When the story of the Hot Dog Princess went viral last month, everyone in our town delighted. After all, six-year-old Ainsley, whose story reached the Today Show, Ellen, and news outlets as far away as New Zealand, hailed from our very own Holly Springs School of Dance.
In case you’ve been under a rock, here’s what happened: it was Princess Week and Ainsley decided to show up in an adorable, fluffy-in-its-own-right hot dog costume. The unexpectedness of it all resonated with people across the globe, which is just a fancy way of saying that it resulted in a new hashtag: #hotdogprincess.
It’s not a hard parallel to draw: like a princess costume, Ainsley’s getup was also whimsical with a splash of color (that would be mustard). It got me thinking about what else hot dogs and princesses have in common. Both are pretty processed—one by Disney and one by a literal factory. Both are American staples. And both have evolved over time. Hot dogs are (or can be at least) healthier these days and are almost trendy. A Wikipedia search for “hot dog restaurants” yields around seventy results: from the kitschy to the gourmet. Disney princesses are a little more varied, too. We have Princess Tiana from The Princess and the Frog (2009), Disney’s first African American princess in the franchise. There’s also Mulan, Jasmine, and Pocahontas, and debuting this summer is Princess Elena, who’s inspired by diverse Latin cultures. These days, there is arguably less of an emphasis on “happily ever after” and more of one on work ethic, independence, and adventure. Still, this story went viral. Without warning, Ainsley became a beloved heroine, herself. Why?
As much as we say we value creativity, and outside-of-the-box thinking, kids face pressure to conform from all directions. Much of it is not new. We are hardwired for social connection, to fit in with our peers. But there are newer burdens placed on our littlest young people. Kindergarten is not Kindergarten anymore and decisions about where to go to college, what to study, and what one wants to be when one grows up are enough to cripple a person before he or she even makes it out into the “real world.” The National Alliance on Mental Illness estimates: one in four students on college campuses has a diagnosable illness; 40% do not seek help; 80% feel overwhelmed by their responsibilities; and 50% have been so anxious they struggled in school (Source: bestcolleges.com). While everyone is praising Hot Dog Princess and her parents—there’s no doubt they done good—I want to take a moment to applaud the Holly Springs School of Dance for creating a space where Hot Dog Princesses are not only welcomed, but celebrated. After all, it was Ainsley’s own instructor who first shared this story via Twitter, declaring, “I have never admired someone more.” Ainsley’s father, Brandon, tells me, “The hero in the story is Ainsley—we get that—but the acceptance she got at Holly Springs School of Dance is a very close second.” The non-competitive nature of the school is a huge draw for many of its students and their families. Instructors encourage dancers to grow into the best versions of themselves. Growth is a process and people are complex. Let’s not forget, that’s what we love about them.
To me, the best part of the story is that Ainsley isn’t anti-princess. She has princess costumes of her own and even wore one under said hot dog costume that day. Her dance instructor told Buzzfeed that Ainsley described herself as a princess on the inside. Let’s allow our kids the space to be hot dogs—whether on the outside or on the inside—and let’s as a community, continue to cheer on our kids as they find out who they are. #HollySprings