The Princess Culture: a View from a Former Princess


A princess square on my daughter's quilt.

“Oh, I love you so much my pretty princess-” I caught myself saying to my baby the other day as I scooped her up off the floor. As soon as the words came out I stopped dead in my tracks and thought oh, shit, what am I saying? I can’t call her the P-word! Thank goodness she is little enough she doesn’t know what I was talking about.

“I am a princess,”  I remember insisting.  “My name is Sarah and it means ‘princess’ in Hebrew, so I am a princess!” For Halloween in my third grade year I had a frilly, frothy, rainbow sherbet hued thrift store prom dress that was about six sizes too big and a plastic tiara.  I remember practicing my curtsy but each time tripping on one of the multiple layers of my gown.

I wanted to be a princess before the permeation of Disney princess-everything into child culture as we now know it.  It was before we had a VCR and VHS tapes at home.  Sure, I had seen Snow White. Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella.  My favorite book when I was small was a Golden Book version of Disney’s Cinderella.  I still have it.  The cover is torn, a small hand had written a choppy Sarah inside and scribbled throughout.

I thought my name alone made me a princess.  Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t expect that some day my prince would come (sorry, Aurora).  I didn’t expect help from wild animals when Mom made me help clean house on Saturday mornings (sorry, Cinderella). I did have a stepmother I never cared for, although if she is wicked or not could be a point of discussion. Looking back now, I think a lot of the reason I wanted to be a princess was because I wanted to be special. I hit puberty at an early age and started developing breasts and getting pimples way before any of my schoolmates, so I stood out, I was made fun of. Why wouldn’t I then, for a period, gravitate towards the princess persona? My princess period did not last long. I didn’t think my being a “princess” lent some sort of entitlement. I knew it was just a fantasy. I looked up, not to cartoon characters, but to real, kick ass women like Sally Ride and Amelia Earhart. I knew it was OK to be different. I didn’t have to dress fancy and have long flowing locks and look just so.

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Today it seems that girls in our society are are spoon-fed the idea that they are princesses or should want to be princesses, that they should look and dress just so. The idea that girls should want and have and use everything that is pink and ultrafeminine is some sort of societal construct that has appeared in the last twenty years or so. Why is this? How have we allowed ourselves to backtrack? Haven’t our mothers and grandmothers worked hard for women’s rights, gender equality, and to break through the glass ceiling?
Walk down the aisles geared towards girls in the toy section at Walmart- you’ll find it easily, just about everything is pink. Once you’ve passed the baby dolls and the Barbies almost everything else left over is princess themed. Disney character princesses are plastered on just about everything these days. It is hard to find girls toys or clothes that do not promote princess culture.

One of my friends posted photos of her child’s preschool class’ Halloween party last October. There were six out of ten girls dressed as Elsa and two girls dressed as Anna from Frozen. I know I wore a princess costume once, but when I was a kid princess fever was not this widespread.

Another friend’s daughter, Jessica, battles her mother each morning because she wants to wear one of her princess costumes or pajamas to school. Her school requires a certain uniform so she cannot, thus an early morning meltdown is regular. Outside of school, Jessica’s mother lets her pick her own clothes and dress as a princess, encouraging her to “be who she is.” When I asked, “Um, you know she’s not really a princess, right? ” “It is a phase that she will grow out of!” She sighed back at me. I’m not so sure. Have you watched reality TV lately?

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I am vehemently anti-realty TV. Please, cut off one of my limbs rather than make me watch Big Brother or Survivor or Duck Dynasty or whatever bullshit constitutes “entertainment” for the masses these days. Although, unfortunately, I must confess that I have been somehow sucked into watching Bridezillas. If you have never seen it before, Bridezillas follows a couple as they prepare for their upcoming wedding. Basically it is a trainwreck that you just can’t look away from, a show that is a drama-ridden showcase of horrible spoiled women that insist that every last detail must be their way for their wedding. So many deluded women on this show argue that they are an entitled princess and everyone must do exactly as they say and bow to every last demand, spending ungodly amounts of money and acting subservient to keep the princess happy… And for some reason their fiances, parents, friends, and siblings do.

It seems the princess obsession has not only taken hold in children, but adult women too. I have attended several Comic-Cons and have seen multitudes of grown-up Ariels, Jasmines, Belles, and Elsas. Google “Disney Cosplay” and you will find all sorts of princess costume how-tos.

Another kid I know also is obsessed with being a princess. Since she was a baby she has been called “Princess.” She insists all her loyal subjects (whipped parents) call her “Princess Leah.” Out of curiosity I asked Princess Leah why she wanted to be a princess. “Because princesses are special and pretty.” What kind of message are we promoting to young girls by encouraging them to want to be pretty princesses? Why is society pushing a generation of children to value themselves based on looks?
What is going to happen to Leah and so many other girls like her when they wake up one day in the throes of puberty, spotty faced and feeling not-so-pretty-pretty-princess? What do we tell them when the regal identity they have built for themselves turns out to be more Rapunzel and less real world?

Have I hit the nail on the head here? Do adults, who control the finances and ultimately have purchase power, buy all of this cotton candy sweet pink princess crap for girls because we want them to feel special and pretty… just like how we give every kid a prize or trophy for participation, rather than acheivement? Is it because we know the childhood bubble will soon burst and the reality of life will set in and kids will realize that maybe they really are not so special, not so pretty, not so different from everyone else- that life is hard, not so fun and interesting and magical as what we make believe?

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Today’s girls shouldn’t feel like they are forced into the pink sparkly cookie cutter corner. They should be proud to be different. We should be telling them that we value their differences, their individuality, their creativity, their accomplishments. Shouldn’t we be teaching girls that they don’t have to be defined by others? They shouldn’t be allowed to wait for a prince that may never come. They should know they can go toe to toe with a boy. They shouldn’t think that they are some character in a story with magic and songs and choreography. We should be teaching this generation of girls that it is ok to dream, but work hard to realize that dream… Don’t think that some man is going to make you great- get out there and do it yourself… Make your life special and awesome… Work hard and make yourself stand out. Let’s teach them to make their own happily ever.



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