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I Can’t Be a Princess Because I Have Braids’: Writer Laments Her 4‑Year-Old’s Observation

Avatar • Apr 29, 2015

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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?

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Tabatha
Tabatha
5 years ago

I agree about the issue with the princesses being tall and slender myself. Poor little baby. I see where she’s coming from. As parents it’s our job to let our kids know that just because they don’t see a princess that looks like them doesn’t mean that they can’t be one themselves. I understand that Disney should include a fuller figured, braided maybe not so attractive princesses into their line up, but we’re the ones that give our kids self confidence not them. They want to be a princess make them a princess for the day and make it a… Read more »

Hair Anomaly
Hair Anomaly
5 years ago

I would like for us to stop acting like peasants, waiting for mainstream media to acknowledge and include us. They portray their own ideals of beauty, so why should we expect to see them representing our beauty as a standard? Would we do the same if the roles were reversed and we were in control of these media outlets? This is why we need to shift from being consumers to producers. Tell that observant, intelligent little lady that those princesses may wear their hair down, but Queens wear braids. Then, start filling her head with beautiful images of people who… Read more »

0101
0101
5 years ago
Reply to  Hair Anomaly

This. I would very much like for African Americans to create our OWN images of beauty and prosperity to look up to.

A potential source of this disparity may be a lack of understanding of African history and folktales. These arent taught to children in the States. I mean, most people know Aladdin from 1001 Nights, but they dont know stories about Anansi, the Spider King. Or popular historical figures like Yaa Asantewaa.

I feel like the first step would be to revisit these stories, and make these materials more widely available.

LBell
LBell
5 years ago
Reply to  Hair Anomaly

Amen and thank you!

caty
caty
5 years ago

I understand being upset or feeling that we shouldn’t rely on the media to validate us but let me tell you something. I’m a part of this new generation, & when I tell you the TV raised most of us its kinda true. A lot of us grew up watching TV as soon as we got home, so of course we feel some type of way about the portrayal of beauty. When I grew up it was hard for me to understand that black was beautiful, let alone a black person with nappy hair. I grew up being told “now… Read more »

Hair Anomaly
Hair Anomaly
5 years ago

I accidentally deleted my earlier comment. I’ll try to re-create it. We must stop acting like peasants, begging for mainstream media to acknowledge and validate our own beauty. Mainstream media promotes their own beauty ideals and standards…should we expect anything else? If the roles were reversed, and we controlled mainstream media, would we do anything different? It’s time for us to stop being consumers and start being producers. Tell that beautiful, observant, intelligent little lady that princesses may wear their hair down, but Queens wear braids. Stop showing our girls mainstream Disney trash and start filling their minds with beautiful… Read more »

Ms. Vee
Ms. Vee
5 years ago
Reply to  Hair Anomaly

Thank you!

hey, so a suggestion
hey, so a suggestion
5 years ago

heya, with regards to the media, one can never look to the mainstream and hope to see diversity, it shouldnt be like this, buuuut that’s how it is, 6 major organizations own 90% of the channels we watch, I’m Caribbean and I know that. we live on American media. But anyway, what i wanted to tell you. is you should let your daughter watch this cartoon series called “Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child”. I think it’s wonderful and shows true diversity. it’s the retelling of famous stories with cultural twists. aired from 1995–2000s, it’s pretty darn good.

parc5466
parc5466
5 years ago

When my children were little, I spent years collecting as many children’s picture books as possible that prominently featured children of color for our home library. Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman, Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe, Gregory Cool by Caroline Binch, Hue Boy by Rita Mitchell, Down By the River by Grace Halloworth, Leola and the Honeybears, ‘Twas the Night B’fore Christmas by Melodye Rosales, the Fortune Tellers by Llyod Alexander, Flossie and the Fox, Jaha & Jamil went Down the Hill by Virginia Kroll (African Mother Goose) and African Beginnings by Haskins & Benson just to name a… Read more »

Ki
Ki
5 years ago

I would recommend watching this children series on HBO family entitled “Happy Ever After : Fairy Tales For Every Child” growing up I would watch this every morning basically what is a show most of the time narrated by David Alan Grier and it shows every type of ethnic group for each fairy tale this show actually introduced me to fairy tales long before i started watching the Disney versions it also often included prominent black actors and actress as the voice of the cartoon characters. If you want to expose your children to POC based fairy tales this is… Read more »

EllieLo
EllieLo
5 years ago
Reply to  Ki

This show was everything and someone needs to bring it back!!! I would sit and watch it now. I’m 22.

Manestream Beauty
Manestream Beauty
5 years ago

Hi BGLH Staff, thank you for keeping us informed and initiating discussions. I’m sure there are independent authors, illustrators, creatives and business owners who are trying to bridge the gap in representation for our natural boys and girls coming up.

Maybe we can all suggest people who are actively creating solutions in this area so they can be featured? Solutions exist, but sometimes there isn’t enough exposure for them to be impactful at scale.

edecoeur
edecoeur
5 years ago

I also think that would be a wonderful idea. It would be a great community project if readers of BGLH collectively wrote a book or comic strip for those children! Unfortunately, I can barely draw a straight line, much less represent the reflected beauty children need to be exposed to in their illustrated literature, so… I’m volunteering someone more talented!

starzzzy
starzzzy
5 years ago

Have we forgotten that Brandy rocked braids when she played Cinderella back in the late 1990s? And the prince was Asian with a white father and black mother (Whoopi) and Whitney Houston played the fairy god mother? As a kid, I watched THAT Cinderella because of the music and Brandy. I didn’t see any of the disney princess movies until I was in high school. I’m sure there are other movies and tv shows like this and with platforms like YouTube more can be created.

edecoeur
edecoeur
5 years ago
Reply to  starzzzy

I was wondering if anyone else remembered this. My mother joked that both of her three girls who watched it most wound up dating multiple guys who looked like Charming.

In the 90s, there were also some wonderful HBOFamily series, featuring animated characters of many ethnicities. Unfortunately, the name of the series escapes me.

SHL
SHL
5 years ago

I recently wrote an article on my blog talking about the same thing. My kids have hair that anyone would envy, their friends praise their beautiful long curls so they do know that they have beautiful hair. eg. my eight year old- The issue is that when its curly it sits on her sits on her shoulders. When its blowed bone straight it sits on her waist. She along with all her friends call it “long hair” and when I surveyed a group of little girls as to a choice of their favourite hairstyle the reply was ” long hair”.… Read more »

Claudette UK
Claudette UK
5 years ago

That’s the reason I bought books for my children that featured black princes and princesses with beautiful black features. I am always singing the praises and beauty of black skin and black unstraightened hair. I think a lot of little girls get their idea of beauty from fairy stories so as parents we need to promote and show our children uncompromised black beauty.

Imani
Imani
5 years ago

If you want a black role model for your children you should make them watch Kirikou; it’s about a little boy in an African village that is being terrorized by a witch. The boy is constantly asking why she is so evil and goes on a quest to find out. It’s a great story about understanding each other and showing compassion. Kirikou’s mother and the women of the village are also great. It might be a bit hard to find it though, because the women are naked from the waist up and the children are completely naked, and I’ve heard… Read more »

Micaela Clark
Micaela Clark
5 years ago

What about Brandy as Cinderella? She has braids (an was my exposure to a Black princess long before Tiana)

Blessing
Blessing
5 years ago

All blacks in Africa aren’t royalty just as not all of medieval Europe was royalty. I live in Nigeria and growing up we had storybooks made from our local folk tales alongside Barney & friends, kidsongs & Disney. But the biggest contributor to our moral lessons were oral folklore told by parents, grandparents & other relatives to children. There was even a tv show back then (tales by moonlight) which was all about the oral folklore tradition. Those really helped.

Ronnie
Ronnie
5 years ago
Reply to  Blessing

I didn’t state that all Blacks in Africa were members of royalty. I also know not all whites were royals in medieval times. You sort of took my post out of context. I know of African history, my black American history, American history, and European history pretty well. People were of different social/class statuses in those times as they are now. I stated there were people in African history who were royalty just as there were white royals in medeival times. My children also grew up reading Anansi the Spider, Brer Rabbit, and many other folktales with moral lessons. However,… Read more »

strong black characters exist
strong black characters exist
5 years ago

Oh so she wants a “black princess with natural hair” …Hmm now where have i seen a black princess with natural hair…I know!! how about …princess Layla/Aisha from the Winx club. Shes strong, beautiful, black (as in with two black parents) had a black boyfriend and the only reason they broke up is when he died), natural and she is a royal( as in an authentic princess and not by marriage). But hey you guys choose to let your kids watch disney as if there arent any better cartoons…SMH

Sasha Carling
Sasha Carling
5 years ago

Winx club has a character thats a princess (by birth mind you not by marriage). Shes black (meaning that both her parents are black), has natural hair that she styles in a variety of different ways, is totally badass ( did i mention that shes a kickass fairy as well ) and knows how to take care of herself and most importantly is someone that young girls can look up too. Parents seem to think that Disney is the only organisation that should cater to black girls when there are other cartoons out there. Lolirock is one such example as well.… Read more »

Doris Clay
Doris Clay
4 years ago

I grew up before there were any minority princesses but never thought that I needed to look exactly like a person in order to do what they do. My mom taught me that whatever others can do, I can do too even better if I try. If you want to dress like the princess you don’t have to change your skin color or hair texture, just style yourself as close as possible to the hair, clothes, and makeup and everyone will get it. But the key is to believe that you as yourself can do whatever you want to do,… Read more »

Disnickgossip.com
Disnickgossip.com
3 years ago

She should have said something like, “Why be a Princess, when I can be a QUEEN! ???”

blu jamaican
blu jamaican
5 years ago

Blaming the media is as useful as a yo-yo with no string. In reality, people who invest in entertainment want to see a reflection of themselves. And of course, what will bring in the most viewers and revenue. Be more Tyler Perry like, in the sense that his vision wasn’t being accepted by “white” Hollywood, so he did it on his own.
Change starts with us, not them.
If we can’t see ourselves, curls and all, as royalty then how can anyone else.

HBOs FairyTales for every child has is really good!

LeNette
LeNette
5 years ago

I knew what kind of murky water I was getting myself into by allowing my black Afro-texutre haired daughters to watch a plethora of Disney Princess films. So, here’s a thought: I didn’t allow them to watch them until they were older! We as parents/consumers/viewers always have a choice. My kids watched Disney films with animals in them when they were younger — Lion King, Brother Bear, Winnie the Pooh when they were very little. They watched Disney Princess films when they were 7 or 8 and AFTER they had a healthy dose of positive Black images from other sources. I… Read more »

Eshe
Eshe
5 years ago

The real issue here is why we, the original women look to Disney for the self confidence of our own daughters. It’s many things, most importantly pathetic.

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