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Who gets to kiss the frog?

There’s a new princess in town, and she’s not the Disney princess of old. Gone are the blue eyes and blond hair, the helplessness, the yearning for romance and a handsome prince to rescue her, and nothing more.

world Updated: Apr 26, 2010 17:47 IST
Mari-Jane Williams

There’s a new princess in town, and she’s not the Disney princess of old. Gone are the blue eyes and blond hair, the helplessness, the yearning for romance and a handsome prince to rescue her, and nothing more.

Tiana of The Princess and the Frog, Disney’s first African-American female lead character in an animated feature film, dreams of owning a restaurant and is confident she can do that on her own, thank you very much. But she turns into a frog, and while trying to become human again, falls in love with the initially insufferable Prince Naveen. Of course, they marry: It is Disney, after all.

But what message will little girls who are inundated daily with images of happily ever after, perfect beauty and thin bodies take away from the movie?

Tiana, working hard to achieve her career goals? Or Tiana, falling madly in love with a handsome and charming prince? Or, dare we say it, that you can have it all? How should parents handle such messages with their own pint-size princesses?

We recently spoke with Sharon Lamb and Lyn Mikel Brown, authors of Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters From Marketers’ Schemes (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2006). Here are excerpts on their opinion on Tiana and on raising strong, confident girls in a world of glamourous but sometimes distressed damsels.

How does Tiana compare with Disney princesses of the past?

Lyn Mikel Brown: She has more personality, and more opinions and drive and focus than some of the older princesses. She’s more like Mulan or Belle (from Beauty and the Beast) in that way. There were some things I liked about it for sure ... The advice she got from her dad about having a whole life was different.

How does Tiana’s character seem too much like the typical Disney princess?

Brown: As far as looks, she’s a very typical Disney princess in every way except perhaps race.

What should parents tell their daughters about princesses and other toys marketed to them?

Brown: Parents need to own up to their responsibility to give their children a rich set of experiences and options, so the princess isn’t the only story.

You don’t need to say that she can’t be a princess, but add something to the story line: Give her a sword to defend her country.

How should mothers act to instill self-esteem and a positive body image in their daughters?

Brown: Don’t talk about your body in a negative way. Enjoy food. Be healthy, but also enjoy dessert with your daughter. ...If you haven’t worked through your own body-image issues, don’t pass them on to your daughter by commenting on her looks or appearance as the first thing you notice about her, rather than her accomplishments.

What phrases should parents use when complimenting their daughters on their looks?

Sharon Lamb: Parents should look for other words besides pretty. “You look interesting today. You look like you’re ready to go.”

What can dads do to teach their girls what is really important and valuable in a woman?

Brown: Treat moms with respect and equality. ... Fathers are incredibly important to daughters and their experience in the world and in romantic relationships later on.

It’s really about fathers being there for their daughters and seeing their daughters as people, not just a traditional image of a girl, but full human beings with lots of possibilities.

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