Why the world needs princesses

Life is best lived with the confidence of a 6-year-old in a princess costume.

Let me explain. My oldest daughter Gabriella has always been one for costumes, crowns and princesses. Born with an imaginative mind, she is an expert in magical thinking and storytelling.

However, there was a time when I began to worry that her zealous love of princesses might have become too much. A few years ago, she brought home a "what I want to be when I grow up" project. As we began to work on it, I was curious to see what she would choose. Her answer without a moment's hesitation was "princess."

Concerned, I tried to talk my daughter out of it. Should I explain that today being a real princess is more of an inherited burden than an actual job? This school project suddenly had me questioning myself as mother.

Looking back, what I failed to realize was her definition of a princess was completely different than mine. Modern storybook princesses are no longer limited to the role of the damsel in distress. These days, princesses are well accessorized superheroes. Strong women who can save the day and their whole kingdom, too. So, is wanting to be a princess really as bad as I had feared?

Recent research by Sarah Coyne, a developmental psychologist at BYU, looked into effects of this new "princess culture." She found that children who had higher engagement in princess play actually had more progressive attitudes about women and a more positive self-image as they grew older. Perhaps my daughter had it right all along.

Fairy tales are powerful stories that often inspire courage in the face of adversity. This is why I have come to appreciate Gabby's love of princesses. In her own way, my daughter has used these stories to make herself stronger when facing her own challenges.

Gabby has to work hard to conquer speech and vision issues. When she was in first grade, she needed vision therapy.

One day during a particularly tough session, Gabby stopped her therapist and said "I bet you would feel much better about this if you could wear a princess outfit." The therapist - who was dressed in scrubs - had to laugh and agree.

We may only be young once, but the lessons we learn and stories we tell stay with us. I now realize that I was wrong to question her royal ambition. Raising two young daughters has enlightened me. Even as my daughter gets older, she still reminds me that we all could use a sparkly tiara or costume every now and then. If only to remind us that we are braver and stronger than we could ever imagine.

- Amy McCauley of Hinsdale is a guest columnist. Readers can email her at [email protected].