Out with the princesses, in with the Shabbat Princess

I have two daughters. When they were born, I imagined they would be tomboys. They would climb trees and love to get muddy. They would wrinkle their noses at Disney Princesses, and consider Barbie dolls something to operate on, not dress up, just as I did as a little girl.

My girls do love to climb trees and get muddy. (Lesson: be careful what you wish for.) But they are decidedly not tomboys. Zoe refused to wear anything but dresses for most of her preschool years, and they both begged for their share of princess merchandise, Barbies and (I hate to admit this one) Bratz dolls. Through it all, I tried to remember the sage advice of my friends Jane and Joan, the (partnered) moms of two creative and fiercely independent kids: “We are repelled by Barbie, but we are more repelled by parents who forbid their children from playing with things they love.”


the freecycle pile

So I gritted my teeth, drew a few weak boundaries when I simply couldn’t help myself – no plastic high heeled shoes beyond the walls of the playroom, no Disney princess food (and here I use the term “food” loosely), none of truly awful straight-to-dvd versions of the princess movies (The Little Mermaid part seventy-one) – and restrained myself from hiding their toys (usually). I reminded myself that it wouldn’t last forever. Or maybe it would, and that would have to be ok too.


And indeed, at 6 and almost-8, my girls are no longer into princesses. Each has her own unique blend of interests – Zoe loves to dig up worms, punch her sister in the nose, and pick out lipstick for Bubbie while she gets her hair curled (also by Bubbie.) Ella is a fearless climber, and now she’s the one who refuses to wear dresses. But she adores Project Runway and designing fashions for her sister. (And get this – she wears the disney princess t-shirt her uncle bought her ironically.)

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that the toys and images that appeal to our kids aren’t necessarily indicators of how they will grow up. After all, as a pre-teen  I begged my mother for a life size Farrah Fawcett head for styling, yet much to my girls’ disappointment there is not a drop of makeup or hair product in our house. (Except my husband’s hair gel. For his ponytail. Just saying.) But I’m still relieved that saying yes to princesses (in moderation) does not seem to have had long term deleterious consequences. And who knows where saying no to princesses might have led us?


With all my ambivalence about princesses, I must admit to some sheepishness about the title (and topic) of my forthcoming book, The Shabbat Princess. It’s the story of a little girl who, well, loves princesses. When she hears about the tradition of welcoming the Shabbat Queen on Friday night, she decides to invite the Shabbat Princess instead, and sets out to turn an ordinary dinner table into something very, very fancy. What can I say in my defense? Well, the best advice to any writer is “write what you know.” And at the time that I wrote this manuscript, we were in full Fancy Nancy/Pinkalicious/Princess mode. This is what I knew, and my book was a way to adapt (ok, co-opt) the message into a value I really believe in. Ideally, I could have crafted a story that didn’t attach *fancy* to girl. But, I actually wanted to get the book, um, published.


This fall, as I set out to promote the book, I hope to prove that the message of The Shabbat Princess – that there’s a value to setting an extra-special shabbat table – is not gender-specific. If you have any suggestions about how to actually accomplish that, I’d be truly grateful. In the end, I want to promote the book and sell lot of copies, and maybe even some tie-in merchandise. But I don’t want to have created any products that moms like me are tempted to hide.

And now, once again, the BOOK TRAILER I MADE MYSELF!

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Sarah Buttenwieser

posted July 4, 2011 at 9:21 am

For one, Jane & Joan are fantastic (if you, readers knew them, you’d agree & feel compelled to say that up front, that fantastic are they). So what they say, goes.

For two, I painted (at her request) Saskia’s finger/toenails for the same reason J & J gave, why forbid it? I did toss out the inherited Disney Princess bathing suit, I will admit. Editing seems okay in my book. It is different than forbidding.

For three, I believe you can create that message — & please make it for princess loving boys & not princess loving boys & girls b/c really? we all can use some extra-special. I hope I’m getting to give a copy away on my blog… just saying.

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posted July 4, 2011 at 10:14 am

hannah, at 20, still fancies herself a princess. however, i now consider that a good thing – in that i don’t need to worry about her finding a mate who doesn’t treat her well.

and thank god for bubbies (and grandma and tzaftas) that have hair/makeup/nail products at their disposal (and know how to use them!). my children have wonderful memories of “aunt judy” and nail polish (of course, until you popped her own wonderful little princesses!!).

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Bible Belt Balabusta

posted July 4, 2011 at 7:50 pm

“There’s a value to setting an extra-special shabbat table—is not gender-specific.”
Can’t wait to test this when we read the new book (my boy and me).

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Judy Meltzer

posted July 5, 2011 at 1:38 pm

Although you successfully resisted any temptation to assume a royal persona, you were always my favorite princess……..that is, until Ella and Zoe came along.


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