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Last January I went to the Halloween show in Houston where there were showing the costumes for toddlers and little girls for Elsa and Anna from the movie Frozen.
I’m not really here to talk about Elsa, but I am very interested in why this blonde haired, blue eyed princess is so popular with girls ages 3-7. Especially that since American Girls pulled several minority dolls from their line-up, parents, advocates and professionals are frothing at the mouth.
Since I opened my costume business in 2010, princesses in general were passé. I could not give the gowns away. Then the Frozen came out and I was asked by Disney to give away some free passes, which I did, and people [meaning mothers and teen girls] were very interested. They liked the movie.
Then the summer came and people called asking where they could get the damn dresses for their daughter’s birthday parties. I mean not even the Disney store could keep them in stock. I wondered if the little girls were asking for Elsa character or if the mother’s just liked the Frozen party theme. Mostly I was wondering whether I should have carried the dresses.
As an Anthropologist, I started thinking about this princess and where the blonde interest was coming from. A little background. Since 1989, we’d enjoyed a series of hair colours all in the brunette range. 1989, Ariel, red hair. 1991, Belle, auburn hair. 1992, Jasmine, black hair. 1995, Pocahontas, black hair. 1998 Mulan, black hair. Then almost 10 years with no princess and we had in 2009 Tiana, black hair. Twenty years and, excepting Rapunzel in 2010, no blonde princesses.
Keep in mind that in the past five years, even the Cinderella and Aurora princesses were not in demand. Was there something wrong with blonde haired, blue eyed? What were the intersections of consumer, manufacturing and politics that where brunette princesses reigned for twenty years, but yet costume demand after movies was nothing like demand for Elsa. Also keep in mind that no-one wants to be Anna, her red headed sister.
I remembered working for a major party company and that they sold lots of blonde wigs to little girls. So when I did the purchasing for my own company, I did the same thing, bought lots of blonde wigs. But my wigs are sitting there gathering dust and I wondered why. It occurred to me that one of the reasons may be that the demographic of the residents of the party store were different. I woke up and went aha they were of Southern Asian descent and that the demographic of the business I now own is far more mixed. In other little girls with black and brown hair like the idea of blonde hair, but like me being blonde why would I buy a blonde wig.
That doesn’t explain though, Elsa popularity through all demographics. So I am back to the consumer politics of supply and demand, but I am thinking about my own kids, born in 1990 during this reign of brunette princesses. I have a picture of my son in nursery school . He’s wearing a purple shirt, not bad, but also wearing a pink tutu and, on his head, a band with a tinfoil unicorn horn. He’s holding a mirror and his smile is rapturous, saying I am beautiful. He’s now 24 and living with his girlfriend and I’m thinking this story and photograph would be great for his wedding.
Would all parents and teachers be so open to letting a little boy explore, not necessarily his feminine side, but his beauty. My daughter didn’t really play with dolls. She had a couple of Barbies including Pochahantas and a black baby doll. Both my kids are adopted and adoption ideas are enmeshed in our daily lives. One day my daughter said, “When I become a mommy, I’m going to adopt a black baby girl.” Later on that doll showed up and I can’t remember who got for her. She didn’t play with it either.
So I am thinking now, like the Midge Barbie doll that I had with auburn hair and freckles, I don’t know if the push comes from manufacturing, or the parents, or the children, or the Culture of politics. Did the little girls during those 20 years free of blonde princesses, long for golden tresses. Were little girls hushed when they reached for the blonde, but applauded when they asked for the doll of colour. Seriously, I don’t remember if that’s all that was available or what I reached for because it was more socially appropriate or if it’s what my daughter wanted.
I guess I should, as my sister says, land the plane. I wish … I wish I could ask Disney why 1989 to 2009 was dominated by brunettes, but in the end I think people are just fickle. I don’t think this is political, or about a lack of affirmative action or the death of feminism. We all want what is new ~ that is firmly entrenched in our consumer society and it’s been a blonde dry spell for princesses, so that’s new. I also want to point out that from 1990 to around 1998, the world was reacting to the changes from the fall of the Berlin wall. Globally speaking, there was a huge surge in international adoption from China, India, Russia including children of Germanic, Indo-Iranian, Koreans, Chechen and Turkic groups were adopted and from Romania including Roma, an ethnic group of Indian origin. This subject was in the daily news and what mother, with a baby girl adopted from China, would not take the opportunity to buy a cool doll that looked just like her daughter.
We all also enjoy what is beautiful, what is rare in our world. It doesn’t mean that a drab coloured wren has any less worth than a yellow house finch, yet I get excited I see those little yellow birds at the perch because they stand out and they are rare. Elsa’s frosty blonde hair contrasts perfectly with her piercing blue eyes and sparkly gown. Who wouldn’t want to be that, even for just one day? Isn’t that what free play, dress-up and even Halloween is for, a space where for one moment where we can explore another self and not be judged by society. Like my son who for one day in nursery school traded Batman for a tutu wearing unicorn and learned to appreciate beauty in a whole new way.