letting that chick mess my daughter’s body image up) and nobody has objected. They might talk about me behind my back but I have two girls (4 and 3) and we still don’t have one single princess item in our house. Little pet shop and my little ponies and their giant eyes abound though! I don’t like Tinkerbell personally because she looks like a pin up from the 40s.
Lol Mulan fights in a war, Belle’s a bookworm, Tiana operates a restaurant, Aurora and Snow White take care of their cottages and animals, Cinderella rides horses and does chores, Ariel collects human objects from land, Pocahontas defends the woods and her tribe, Rapunzel paints, plays instruments, reads, studies astronomy, charts celestial objects from the sky and cooks and bakes and Merida is a skilled archer. Don’t judge a princess by her tiara.
I wrote a comment about this, but then decided to turn it into a post. I’m that mom. The one with 3 little irks all happily dressed as princesses every day. This is my take on what several people have said here.
hahaha i meant 3 little girls, but my littlest was helping. 🙂
Three little irks–ha! 🙂 I will check out your post. Thanks so much!
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Personally I’ve found the entire “Disney Princess” brand itself as a deeply cynical attempt to whittle money out of consumers. It seems to be applied to just about anything and everything without a clear connection to the product (the grapes are by far the funniest though).
What irks me most though, is that it appears to be working! Someone is buying all this nonsense otherwise the brand would have been buried a long time ago.
Is this simply a case of a really good marketing department with a really good brand, or simply that parents are a lot less cognizant of the blatant exploitation they are participating in? Sadly, I say it leans towards the latter.
You’re absolutely right in that it is hard to make the correct choice, but the important thing is that there still is a choice, it’s just not the simplest/most straightforward one. Hopefully that choice doesn’t disappear, as I’m sure many large corporations would like.
BTW, I just came across your blog and love it! It’s definitely being added to the RSS reader 🙂
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The parents!!!! For sure. My sister and I were never, ever obsessed with Disney princesses. And yet, we lived in the same world as all the little girls who did gain that obsession. And even if we had been, our parents definitely would never have fed into it!! Same with Harry Potter, Pokemon, Rugrats, etc.. All the kid obsessions of our generation.
So nobody can blame Disney. They’re doing their job: entertaining your child and making money for themselves. There’s no problem with that, because if you were in the same position you’d do exactly the same thing. Of course they use it to make money!!!!! But they are not holding any gun to your head making you buy the Disney one. THAT is the parent’s choice.
Don’t want to sound rude or anything.. I just want to present another point of view…… 🙂
Also I think it’s awesome that you are helping your little girl grow plants!! I think that is something awesome for a little kid… it teaches them responsibility without too much riding on their success 🙂 Plus it’s super fun, and rewarding!! 🙂
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Ayyyy extra lit
But the flowers don’t match the themes of the characters. Roses would be more appropriate for Belle and Aurora because THE ROSE IS AN IMPORTANT PLOT POINT IN BOTH BEAUTY AND THE BEAST AND SLEEPING BEAUTY!!! Tiana has a LILY and Jasmine might hold a… Jasmine flower?