For parents of daughters that are not blond-haired and blue-eyed, the "princess phase" of girlhood is often something to be endured and puzzled over. I watched, pained, as my beautiful black-haired daughter spent much of her third year asking for blond dolls. By kindergarten there was a powerful group of girls that controlled her classroom's social dynamics -- all blond. One mom noted she'd heard that could happen as blond girls become the anointed ones at very young ages.
My younger daughter is now in her princess love phase. And, specifically, it is the blond princesses of The Walt Disney Company (NYSE:DIS) that are somehow her favorites -- Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty. Belle of "Beauty and the Beast" has light brown hair and she gets a nod as does red-haired Ariel of "The Little Mermaid." Whatever Disney does to get into the hearts and minds of children, it does very well since these are not toys or brands we've chosen to emphasize as parents.
So when I learned that Disney will create its first black princess, I breathed a sigh of relief. The hand-drawn animated musical, set in New Orleans and called "The Frog Princess" will feature "Maddy," a young resident of the French Quarter. It won't be released until 2009, but I'll surely take my daughters to it -- even though they will by then, thankfully, both be out of the princess phase, which seems to end mercifully around age four.
I don't blame Disney 100% for the insidious cultural dynamics that have -- so far -- made its white, blond princesses the most popular. Let us not forget to count the Barbie franchise from Mattel, Inc. (NYSE:MAT) among the myriad cultural forces that make even very young girls favor "the fairest of them all." (Although, based on my trips to the toy store, it does seem Mattel does a much better job than Disney in merchandising black dolls).
Not having a beautiful, strong American black girl as a leading Disney character has been a glaring lapse for years. One mom of a black daughter created an online petition eight years ago calling for a new black princess. She amassed 3,505 signatures. Disney has created plenty of non-white princesses in the past -- Pocahontas, Mulan, Jasmine (Disney markets and merchandises its princess line -- so these are more than just lead female characters of its movies, they are brands in the truest sense of the word). But these characters aren't front and center in merchandising, the way the white princesses are.
Disney is clearly among young girls' earliest, most powerful cultural arbiters. Let's just hope the new black princess will be a strong character that girls of all races will gravitate to. And maybe something so simple and so mass market will be enough to spark some positive social change.