We attended a beautiful hippie festival this weekend. The Hessler Street Fair has been happening in Cleveland since the 60s and it’s always a great experience to see so much hand-made and lovingly shared craftsmanship from artists of all ages. I bought a clay tea light holder from my friend’s ten year old daughter.
The main attraction for us, these days, is Harmony Park. It’s a smallish, enclosed area where kids can run relatively free and enjoy drumming, dancing, balloon creatures, face-painting, community toys, and lots of other things.
My daughter recently turned six. For her birthday, my mom hand-made her an Elsa Dress. We did insist that she take it off for bed, but when we told her she could wear it to Hessler her entire face lit up. The bottom got a little dirty while we were walking around outside at Hessler, but I haven’t gotten it off of her long enough to wash it (I know, I know…it’s on my list to do later today).
So when I say that she loves Elsa without me telling her to, please believe me.
As my newly minted six year old waited in line to get her face painted, the lady who was taking the money looked her up and down, then said in a somewhat confrontational tone, ” That’ll be twelve dollars. Because the mask she chose takes a long time. Where’s your crown? Aren’t you supposed to be a princess or something??”
E. said nothing in reply, then leaned over to me and whispered, “Mama, I don’t know what she’s talking about.”
“I don’t know either, honey…don’t worry about it.”
Then the lady who was doing the face painting looked over scornfully and said, “Um, NO. If she was really a princess at Hessler, she would be wearing tie dye. Not….THAT.”
I considered leaning into the moment and saying snarkily, “Well, I did have to put her on a diet to get her to fit into the dress, but it was totally worth it because STANDARDS OF BEAUTY.”
I decided against it. I do have some thoughts though.
1. She was accused of being the wrong kind of princess for Hessler. I disagree, as did ostensibly the little boy who followed her around all afternoon calling her “princess” and asking her to send him on quests for her, then bringing her little tributary gifts. I think the general consensus was that she was dressed as a princess. Just because something is culturally recognizable as girly doesn’t mean it has no place at Hessler.
2. She’s six. Can we just let her like what she likes? If little boys (and girls) are allowed to get their faces painted like Captain America, then why can’t little girls (and boys) also like princesses and fairies?
3. If the hand-painted portrait of King Triton we passed on our way out is any indication, there is no official Hessler ban on Disney or their princesses, or conventional fairy tales in general. I feel quite sure those ladies didn’t speak for Hessler as a whole. Just for the record.
4. It is entirely possible for someone to hold ridiculous ideas about what other people’s children Ought To Do or Ought To Like and yet be capable of beautiful, beautiful face painting. I highly recommend the face painting, if not the commentary. Also for the record.
5. This is one main reason why my blog is called Sustainable Princess. Because you know what? Forcing girls to hate princesses (or anything culturally recognizable as girly, as I mentioned above) is not better (or even more possible, really) than forcing girls to like them. And as for the word “princess”, I think it suffers from a bad case of “You keep using that word….” Princess does not have to mean spoiled, selfish, materialistic, man-dependent, etc. Liking Disney does not automatically come with an eating disorder in the teen years. Unless, of course, I refuse to engage the issue in any constructive way and leave it up to culture by default to define for my children what Princess means. Because I think we can all agree that the prevailing groupthink on this issue is kind of broken and inconsistent at best. I’m just not sure that forming a new and similarly inconsistent groupthink is the answer.