Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Why I Caved on the Elsa Costume

I had a plan. When I first asked my three-year-old daughter what she wanted to be for Halloween, she--of course--screamed "ELSA!" at the top of her lungs. I cringed, all my own rants about princess culture as a feminist motherhood blogger bouncing around in my head and with my friend Rebecca Hains' great book about "the princess problem" looming over it all. So I wheedled and pleaded until I got her to choose another costume: Harmony the Care Bear. I breathed a sigh of relief.

So I started looking for Care Bear costumes, but of course she's watching old re-runs on Netflix and Care Bears are not exactly a hot item this year. I found a few, but none for Harmony and all with creepy giant heads that looked like sports team mascots (and that I knew would never make it twenty minutes into the night).

I, being empowered by Pinterest and all, took to the web to find an alternative. I found this adorable tutorial and thought I was in the clear. All I needed to do was find a dark purple hoodie with matching sweat pants and the rest would be a breeze. Except there were no plain dark purple hoodies. Not at Target. Not at Baby Gap. Not at Kohl's. Not at Carter's. Not at Wal-Mart. Not even on Amazon. Everything I found was branded with words across the chest. Everything.

Pictured above: a bunch of things I've never used.
Plus my time was running short. Between working, writing a dissertation, and trying to keep the household together, the days of being able to quickly whip together a cute costume were dwindling.

So to the costume store we went. They'll have something she'll like, I reasoned. It's fine.

We walked into the store, and she was awed by the aisles and aisles of shiny wigs, feathery boas, and yards of tulle. Then we got to the back where the preschooler-sized costumes lived. Immediately, she was drawn to a front-and-center display of Elsa and Anna costumes. "Oh Mommy! I can be Elsa!"

Diversion, I thought. Diversion is the key.

"Look at this!" I shouted with perhaps too much enthusiasm. "A velociraptor! You love velociraptors." This is true, by the way. She does love velociraptors.

"I don't want to be a velociraptor," she says, raising an eyebrow as if she's a little worried about me.

"What about this? It's a beautiful butterfly." She holds the Elsa costume in her arms, tightening her grip in defense.

"Or . . .what's this?" I pull a costume covered in some of that shiny tulle from the shelf and hold it out while reading the label "a . . um. . .a polka dot witch! Don't you want to be a polka dot witch?!"

I can't blame her for shaking her head and walking away from me. I don't even know what "polka dot witch" means.

"A construction worker?" I call after her. "A ladybug? A firefighter? A candy corn witch?" How many kinds of witches are there?

At one point, she literally knelt on the floor, cradling the Elsa costume in her arms and begged. "Please, please, please, please, please, Mommy! Let me be Elsa! It is the only thing I want in the whole world!"

Shit. Why didn't they just make plain dark purple hoodies in a 4T?!

So there I am. The terrible mother in the middle of the costume store using her feminist ideals to block my wonderful daughter from the only thing she wants in the whole world. I sigh deeply, "Okay."

Her whole face lights up as she springs to her feet and starts dancing around me.

Later, I ask her why she wants to be Elsa so badly. "Because her dress is so pretty!" she exclaims. Of course. Sigh.

"Anything else?" I ask, hopefully.

"Because she can sing! Because she has powers! Because she loves her sister!" Harmony the Care Bear, too, loves to sing, so I'm seeing a pattern here that I missed before. And my daughter is an only child, so the draw of a sister has been particularly powerful for her lately. And, really, who can argue that being able to turn things to ice isn't cool?

Yes, it is my feminist principles that make me worry about the choice of Elsa as a Halloween costume. I do not want her, as explained in this article, "up against a multibillion-dollar industry that has a mission to sell our child a particular type of fantasy." But it is those same feminist principles that tell me my daughter needs to learn bodily autonomy, including (within reason) what she wears and how she presents herself to the world.

I care deeply about the media she consumes and am careful about what "princess" shows I let her watch. We talk about what we see on the screen, and I'm trying to teach her media literacy as she grows. So, yes, I caved. She will put on her Disney-branded costume to trek the streets with the hordes of identically-clad Elsas all across the city on Friday, and I will stand next to her, hopeful that she can make future choices about what she likes and how she expresses that as confidently and happily as she made this one.

Photo: hine, AForestFrolic


  1. We don't live in a vacuum which is why we still wear make-up, nail polish and shave our legs, our daughters too don't live in a vacuum and are subject to the same pressures and cultural ideals. I don't think it's our job to raise the perfect feminists I think it's our job to install enough confidence in our daughters that they can push back on these pressures and ideals to present themselves to the world as they wish and hopefully not get judged for it and sometimes not to impose our standards on our daughters but listen to their reasons. I hope you all have a Happy Halloween.

  2. I am an American man, and I have decided to boycott American women. In a nutshell, American women are the most likely to cheat on you, to divorce you, to get fat, to steal half of your money in the divorce courts, don’t know how to cook or clean, don’t want to have children, etc. Therefore, what intelligent man would want to get involved with American women?

    American women are generally immature, selfish, extremely arrogant and self-centered, mentally unstable, irresponsible, and highly unchaste. The behavior of most American women is utterly disgusting, to say the least.

    This blog is my attempt to explain why I feel American women are inferior to foreign women (non-American women), and why American men should boycott American women, and date/marry only foreign (non-American) women.


    . ,,/ /

  3. From the mom of a nine year old who has been there, she will. I promise. You think that they are never going to let go of the pink or the princess or the sparkle and then one day they let it go. (Yes. I just did that.)

  4. And soon we'll be at the stage where they turn away and slam the door!

  5. Thank you! I think you're exactly right about us being here to help them establish the confidence they need to push back.

  6. Oh I had that at three with my daughter. My son would either try to run away, literally, or hide. We had to have a talk about how running away was dangerous and that he could hide as long as he answered me when I called for him. We had a lot of "I understand you are upset with me (or whatever). That's okay. Here are some ways to manage that." And it got better.