Maybe because she is our middle child, I have always told my four-year-old daughter that she is Daddy's little princess. Every night, when I tuck her into bed I say, "Good night, Princess Creagh." But Creagh has been tough to charm. "I am just Creagh," she responds with perhaps a hint of wistfulness. "I am not a princess."
So when we went on a father-daughter trip to Disney World recently, I decided to take her for some "princess therapy"-- at Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, a new salon for young girls at Cinderella's Castle.
Named for the song that Cinderella's godmother sings as she transforms Cinderella from cinders to glamour for the Prince's ball, Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique is much more than a makeover experience for young girls. Like all Disney attractions, every detail is carefully conceived and executed to create a magical experience for children. Disney magic is hard at work here for the lucky young girls whose parents are willing to pay for the experience (all income levels are accomodated from $49.95 for the basic "Coach" package which includes hairstyle and shimmering makeup--to $249.95 for the deluxe "Castle" package which also includes a gown, shoes, accessories and photos). And the magical effects last far longer than the glitter does.
At Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, Creagh meets a "fairy godmother-in-training" who asks her about her favorite princess (Cinderella) and helps her pick out a gown, shoes and accessories in the style of that princess. Then, with typical Disney grand style, the fairy godmother-in-training brings my daughter to a large curtain. She whisks the curtain back, and voila! All of Creagh's choices, in her own size, lay waiting for her to put on in a huge dressing room fit for a princess.
After she dresses, my daughter meets a few more fairy-godmothers-in-training who help her pick out a hairstyle and makeup. Later, her fairy-godmother-in-training asks, "Princess Creagh, which color would you like for your nails?" My daughter looked puzzled and responds, "I am just Creagh. I am not a princess." Then from a rainbow palette of nail colors, she chooses one out of the four sparkly shades of pink.
After a few minutes, my daughter relaxes into the fantasy of being a princess and clearly begins to enjoy all the personal attention. Her interaction with her fairy-godmothers-in-training becomes more spirited and upbeat. Her shyness recedes. She had become a princess in her own mind, and no longer corrects anyone when they refer to her as "Princess Creagh."
Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique is buzzing with young girls, but each girl gets a huge amount of personal attention from their own fairy godmothers-in-training. The staff is very attentive and shows great respect to the choices of each girl, somehow making each one feel both important and unique. It is a type of attention that busy parents rarely have the patience or time to provide, and the girls seem to thrive in their own Disney bubble of personal care and consideration.
Finally, an hour and a quarter later, the transformation is complete. Disney magic has given my daughter a beautiful princess gown, a soft glittering glow to her face and a dramatic hair style including long pink tresses. Her look is wholesome, but ethereal -- more Broadway than "beauty pageant." Creagh has been expertly styled and has emerged as another creature entirely from the pensive, cautious girl who entered the salon earlier. She stands taller and exudes confidence.
As she mounts the royal throne for her photo session, my daughter has the gleam in her eye of a real princess. She has been listened to today and made her own choices. Not important ones mind you -- which hairstyle she would like, nail colors and the like -- but still the choices have been her own. She has found her inner princess and likes it.
It is fair to ask what the point is of dressing up little girls, putting make up on them and painting their nails, all in the style of one of the Disney princesses. But whatever its excesses, the "princess makeover" does seem to have positive psychic benefits for the little girls themselves. The girls feel that their opinions matter and that they are important. They also seem to get a hint that they can be as beautiful as any princess or any other girl. There is no adolescent angst about not being pretty enough--all girls are treated as beauties here.
And I loved seeing my daughter transformed into a fantasy princess and enjoyed watching her soak up all the attention that was gracefully given to her. For many parents--including me, seeing their daughter "come out" as a princess was a very moving experience.
One mom next to me was crying profusely. She told me that she had saved up to give her daughter this special experience because she thought it might help her daughter feel better about herself and also improve their relationship. It sounded like there had been a lot of conflict over the past year between she and her daughter and it took the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique experience to show her that the inner beauty of her daughter was still there--despite their recent hard times.
The staff told me that crying parents are a common sight at the salon. Many parents weep silently and even sob outright -- not just because their daughters look like beautiful princesses, but also because they love to see their daughters bask in the spotlight and thrive under the attentive care of the Disney fairy godmothers-in-training.
And the experience of making her own choices and receiving intense personal attention at the salon seems to have stayed with Creagh. My wife has noticed that Creagh is expressing her own opinion more in the family--and not always just agreeing with the views of her older brother and sister. Whether this is because of the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique experience or for other reasons, we don't know, but after her trip, she seems to be putting herself on equal footing with her older siblings more. I don't think it was just about the make-up and pretty dresses for Creagh -- it was about having grownups give her choices, listen to her likes and dislikes, and allow her to feel comfortable being the center of attention for a while.
Congratulations to Disney for letting little girls and their families find their "princesses." Princess therapy really works, for daughter and for parent. Just ask Princess Creagh.
Mallory Factor is the co-chairman and co-founder of the Monday Meeting, an influential meeting of economic conservatives, journalists and corporate leaders in New York City. Mr. Factor is a well-known merchant banker and speaks and writes frequently on economic and fiscal topics for news stations, leading newspapers and other print and online publications.