Last week’s Dara-Lynn Weiss debacle reminded me of one of the biggest problems with this whole, endless is weight health? debate: When we focus relentlessly on weight and beauty, we teach girls that their entire value comes from their weight and/or beauty. Just ask all those teenage girls posting YouTube videos about it. This is why I push to separate conversations about health from conversations about size. In our culture, right now, the latter is just too tangled up in the Beauty Myth — start talking about weight or BMI as a non-judgmental health marker and you’ll all too quickly veer into fat-shaming territory with all its moralizing rhetoric. When we don’t even know for sure that it’s the actual excess weight causing the problems, why go there? Let’s talk about enjoying nutritious foods, finding fun ways to stay active and other healthy lifestyle choices that can be taught in a less judgmental fashion.
But it’s not enough to get the Fat Talk out of our health conversations. Girls are hit with the Holy Trinity of Pretty/Pink/Princess from infancy (for a more thorough explanation of how that happens, check out this post on Peggy Orenstein‘s Cinderella Ate My Daughter). So even if you can teach them that these things have nothing to do with health (a major victory in and of itself), they’re learning that they have everything to do with making friends and being popular, liked by boys, successful, and so on. Pretty/Pink/Princess may not sound so evil on the surface, and to be clear: I’m writing this as a former girl who ardently loved all things pretty/pink/princess and I hope to one day have a daughter and I will certainly enjoy the heck out of it if/when she goes through the PPP phase.
But when we narrow our girls’ options down to nothing but Pretty/Pink/Princess, we’ve got trouble. Because that’s when they start thinking the “Am I pretty or ugly?” question is the most important thing ever, that’s when it gets more difficult to unpick Pretty from other valued character traits, that’s when the cycle continues.
All of this is a long way of telling you about a fun baby present that I put together for my friend Amy, who is expecting a baby girl in June. I have no doubt that Amy is going to teach her daughter that the world is wide open and full of possibilities in addition to Pretty/Pink/Princess. (Because this isn’t about eradicating the PPP — I probably can’t make that clear enough. It’s about presenting plenty of other options, so the PPP stays in its place and doesn’t become the all-powerful narrative of a girl’s life.)
Awhile back, Amy had mentioned wanting suggestions of books to read to the baby so I put together a collection of all of my favorite books from childhood featuring brave (non-princess-y) girls as the main characters. My mom (who is awesome and responsible for making sure I read most of these in the first place!) and sister (also a prolific reader who now works in education) brainstormed with me to pull together the ultimate list. Then I winnowed it down to my favorites, which was delightfully difficult. There really are a huge number of amazing books with strong heroines out there — despite how many times you had to read The Red Badge of Courage in school (blergh).
So here’s my list, pictured above and Amazon-linked below. Appropriate for ages 3 (or however young you can push Madeline on ‘em?) to 18 (and really, well beyond), with nary a princess in sight. Okay, there’s one but she’s very ordinary. There’s also one garishly pink cover (thanks publishing industry!) and some of these girls happen to be pretty, but that’s really not the point.
And I can guarantee that none of them ever so much as mentions their weight.
Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans
Eloise: The Ultimate Edition by Kay Thompson
Mary Poppins by PJ Travers
The Ordinary Princess by M.M. Kaye
Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary
Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfield
Emma by Jane Austen
And if you want to see the full list that we brainstormed, Amy posted it on her blog today. (A lot of these went off theme and are just awesome kids’ books… but they still steer well clear of the PPP, making them great choices for girls of all ages.)
Thoughts? Any ideas on how else to promote this “the PPP is not everything” message with girls? Any other must-read titles that you think we missed? I’d love to keep adding to the collection.
PS. Peggy Orenstein’s Fight Fun with Fun! Resource List is even more exhaustive and super helpful on this front.