Museum Studies at Tufts University

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Dispatches from the Mid-Atlantic: Cinderella Ate My Breakfast

by columnist Madeline Karp,

I did not have the chance to make my mom breakfast in bed this Mother’s Day. I had to go to Philadelphia to be a princess.


The Please Touch Museum hosts an annual Mother’s Day Princess Brunch for Centennial Guild Members (i.e.: platinum level, or those who pay for the highest possible membership package). The morning is complete with omelets and pancakes made to order, flowers for the mothers, and early admission to the museum, so kids can play on the floor relatively undisturbed.

And, oh yeah, you can meet a princess.

Following Storybook Ball, I was drafted for a Tour of Royal Duty – my supervisor claims it’s because I have the necessary “bubbly enthusiasm” early in the morning.

I was cast as Sleeping Beauty, and spent the morning greeting children, asking them if they had “a good sleep with nice dreams” and discussing the importance of eating your breakfast so you can have the energy to play all day. It was a blast, and no small ego boost to have squadrons of little girls follow you around like you’re a rock star.

But when I was all finished Princessing and had slipped out of the tulle dress and back into my blue jeans, I suddenly felt conflicted. Had I done the right thing by agreeing to do this? What kind of role model was I being for these kids?


My university-educated, progressive, egalitarian, feminist side was boiling mad. How could I – a girl who had put so much effort into my education, and who refuses to date men who choose my body over my brain – walk around smiling at kids pretending that none of it matters?

I typically agree with Peggy Orenstein, author of Cinderella Ate My Daughter. Orenstein posits that most women have a “princess complex,” where we fear aging into evil hags, will wait around for Prince Charming rather than adventure solo, and feel we need to meet certain societal conventions to be considered beautiful. (I could go on and on, but I’d rather you read more about it here, here or here.)

My inner feminist was freaking out, but my museum professional side took a deep breath.

In school we learn that part of being a good museum professional is to know your audience. What do they like? What do they want? What gets them excited?

Little girls love princesses. (And by the way, their brothers love princesses who freelance as international superspies, Jedi Knights and ninjas.)

If dressing up like a princess is what it takes to get a three-year-old girl to come to the museum, then so be it. It doesn’t mean that said princess has to sell the idea of needing a prince or that you have to be a certain dress size to be beautiful. Quite the contrary. This princess asked kids what their favorite exhibit was, and did they like coming to the museum, what’s the best part about Kindergarten and what books they like to read. She also told them that they were beautiful, especially with pancake syrup all over their faces.


Interestingly, kids are more willing to share their toys (and breakfasts) with princesses, and kids who are normally really shy told me their life stories. Learning through play, for sure. If only they believed all their playmates were royalty.

My hope is that rather than creating girls with a princess complex, I’m helping to create museum advocates. Anything that helps to create a good memory in the museum – be it a Carousel ride or meeting a princess – creates the inroads for that little girl to ask to come back, or to go to another museum next weekend, or to even take out a membership years later when she has kids.

So I came to this conclusion: so long as you’re not violating the museum’s mission or promoting retrograde thinking, and you are working towards building a community in your museum, princess it up. Jump into that tulle dress, smile, sparkle and sell it.


Where do you fall on this issue? Do you think it’s okay to have princesses in the museum? Share your thoughts with me in the comments!

1 Comment

  1. It’s not about who is teaching them…it’s what we’re teaching them. You being a princess (who is historically submissive and docile) isn’t any different than other stereotyped people educating young minds (LGBTQ and racial minorities come to mind). I applaud you on teaching young girls about other aspects of princess life when dear Charming is off battling a dragon.

    Entertainment is entertainment. Princesses are still magical even if they do fight their own battles, in fact we tend to love those types of princesses more as we grow up (think Mulan and Brave). If a princess is what gets kids to the museum, then by all means dance around in tulle, but continue to teach them that the things don’t make the princess, the princess earned the things.

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