Despite my rather arty look and personality as an adult, I was a pretty mainstream kid into my early teens. I liked Cabbage Patch Kids, Barbies, The Babysitters Club, Sweet Valley Twins, Tiger Beat and then Seventeen. I watched Rainbow Brite, Punky Brewster, and later, Blossom. I probably saw The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast in theatres. I was not just mainstream; I liked the things marketed to me as a girl. I didn’t want to play sports, watch horror movies or collect action figures. (I may have, in retrospect, wanted to know I had that choice, but it never occurred to me that I didn’t.)
When my own daughter was born, I was surprised by how often people bought or brought her pink bows and frills. I was so hell-bent on resisting this that at the end of the first year I realized I’d almost exclusively bought her dinosaurs and aliens, green sweaters and brown bear suits — from the boys section. Friends with a similar perspective were also bringing her tugboats and bumblebees, but at that point almost no “girl” things.
As Anna has gotten older, especially as she’s made her own friends at daycare, she’s gotten interested in more traditionally girly things. I liked them as a kid, I said I’d give her options, and I did. While it makes me nervous, I don’t think I should judge. I’m not sure she knows the difference between a ballerina, a fairy and a princess, but she’s certainly interested in playing them. She hasn’t given up on her race cars or monsters, but she’s taken a liking to dresses, Hello Kitty and tutus: I like to think of her as well-rounded.
Recently she’s taken a liking (that is reminiscent of her obsessive Elmo days) to Tinker Bell. In my memory, Wendy was the heroine of Peter Pan; Tinker Bell was whiny and borderline malicious — wasn’t she? Anna’s interest most certainly comes from Disney’s franchising of “Disney Fairies,” an effort that followed the release of the computer animated Tinker Bell movie in 2008 that centres solely on Tinker Bell.
After a decade of Disney princesses, the fairy franchise is a bit of a relief to me. I remember a mom friend of mine trying to explain to her daughter, some years ago, that not all princesses were good, that wealth should be shared, and so on. Fairies, arguably, don’t have that kind of automatic better-than-thou status. They’re magical, and their magic is subjective. We all know who Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and Cinderella are; we know their stories. I don’t want my daughter re-enacting waiting for her prince to come and save her. Who really are Blaze, Fawn and Rosetta? At this point, as far as I’m concerned, they’re names my daughter can attach to her own ideas of magic and specialness, where she can use her own imagination to create and become for a moment. They are also not depicted with adult-size, overly sexualized bodies. And I’ll admit, there is a part of being a queer mom that likes this new connection to fairies (gay men have been called fairies as a derogatory term for decades, and reclaimed it.)
Tinker Bell, at least in my memory, may have been irritating — but she was also smart, sassy and a doer. More than I can say for princesses who live only for a dance or a kiss.