WINNIPEG -- A Winnipeg family is hurt after what’s typically been a fun-filled day for their daughters was ruined, before it even started.
Jennifer Carter’s daughter Eva, 8, has been attending Princess for a Day at the Manitoba Legislature for the past two years with her stepsister Cher, also 8. Cher has been battling lymphoma for the past two years, and during that time has been invited to the event, for young girls battling life threatening illnesses.
“The girls love it. They have such a great time. They are dressed up in princess ball gowns, they get makeovers, they ride in a carriage, there’s a dance at the end,” said Carter. “It’s just a really great, positive event where they feel like princesses, which I think a lot of little girls want to feel like.”
While Cher recently finished her treatment, the organizers were happy to have her and her sister come back again this year.
When Shaylene Blomme, Cher’s mom and Eva’s stepmom, was registering the girls, she marked down Eva’s size as extra-large. The founder, Stella Mazza, called Blomme to ask her to get Eva’s measurements to see if she would fit into a large, the size she wore the previous year.
“I messaged Jen, and she was excited because [Eva] was going to get a dress that actually fit, because last year’s was tight,” said Blomme.
After a bit of waiting, Blomme said she heard back from Mazza, who told her the biggest dress they had was for a 26-inch waist, which would not fit Eva’s 38-inch waist.
Blomme said she happily offered to buy Eva her own princess dress to wear to the event, but said that idea was frowned upon.
“She could attend, but would she mind not wearing a dress?” Carter said, echoing Mazza’s response. “That crushed me, because every little girl wants the dress, and how difficult is it to just make some adjustments and have a dress for her?”
Mazza said she wasn’t necessarily against Eva wearing a different dress, but explained to the family what she’s noticed in the past when other girls have worn different dresses.
“I’ve always outlined that sometimes it works in the girl’s favour, sometimes it works against, because she can come with a different dress, and then all the other 100 are identical,” said Mazza. “Sometimes the girl thinks that’s awesome, I look different, or it could be detrimental to a girl.”
Given the discussions, Blomme decided to opt out of the event for both girls.
“There was no way I was going to bring one of our little girls, one of which doesn’t get a dress at all to a princess event. It was completely unfair to me,” Blomme said.
Now Carter and Blomme need to figure out how to tell the girls they won’t be going to an event they’ve all thoroughly enjoyed.
“Basically it comes down to, ‘Well you’re too big for the dress,’ and that’s damaging,” said Carter. She doesn’t intend on telling her daughter why they aren’t going.
Carter said her daughter is a healthy, young girl, who is very active, loves to play sports, and run around at the playground -- she just simply has a different body type. She worries for other girls who may have gone through a similar situation in the past.
“The point of the event is for children who are sick. They have diseases or illnesses that are tough. They’re already struggling. They’ve already been through so much,” said Carter. “The last thing these girls should be worrying about is whether they fit a dress or not. And now that’s become the focus now, unfortunately, instead of the good this event does for these girls.”
Blomme said after she opted out of the event, Mazza offered to have the dress altered to fit Eva, but she said by that point it was too little, too late.
“All the girls having the same dress isn’t what makes this event. It would be magical if they all had different dresses. That’s not what it’s about,” said Blomme.
Hoping for change
Blomme and Carter are both hoping any weight or size restrictions will be removed for future events, so other families don’t have to go through this.
“At that age group, they’re growing and developing, and some of these children are still sick and on medication that could be affecting their weight,” Carter said.
The Princess for a Day website has been updated, Mazza said. It now states princess dress sizes are small, medium, and large with a maximum waist size of 26 inches.
“If your child will be more comfortable in another dress please contact us so we are aware and can make arrangements,” reads the registration page.
Mazza said this has always been the policy, but she wanted to update the website to make sure it was clear to parents. She said the company she orders the dresses from currently doesn’t make them in extra-large, but it’s something she’ll look into in the future. She said if they did, she would offer them in that size as well.
Mazza said she is open to any recommendations on how to make her event as inclusive as possible.
“If there’s any change or improvement that could be made -- I’ve been in business since the age of 20. There’s always changes; something has to be changed, something has to be improved,” said Mazza. “I’ve been in business for 40 years. So I get that. If that has to happen in Princess for a Day, I absolutely welcome it.”
Eva’s moms hope change will come.
When Oct. 20 rolls around, which is when Princess for a Day will take place, Eva and Cher won’t be there. Blomme said they have nothing against the event, and continue to share how amazing it has been for their girls and other families. They just won’t be taking part this year.
Both Carter and Blomme have received an outpouring of support from women in the community, and are planning a fun, still-princess-themed day for their girls.
“We’re just two moms trying to make a change, so other families don’t have to go through this. We’re hoping for the best,” said Carter.