The Pink Menace

 Olivia and the Fairy Princesses
Written and Illustrated by: Ian Falconer
"The old saying is actually false...one can have too much pink tulle."

You know what’s funny?  Despite the popularity of fairy, princess, and fairy princess costumes, I don’t remember ever dressing as one of that pink trifecta for Halloween.  My guess is that I escaped them because when I was a wee one, my mother made all of my Halloween costumes from things we already owned.  If it couldn’t be made with a paper plate, a hanger, or a pillowcase, forget it.  Case and point, this little gem:

There are so many provocative discussions waged in the war against gender stereotypes.  We want to give our daughters the independence to build their own identities and display those identities as they choose, but what if our daughters want to dress in pink ruffles and sparkles?  Or hot pants?  Do we let them aspire to be Barbie look-alikes, or do we steer them towards flannel shirts and crossbows instead?  We want to teach our daughters that the damsel in distress role is the least they can aspire to, and it stings when they want to emulate a person whose only shot at a productive life hinges on a handsome man on horseback rescuing her from a tower.  I am not eager for the day to arrive when I have to decide how to handle princess mania.  

In the meantime, I have decided to let books do the talking.  Little A and I love Ian Falconer’s Olivia books.  Little A enjoys the adorably drawn little piglet with her distinctive ears and red accessories, and I enjoy Olivia’s perpetual quest to stand out from the crowd.  Each book in this delightful series is a treat, but Olivia and the Fairy Princesses is my favorite.  The entire story centers around a bedtime discussion Olivia has with her mother after Olivia marches into the kitchen and announces, “I think I am having an identity crisis.”  The precocious pig then goes on to explain that all of the girls (and even some of the boys) want to be the same thing: a pink fairy princess.  

You have to love a children’s book in which the young protagonist not only has an identity crisis, but knows it and openly discloses it.  As the short timeline unwinds, Olivia touches on birthday parties, Halloween celebrations, and dance recitals--all popular haunts for cotton-candied little girls.  In each memory, she boldly stands apart from the pack in her signature style, illustrating through her attire and actions that fun is not always pretty, and pretty is not always pink.

Falconer doesn’t forget to take some gentle jabs at the fairy tale archetype, as the spunky little swine begs her mother to skip the story where the prince kisses his damsel and turns her into a princess, requesting instead Little Red Riding Hood-- but “just the parts where everyone gets eaten.”  As mother and daughter wrestle with her bedtime at the end of the book, readers spy a poster of American modern dancer and choreographer Martha Graham--clearly Olivia’s latest inspiration as she tries to develop “a more stark, modern style"--on the wall behind her bed. Little A and I always look forward to the poster on Olivia’s bedroom wall, as it changes from book to book.  Our favorite is still Eleanor Roosevelt (Olivia Saves the Circus), but this one is a close second.  

Barbara Morgan - Martha Graham, Lamentation
This image is from: http://www.vintageworks.net/exhibit/full_image.php/154/1/1/0/20451/9931_Barbara_Morgan.jpg

Olivia’s mother finally tires of the pink fairy princess discussion and leaves her little one to drift off to sleep.  Of course, Olivia’s mind is racing.  I won’t spoil the sweet epiphany she reaches at the close of the book, but I promise it’s worth discovering for yourself.  
Of course, Little A is a bit young to truly grasp the larger message in the book right now, so it is more entertaining for me.  We, however, will be reading it again and again over the next few years, and we will have a pink fairy princess discussion of our own one day.  Hopefully it’s not while we are standing in the costume aisle of Target.  Although, is there really any harm in letting a little girl feel like a princess once in a while?  The jury’s still out.  All I know is that next Halloween, I still get to choose the costume, and I can’t wait for Little A to be Amelia Earhart.

For more inspirational costume ideas for little girls that break the sparkle ceiling, check out this post on Jaime C. Moore's blog right now.

For further discussion on the pink menace, check out Emily McNally's article "My Problem with Pink."

A girl after my own heart...


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