Pretty Princess Problems: The Case of Princess Celestia

My family and I were shopping for a child’s birthday present this weekend when we came upon the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic section at a local Target store. As I’ve discussed previously, MLP:FIM is an unusually good children’s cartoon. My three-year-old son loves it, and he was excited to see these toys.

My son searched for his favorite character, Rainbow Dash, but there were none to be found. Then, the largest MLP toy in the aisle caught his attention: the talking My Little Pony Princess Celestia.

My son pressed the bright yellow button on Princess Celestia’s cutie mark, and her wings lit up. He was entranced. But as the toy began speaking, my husband and I exchanged annoyed glances. This toy repositioned Princess Celestia as a conceited, girly-girl princess stereotype—not the wise, powerful leader and mentor portrayed on screen.

So, I grabbed my phone and took this video:

What’s going on here?

We captured 12 different sayings, which I think is all of them. I later transcribed them* and categorized each saying according to topic, in a miniature content analysis. Here are my findings:

APPEARANCE (5)
I love when you comb my hair!
Oh, my hair looks beautiful.
My wings are so pretty!
My barrettes look so pretty!
You’re beautiful!

FRIENDSHIP (2)
I love to make new friends!
You’re my best friend!

PRINCESS (2)
I am Princess Celestia.
I’m a princess! Are you a princess too?

ACTIVITY (2)
Let’s fly to the castle.
I will light the way.

EXCLAMATION (1)
Spectacular!

In short, 5 out of 12 of this toy’s sayings are appearance-centric—possibly more, depending on your interpretation of the phrases “Spectacular!” and “I’m a princess! Are you a princess, too?” So if a child plays with this Princess Celestia toy, about half of the time, he or she will be subjected to pretty princess rhetoric—the kind of vanity discourse that the show, happily, is free of. For parents who appreciate the show’s generally informed approach to girly-girl stuff, this toy would present an unpleasant surprise.

In relation to this, it’s important to consider this toy’s appearance. Although Princess Celestia is portrayed on screen as a white pony, this toy is pink as can be. (In the video, listen to my son’s surprise: “She’s Princess Celestia?” and “She supposed to be white!” Yup. Sorry, sweetie.)

So, why is this pink Princess Celestia toy obsessed with stereotypical pretty princess interests?

Princess Celestia’s pre-production history offers some insight on the issue. Lauren Faust, MLP:FIM‘s creator, originally planned for Celestia to be a Queen. At Hasbro’s insistence, however, she was made a princess. Faust has explained:

I was told [by Hasbro] that because of Disney movies, girls assume that Queens are evil (although I only remember 1 evil queen) and Princesses are good. I was also told that the perceived youth of a Princess is preferable to consumers.

She does not have parents that outrank her. I brought the weirdness of that situation to my bosses, but it did not seem to be a continuity concern to them, so I’m letting it alone. I always wanted her to be the highest authority, and so she remains so. And I certainly don’t want marriage to be what would escalate her. (Bad messages to girls and what not.)

[...]  I put up a bit of a fight when her title changed, but you win some, you loose some.

In short, Hasbro wasn’t interested in fighting stereotypes in this instance. Their execs just wanted to cash in on stereotypes about pretty princesses. They apparently couldn’t resist the opportunity to have a princess instead of a queen.

Toy manufacturers are content to market stereotypes to consumers who, unfortunately, they see as little more than stereotypes: “Girls love princesses! Princesses are girly and pretty and pink! Let’s give girls what they want.”

Yeah, right.

As critics such as Peggy Orenstein have argued, this is a huge problem in our culture–for girls, for their imaginations, and their visions for their own futures. And it’s the antithesis of girl power.

Consider Lego’s recent and controversial decision to create a separate girly-girl line of Legos for girls, instead defying the stereotype that girls will ONLY play with pink toys and inviting them to build with regular legos. It’s the same kind of logic.

Toy manufacturers need to stop pretending that what’s good for their bottom line is what’s good for girls.

So, Hasbro: I have some ideas for future iterations of the Princess Celestia toy. She could say:

I’m a princess! I rule my country with wisdom.
I love teaching my students. Do you love school?
You’re so smart!
You remind me of Twilight Sparkle, my best student.
Can you tell me what you learned today?
Together, we can do anything!

There. Now, that wasn’t so difficult, was it?

Parents: Have you had similar issues with toys in the past? Do any of your children own this Princess Celestia toy, and if so, what are your thoughts on it? (Bronies, what do you think?)


Update (1/17/12): I’ve set up a petition at Change.org, urging Hasbro to reprogram the talking Princess Celestia toy. Please sign itif you agree.

Also, if anyone has other ideas about what the talking Princess Celestia toy should be saying, I’m all ears. Post your ideas below, and I’ll consider adding them to the petition.

Thanks!


* A full transcript of the video, including what my son and I are saying, is available on the YouTube page.

Note [added 1/20/12]: In my list of suggestions, I originally offered, “You’re beautiful, outside *and* in,” meant as a corrective to the emphasis on external beauty in princess toys. But some moms have persuaded me that, really, we don’t need any additional beauty rhetoric! (Smart moms, you rock.) So I’ve replaced it with, “Can you tell me what you learned today?” which is very much in line with the character on the show.

41 thoughts on “Pretty Princess Problems: The Case of Princess Celestia

  1. One gift my daughter received for her first Christmas, when she was just 6 months old, was a “Pretty Learning Purse”. It sang songs about colors and numbers, but for any child the lack of connection to any concrete object is simply not “learning”. It came with a “lipstick” rattle, mirror (yes I know babies love mirrors), plastic car keys (at least she’s allowed to drive the car!), a bracelet and a crinkly cloth “dollar”. The song about colors mentions how yesterday her favorite color was purple, but today it’s pink! Another song involves grabbing the keys to drive to the store. Not only the female stereotypes but blatantly engendering our consumerist culture. I finally just took it away, it’s at some second-hand store now. Yuck!

    • Oh, wow. The “Pretty Learning Purse” sounds like it should have been called the “Pretty Stereotypes Purse.” All females should wear makeup; they’re not attractive enough without it. All girls are fickle; they’ll change their favorite colors every day.

      Yuck is right. Good for you for ditching it!

      I wonder what the analogous product for boys would be? A “Rugged Learning Backpack,” maybe?

      Oh wait, I know: a toy doctor kit, or tool kit, or something otherwise profession-oriented. Because girls grow up to be looked at, but boys grow up to DO things.

    • My daughter received the same thing! I took the purse & lipstick away and let her play with the mirror, keys, and crinkly dollar. :) Such a ridiculous toy, I thought.

  2. How I wish things could be changed about the way children’s products are made and marketed! This was a wonderful article, I’m glad I’m not the only one who found the Celestia toy (and the legos! I work at a target and couldn’t believe I was seeing those) more than untrue to her character.

    I want to cry every time I see the Bratz line of toys.

    When I worked at a costume shop we carried Bratz “costumes”. Which consisted of shiny black pleather, heels and a disturbingly short skirt. I tended to talk mothers out of buying it if I could, was easier than I thought after they saw how it looked…street-walker like.

    • Sunny, thanks for your support! I think it really says something that even though you work at a Target and see a lot of toys, the Celestia toy and the new Legos still bothered you. If other toys turn up in your store that you think are problematic, please–drop me a note from the front line!! I would love to hear from you.

      And re: Bratz: Yes, they are sooo oversexed. It’s beyond troubling. Although I am glad that they’re racially diverse, there’s not much else the brand does right. And, ugh, talk about the worst Halloween costume ever for a kid! I doubt that pleather, heels, and a mini skirt on a little girl is interpreted by ANYONE besides the wearer as a Bratz costume. The girl might feel good about it, but only because she’s too young to understand the connotations. :/

  3. My mother purpousfuly bought me trucks as a little girl. All my dress up clothes were 80′s hand-me-downs. I was taught by my mother how to be a true princess. She is above only her ordinary self. Her strenghth is in her intelegence and kindness. Her goal is to be like her queen-mother.

  4. Man, that toy isn’t just a terrible stereotype, it’s lazy marketing.

    “Princess Celestia!” The right approximate shape and size, but with green wings and pink body, I notice they went for a cheap voice actor that sounds NOTHING like the character, as well, let alone the terrible stereotyped statements the toy makes.

    Kinda get the feeling they had a load of excess pink raw materials and second-hand vice boxes and just figured they could record over a couple of extra statements and pour it into a pony mold.

    This is damaging to girls and boys both. I mean, your son could no-doubt get a lot of joy out of a set of pony toys. But the statements the toy makes explicitly tell him that the toy is not “for boys”. Sad.

    Just FYI, You might want to share your petition with the brony crowd, I’d bet they’d throw their support behind this.

    • It sure seems that way, doesn’t it?? And it’s true that this is damaging to boys and girls both. Not only does it exclude boys who would otherwise enjoy the Pony line, but it gives them the wrong messages about girls and their interests. The kindergarten boys who don’t want to play with girls or their toys because they think both “stink” are learning lessons from crummy commodities like these!

      Oh, and great minds think alike, Bunny! :) I did send my petition to the brony crowd, but the mods on the Bronies Facebook page said they’ve been trying to convince Hasbro for a while already. He didn’t sound too optimistic — but, hey, a defeatist attitude never got anybody anywhere!

      Do you have any suggestions on where else we could get some Brony love for the petition? There’s strength in numbers, and if Bronies and parents could both support the petition, we just might get some traction!

      • Have you sent it to Equestria Daily yet? That is *the* Brony fansite. I’m sure Seth would love to hear from you on this issue, since they cover the merchandise as well as the show and fan works.

        • I emailed equestria daily myself, but I’m sure it’d sound better coming from you directly. Also, if anyone is brave enough to go on, a few people could possibly link JUST THE PETITION to some chan sites. Horrible places, but quite a surprising number of bronies.

          • Bunny and Sarah: I just followed Bunny’s advice and sent it to Equestria Daily, too! I hope they’ll publish it.

            The petition links back to this blog post, so I’m not sure about posting to chan? Hm.

  5. I’m a brony and I have an 8 year old sister who loves the show. I’ve been keeping up with anything MLP related since I found out about the brony phenomenon (it blew up quite a bit back in July and is continuing to grow). They too have been complaining about the toys and have been fighting a losing battle (especially on Pink Celestia). They’ve been buying the toys just so they can make show accurate customs and sell them on eBay for higher prices. I’m glad someone outside the community has taken notice. I agree with all of this. I shot the petition via email towards Equestria Daily, the biggest brony blog in the world. Though the more emails they get, the more chance they’ll post it on front page.

    Over the holidays, one of the hottest girl’s toys I’ve noticed (and my sister begging one for Christmas) was the Monster High dolls. They were selling out like crazy and I couldn’t provide it as a gift for my sister. I noticed that most of the toys wore black. At least 80% were black. Interesting on that fact compared to this where girls “only like pink”. Though I guess monsters are pretty marketable because of Twilight’s success.

    • Soan, thank you for forwarding the petition to Equestria Daily! I tweeted the link at them, but I’m sure their feed is always overwhelmed. I do think parents and Bronies could collaborate on this issue in productive ways. Bronies and Pegasisters don’t want dumbed-down, Pepto-bismol-styled versions of their favorite characters, and little girls REALLY don’t need them!

      You’re right that the Monster High dolls seem to be a reaction to the nauseating sea of pink! Although…. maybe it’s a blessing in disguise they were sold out? Peggy Orenstein has criticized the Monster High show (e.g., her blog post here). They seem pretty problematic in terms of both the show’s content and the characters’ sexualized aspects.

      It’s sad that it’s apparently SO hard for the folks who create media for girls to produce something with real merit. That’s why I think is why it makes sense to petition Hasbro re: toys like the talking Celestia: When television programs DO get things right, the merchandising department has an ethical responsibility not to undercut the show, whether they want to believe it or not.

      • Email them, don’t tweet them. They never check their tweets. Their twitter is an automatic system that posts tweets of their updates. Their email is under the “Submit” button on their site.

        I read the article on Monster High just now and watched the video. Seems High School hasn’t changed since I was there. It was the worst time of my life. Haha.

        Anyway, I did what I could. I’m behind this.

  6. Everyday we are surrounded by the media’s representation of beauty. As frustrating as this is on it’s own, the fact that children are being targeted at younger ages than ever before is a disgrace. I write a blog for young women about self-esteem and society’s role for females. I would love to reference this post as a part of my article as an example of smart women setting positive examples for the children of this generation and the next. Would you have any problems with me referencing you? I am also planning to submit my article to PinkStinks.org.

    • Haylee, I’d love it if you would reference me! Thanks so much for asking. I also have a new book coming out in a few days that deals with exactly these sorts of issues. Here’s a link in case it’s of interest!

      I’m going to add your blog to my reader now. Thanks again!

        • Haylee, thanks so much. I think your blog post makes a great point! It’s wonderful that you’re engaging in this broader conversation… it can be SO frustrating to get the words right, but I am constantly inspired by other authors and bloggers (and often COMMENTERS on other blogs, who sometimes say the most insightful things!). I’m looking forward to reading more from you!

  7. I don’t give a damn that she’s pink (though I do mind the big doofy blue wings – they look really out-of-place on her). Pinkie Pie manages to be a great and really un-girly character and she’s totally pink all over, AND she makes cupcakes. And the plan was originally for Rainbow Dash to be Firefly – who is a bright coral pink. If Celestia was pink in the show, I really would not care about it.

    Because I think her words and actions are what define her as a capable ruler and a caring person, not her colours. And that’s why all my issues stem from the voice box.

    It’s what the doll says that sounds silly, shallow, and totally unlike the character, that makes me dislike the toy. It indicates that she’s not the person I recognise from the show. She’s not just dumped in dye to sell – she’s genuinely not the same character. If I ever have the mis- …well, /mixed/ fortune to get the toy – because she’s still an accurate Celestia mould, and she comes with all the jewellery which is rare for the other Celestia figures – I’m taking out the voice box myself and making a new one with show recordings. And maybe learning to make new wings, or something, but I need to learn to sculpt to do that.

    Then again, I’m probably not the kind of person you should listen to. I bought the toys because they were cute and pretty and the thing I enjoy the most is brushing their hair – so, all based on appearances. I buy jewellery. I own three Bratz dolls that I’ve never seen as sexualised. I don’t mind the LEGO Friends line because the playset has lots of buildings and a goddamn car. Basically, I don’t hate these things that I’m supposed to hate. Even though I’m a real person, and despite growing up in this modern feminist era, I feel like I’m probably going to be a negative influence to your children.

    • No one is obligated to hate these things. I mean blimey, I actually like some aspects of the Bratz myself and if they were marketed as collectibles for adults I’d be just fine with them.

      In fact, I’d be just fine with them for kids, too, if there were figurines marketed to girls that provided different takes on what it means to be female.

      The issue isn’t with individuals enjoying these figures. It’s that kids who don’t enjoy them have no other options, and it’s the not-so-subtle message that a girl who doesn’t like them, or a boy who does, has something wrong with them.

  8. Wow, from everything I’ve just read, and everything I’ve just seen, as a male fan of the show, if I want a Celestia figure, I’ll stick to the Target 2 pack, it seems to be more accurate, and has Luna as well.

  9. Pingback: Animation Monday: My Little Pony | Young's Blog

  10. Just finished taking the survey – and when I saw your take on the commercial Celestia’s voice, my reaction was along the lines of “Hmm. Name five things Princess Celestia would never say”.

    My second reaction was that I wanted to *fix* it. Not just the pink-to-white issue (conveniently resolved by the season finale involving a pink princess, and having nothing to do with a massive oversupply of pink-colored toys in a warehouse somewhere, I’m sure), but the voice issue that you highlighted. I don’t think the character has ever commented on her own appearance in the entire series!

    And my third reaction was “I’ll bet somepony’s already done that”. And I was right. Someone’s already done most of the hard work – figuring out how to disassemble the toy without destroying it in the process. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1uip-M3OXmc

    And although it seems his project got delayed by real life, I now have something to do this summer. Clock is ticking :)

  11. I’m a brony also. I love how you explained in your blog about how toys affect girls,boys, and even adults! Well I consider princess celestia as my fav. Pony, but I find that a pink one is just to Girly so of course I stay away but I do own a rainbow dash with (show accurate) hair that I made and she looks Beutiful as ever. I’m sure as a adult that has OCD on show accurate toys I’m sure kids would think the same thing.

  12. Dear Rebecca Hains, as a person, I think that your work on this site is invaluable to society, because children are so vulnerable and so important.
    People will say: it´s just a toy. But toys are carriers for ideas. And you already said all that should de said. I absolutely HATE this notion of toys for boys and toys for girls.

    And as a brony, I just hate what they’ve done to Celestia. She just doesn’t deserve it. : )

    I just wish I had found this site some months earlier, but I signed the petition.

  13. I agree with you 110%, I bought a gift for my 7 year old cousin a week ago, here is the link:

    http://www.google.co.uk/imgres?um=1&hl=en&sa=N&biw=1280&bih=642&authuser=0&tbm=isch&tbnid=skRy-xQdJ6byBM:&imgrefurl=http://www.strawberryreef.com/Index/Name/princesscelestiaFIM.html&docid=q0ERU_VBkpncyM&imgurl=http://www.strawberryreef.com/images/Ponies/FIM/TwilightSparkleIIIfim_800_M_collecjcg.jpg&w=1232&h=800&ei=Y1_NT8uaDMX1sgbH-tC3Bg&zoom=1&iact=rc&dur=334&sig=115072660461831825997&page=1&tbnh=109&tbnw=168&start=0&ndsp=18&ved=1t:429,r:5,s:0,i:81&tx=96&ty=51

    I noticed that ”Princess Celestia” was pink but I knew how much my cousin loves My little pony, she watches that cartoon with me almost everyday <3 so I bought it.
    When I gave the gift to her, she unwrapped it and was as happy as a bunny but after 5 minutes she didnt understand why is the toy pink, when it should be white! I was kinda embarrassed because I didnt like that aswell. . .I wish that the creators would rethink that and make it the way as it is on the show (╥_╥) . . .I love My little pony, friendship is magic and Im 18 years old haha, and also the phrases princess Celestia says are awful, I mean. . what are they trying to achieve in girls, some appearance possessed maniacs?? NO, THANK YOU!
    The real princess Celestia should say things like. . .

    -You have learned a valuable lesson today
    -You are my most faithful student
    -You and your friends are always welcomed to visit me in Caterlot
    -Friendship is the most powerful thing in life
    -I will be waiting for your letter my dear pupil

    If they would remake her like this it would make every girls life, trust me.
    Lets just pray for the makers to come to their senses already and stop making little girls into pinkyfroufrousparklyprincessysilly robots already with their failing ways of making toys.

    • I love your proposed quotes–all inspired by actual dialogue from the show. I’ve heard rumors of a white Princess Celestia coming soon; let’s hope they change that awful voice chip, as well!

      • Sadly, I found your blog *because* I got the white version of Celestia off of Amazon, and it still has the HORRIFIC voice chip. Ugh! I love MLP for my daughter because of the amazing job that they do for positive, feminine female role models, and this toy is undermining all of it! I’m going to have to unwrap it and use the link above to kill the voice chip. Absurd. I think I’m going to call the toy company and complain.

  14. When I bought a diffrent my little pony toy that had Celestia and Luna Celestia was still pink like the talking toy and Luna looked somewhat like she did on the show but she was a dark shade of purple not blue and her hair was diffrent shades of purple,pink,and blues where on the show Luna’s body is a dark shade of blue and her hair is a lighter shade of blue

  15. Silly feminists, always so concerned about being percieved as weak. I guess girliness gives girls a bad name.

  16. Support already garnered. Why would they choose to go against the established character? To market to young girls? The SHOW ITSELF already does that, as does Celestia herself, as she is portrayed on the show. By making it pink and “only for girls”, they really don’t increase their market, they just shut down the male market they ALREADY HAD.

  17. Sorry I’m too late to sign the petition but I am totally confused why:
    A – the toy is pink
    B – the personality is completely different than the series

    I have purchased the toys of the main characters but refuse to buy this one.

  18. I 100% disagree. This is new age talking. It is feminism and empty rhetoric about ruling. I dont think little girls need to rule. I like what she says just fine. Little girls need this type of conversation to see themselves as pretty and princess. It is a normal part of development to sound egocentric as children. It is adults who dont need to. bye

  19. As a fellow pegasister that thing is NOT Princess Celestia nor it will ever be with that color scheme and phrases. Though I really like the phrases you came up with.

  20. I am a young fan of the show, and when I was shopping with my cousin for her daughter, I saw those. I walked up to them and told my cousin, “Never ever get these for her. EVER!” We got her some kiddie sport equipment. My brother’s, who is a brony. reaction to the toy was simple. Throw what ever you were holding at the television.

  21. im a brony and i think that this is very unnecessary for all the stereotypes shown, most of the shows viewers are male, or older teenage girls such as myself and even as a female i dont consider myself beautiful everyday and its teaching children to only think of outside appearances as younger children, when they get older they will keep that habit and it might affect decisions they make as an adult, and for crying out loud dont change her color scheme just to appease young females and think about your male viewers. i will email Hasbro and EQD.
    thank you

  22. That’s one thing that always boggled me. I mean,if you a toy that’s tagged with an existing cartoon you could AT LEAST make them somewhat resemble their animated counterparts. At least the bling bag ponies look like cartoon counterparts (except Fluttershy who shares Rainbow Dash’s mold). And by the way,why pink Celestia and Purple Luna? Its like Hasbro’s not even trying. :(

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