I have a four-year-old (well, she turns four tomorrow). As with just about every other girl her age that I've met, she's into princesses. And by "into," I mean, it's what she wants to dress up as (daily and for Halloween), be when she grows up, and play with toys related to. In fact, yesterday we threw a princess-themed birthday party, in which 11 kids dressed in skirts and tutus constructed crowns and blew out candles on a castle cake.
But then...then I started really talking to her. When she told me she wanted to be a princess when she grows up, she also followed up by asking me what princesses do. I told her they work hard to be nice to all kinds of people, learn many other languages, use really good manners, and travel a lot (hm, not a bad example). She liked the idea, and we had a good chat about her Spanish classes at school as she deftly used her fork through a whole meal (a rarity). When she had the opportunity to dress as a princess for her birthday party, she chose the formal-though-fraying "real" dress I bought for $3 at a consignment sale over her licensed Disney Belle costume, and turned down her very fancy queen gown because it was too long to allow her to do the monkey bars at the playground (she was also fine not carrying a scepter or wearing her big tiara, because they'd also present challenges while playing).
So, I think my concerns that she's signing up for a life of subservience and obsession with appearances are not actually valid. She thinks princesses have magical powers, probably because Sophia does. She likes that princesses wear fancy dresses and jewelry, but she seems to know that's not practical all the time. Though pink is her favorite color, she adores her orange scooter with blue helmet, and has started to enjoy clothes that are really colorful, as opposed to just all pink. She does like to look pretty and talks about being beautiful more than I am comfortable with, but I try my best to counter that with discussions about what's going on in her head and her heart instead.
Additionally, I occasionally have a flash of the other things she'll be into throughout her life: maybe she'll want piercings and tattoos, maybe we'll fight over her wardrobe, over her pushing herself too much to excel at a sport, over her hatred of family dinners, or spending too much time talking to strangers online or crushes on the phone. Maybe there will be cheating, or exhaustive perfectionism, or laziness. There will be plenty of things I may object to, as well as plenty of times I will bite my tongue to try to avoid criticizing what is important to her.
For right now, though, at tender, precious, innocent and silly age four, I think I'll leave princesses alone. I will allow her the love of sparkles and roses, of fluffy dresses and big bows, without fearing she'll be a bridezilla at age 27. I hope that I can instill in her what's most important on the inside, so that as she changes what she wants to look like on the outside, the good stuff still remains. And I hope that I can prevent seeing the worst in every phase she tries out, and instead try to see the light, and understand the joy, that it brings to my dear girl. Because I think I've realized that allowing her to be happy--to do what makes her happy--will likely have the best results of all.