I have a love/hate relationship with princesses.
I love them out of nostalgia. As a child, my cousin, sister, friends, and I spent many afternoons at the public pool swimming around pretending to be mermaids. We were all Ariels – a legion of them – singing, undulating our “tails,” and whipping our long, wet hair this way and that.
I love them, too, as a mother of a little girl. I love seeing my daughter’s face light up with joy when we watch or read any of the princess stories that she so adores. She has a girly side to her that perplexes me, yet I enjoy it simply because it is so unique to her in our family. I did not (to my recollection) have such an intense fascination with the props of womanhood – the high heels and the lipsticks and the purses and the husbands.
As I’ve watched my daughter pretend at princess play, which includes daily weddings as a matter of course, I’ve developed a more cynical view of the Ariels and the Auroras of the world. I am more aware than ever that these princess characters are silly creatures. But, beyond being silly, I’m wondering, could they even be harmful? The older characters – Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty – are especially disturbing by virtue of having nothing much more than that: their virtue. They are innocent (read: naive) and empty-headed. They wait for their princes while letting other, stronger characters trample and push them around. Marriage is the goal; we never see what a princess’ life might be like once she becomes Mrs. Charming.
Perhaps the princess phase is something girls must go through, like a hazing. Is there any way to avoid it? If there is, tell me, please, because, truly, I can’t see any way around. The princesses are everywhere. There is a whole industry based upon the idea that girls shouldn’t just read about or play princesses. They should be princesses. They should dress in princess clothes, sleep in princess bedrooms, wear shirts proclaiming their princess status, and, of course, pretend/train at all the activities that princesses are expected to do. As far as I can see, these include cleaning (before Princey comes along, of course, like Cinderella and Snow White), reading (again, before the man, like Belle), dressing, and dancing (as long as it’s a princess style, like ballet).
I’m drawing a line before all of that starts. Reading, fine. Movies, yes. Pretending, great. As long as princesses stay firmly in the realm of the fantasy, and are only one among many female models in our world, we girls are going to be okay. After all, I survived the hazing. I got through that barrage of gender stereotyping and unattainable expectations of beauty. And, here I am. A more-or-less unharmed woman who sits and colors with her daughter in her princess coloring book. Incidentally, Cinderella’s hair is sometimes purple. Sometimes Ariel has a pierced belly button, and bookish Belle can be found reading Bitch magazine. Aurora spends all that time with the animals because she’s dreaming of being a vet.
Princesses are everywhere. Maybe they’re longing to break the mold, too. At least, that’s how the story goes at our house.
Shannon blogs about her bookish life at www.shannonrigney.com