“I just can’t be a princess because I have braids in my hair.”
Writer Alicia Hadley recalls hearing those words from 4‑year-old daughter Prevy after seeing the many Disney princesses with long and/or straightened hair.
“I have to take the braids out so my hair can be like this,” she said as she ran her hands through her braids as to show that her hair needed to be straight. Then she dropped her head again. That’s when I realized it wasn’t anything someone had told her, it was something she had observed,” Alicia, recalled.
This is all too common. At the age of 4, a young girl can already sum up her worth in comparison to what she is exposed to. Not all may be as tuned in to their self-worth as little the young natural who quickly corrected a bully’s behavior in school.
Alicia goes on to reflect on mainstream culture’s image of a princess;
I considered the most popular “fairy tale” princesses. Among the thirteen Disney Princesses in the Disney Princess Franchise (Snow White, Cinderella, Aurora, Ariel, Belle, Jasmine, Pocahontas, Mulan, Tiana, Rapunzel, Merida, Anna and Elsa) there’s little variety. Sure, some have black hair, blonde hair, white and brown hair. There’s even one with red wavy hair.
And while all of them being tall and slim creates a dilemma, to me, there’s an even greater problem. Only one princess is black, Tiana, and her hair is long and straight. But Disney isn’t the only company lacking diversity in this area. I’ve rarely seen black princesses in storybooks, cartoons and television programs. When I have observed them, their features have appeared generic to their European counterparts.
Further into my thinking, I realized something far worse… Among all the Disney princes, kings and queens, none are black. Even beyond Disney, I have never seen an animation nor children’s book with a black prince, king, or queen!
Alicia then goes on to make a direct link between the lack of black princes, princesses, kings and queens, and compromised self esteem in young black boys and girls
That’s when I realized this is more than shameful. It’s damaging to the black community and here’s why. The development of trust, security, confidence and self-esteem is established during the early stages of childhood. Children love to watch, imagine and imitate. They are fascinated by the arts and learn best when lessons are coupled with things they enjoy. This is something that primetime kid network organizations understand. That’s why their pre-school/elementary programming often consists of engaging animations combined with social-emotional and life skill lessons.
Princess characters are depicted as the most beautiful, kind and fair; the princess is one who is honored and cherished. She makes important decisions, learns life lesson and overcomes obstacles—She’s an overall role model for young girls to follow. The same can be said for all royal characters. The queen and the princess have similar characteristics while the prince and king are portrayed as respected, heroic and handsome gentlemen.
Thus, if whites are primarily given the “royal” roles (and they are), methods that most appeal to children aren’t teaching our black kids that they, nor others who look like them, are held at high-esteem. Our young black girls aren’t seeing black women as honored and cherished. Our black boys aren’t seeing black men as heroic and respected. Therefore, black children, as a whole, are taught that whites are most valued, beautiful and handsome.
Though we can tell our children that they are equally all of these things, they haven’t seen themselves represented as such in a way they understand. Hence, they struggle with having confidence in their own culture and physical appearance at an early age. Case in point: “I just can’t be a princess because I have braids in my hair.”
While the situation with Alicia’s daughter is heartbreaking, some would say it’s indicative of why we should create, seek out and support children’s media created from a black perspective. And is it reasonable to expect mainstream culture to create positive images of black royalty for us?
Read the full essay here.
What are your thoughts ladies? And what are some ways we can introduce positive body image to our young girls in a world that excludes the beauty of many women of color?