The Messed-Up Lessons We're Surrounded By As Girls

When I was a little girl, I loved Snow White. I loved how she talked to the dwarfs and sang with the birds, and I decided I wanted to be exactly like her. My relatives gave me Snow White music boxes and Snow White movies, Snow White soundtracks and Snow White dresses. I was positively thrilled. I thought, her skin is so soft, her hair so black, her lips so red -- if only I had added aaaand that's all media portrayal to that chain. But hey, I was 6. Sue me.

And so I lived the first few years of my life in awe of that princess, trying to emulate her grace and her elegance, and trying to convince myself I was as beautiful as she. But alas, when I compared my tan skin to her, well, snow white skin, realized that my singing did not bring animals to me and learned that my prince charming wasn't about to swoop me off my feet, well, I got about as depressed as a 7-year-old could get.

What are the classic Disney princesses? Icons of fairy tales, one might say. But to me, they are idealizations. Characters so perfect they could only be fake, because as we all know life doesn't always turn out as happily ever after.

Take Aurora, for example. There is a curse which states that if she pricks her hand on a spinning wheel she will fall into a deep sleep. And what does she do? She sees a spinning wheel, and with the stupidity and curiosity of a teenager who is certainly setting a superlative example for little girls, she touches the spindle. Real smart, Sleeping Beauty.

And just look at the clothing of Ariel, The Little Mermaid, and Jasmine, the heroine from Aladdin. I'd say it's a little too skimpy for a movie watched by little girls, wouldn't you? I mean, Jasmine is showing her midriff the entire movie, and Ariel wears nothing but a bra. Although I suppose her tail could count for some kind of freaky green skirt.

Then there's Belle, from Beauty and the Beast, with her beautiful skin and hair and her tiny waist, not to mention the fact that she encourages little girls to kiss strange animals. Let's go, bestiality!

And we can't forget Cinderella, who teaches little girls that instead of rescuing themselves from harmful situations, all they need to do is leave their shoe on a man's porch and they will be rescued. Oh yes, I almost forgot -- they will also receive help from their fairy godmother. Until she comes, they should just be content receiving maltreatment. Why stand up for yourself when a tiny, plump, magic-wielding lady will pop out of the blue (dress-pun intended) and do it for you?

All of the classic Disney princesses are beautiful, slim and, well, princesses. The story lines (although this is technically the fault of the Brothers Grimm, hey, Disney adapted it for little girls to watch) are heavily centered on finding a man -- a prince, at that -- and falling in love with them. That's it. Unlike newer princesses like Tiana, Rapunzel, Anna and Elsa, the classic princesses have no goals, aspirations or purposes in life besides marrying a prince (which apparently means a happy ending forever, but I'll give kudos for the optimism). Basically, little girls should wear nothing, be beautiful (even the newer Disney princesses are impossibly skinny and beautiful), find a prince, marry him and become a housewife. They must also be princesses, an aspiration that holds absolutely no water -- it isn't even as practical as a dream of working as a janitor. Janitors get paid more than wannabe princesses.

But the Disney princesses aren't the only things causing girls' problems when they are older. There are also dolls like Bratz and Barbies, which not only exude sexuality, but serve as a highly negative example for toddlers and children. Bratz are aimed at the tween range, and are shown as rebellious without a cause -- and we all know how that turned out for James Dean. I mean, look at their name, Bratz.

As for Barbies, their waist, when full-scale, is actually impossible for a woman to have without starving herself. Barbies create the image that girls have to be skinny and curvy (tell me, Barbs, does your chest weigh you down?), giving a false idea of perfection. Besides, all she does is shop and hang out with Ken. Barbie is basically a figurehead for liposuction, breast implants and Brazilian keratin treatments.

Such idealizations can contribute to low self image at an older age. Of course, they are not the only things that would contribute to a low self image, but I love to sing and I still sort of wish the birds would sing along with me due to Snow White. The point is, that sort of damage doesn't go away later. It may be pretty in pink when we're kids and tweens, but it'll start to hit us right about when the puberty and mood swings do, too. When adolescents start to find changes in their bodies -- some faster than others -- girls may look at themselves in the mirror and compare their bodies to an impossible image.

I, for one, used to rip off the heads of Barbies (I was neither a cannibal, nor was I mentally deranged, but I liked using their hair in art projects and the plastic body just came in the way), and now I'm pretty glad I did. Who knows what I would be now if Barbie and her insane waist were my idol when I was a kid.

Nowadays dolls that require feeding, walking, nursing -- you name it -- are becoming more popular. Dolls that show little girls to take care of babies and pets definitely have more value than Bratz and Barbies, but how about dolls that show girls the merits of being something more than a caretaker? How about a doll that asks you to run around with her for exercise, or variations of "Doc McStuffins"?

Even good old stuffed animals have more merit than the materialistic and idealistic dolls which pervade the shelves. Would you rather have a big, cuddly, wide-eyed stuffed animal or a thin, plastic, made-up fashionista as your friend? I know that I've stayed pretty close with my stuffed elephant Wiggles, and that he has provided me more comfort than my Barbies ever did.

So if your kids ever rip off Barbie heads, don't fear! It's healthy. Probably.