Embracing the Princess Within

From the time my little girl could speak until present day, she has been obsessed with being a princess. It’s how she wants to go to school; it’s how she wants to grow up. Skirts and bows and tulle and tiaras.

Me, struggling with my recovery as a former kool-aid drinking feminist, balked at this. It was truly a horror! A princess: a frivolous, spoiled, demanding, pampered, passive, tiara-toting diva draped in Pepto-bismal pink. All these traits came flooding to my mind in one steady stream of horrors as I imagined my little one striving to be a … I choked at the thought … a princess.  I can only imagine the silent amusement my in-laws enjoyed as they watched this little scenario play out under my so-called feminist roof.

Of course, I had some help here. The whole 1950’s-70’s mass marketed fairy tale of “wait for some man to save me.” It had been so intoxicating during my own difficult childhood that I lost my own internal struggle with self-empowerment, and ceded the authority of my life to anyone who would take it. Once I woke up from that little dream, I was very, very skeptical of anything remotely resembling a fairy tale ever again. Even princesses. Especially princesses.

The irony here is, though, that the reality completely disputes the fairy tale.

But before I would come to this realization, I tried to redirect my daughter in my own motherly way to emulate some empowered model of strength and determination. She was the one who opened my eyes one day when she answered the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

“A princess and a doctor.”

A princess and a doctor. Really? The gates of enlightenment opened and I was flooded with questions.

There I was, exploring once again my past feminist ideals – ones I used to support my own scorn of the Princess Persona — and asking myself, why did I think the two were mutually exclusive? For my little one spinning around in her butterfly tulle skirt, the two images were perfectly compatible.

Was my fear of the Princess Persona a sexist stereotype itself? A buy-in to a patronizing, patriarchal, antiquated depiction of the princess? I obviously couldn’t talk her out of the Princess Persona, but could I leverage it?

So, I started to talk to her about princesses whenever she wanted to be one: who are they and what do they do? I inserted the values I hope to instill in my daughter: the help others, they are honest, they are strong. (They also wear their leggings in the wintertime and let their mommies comb their hair before school. You get the point). As I stopped fighting the whole princess thing, I was inspired and I wanted to take things a bit further. So I started to consider real princesses and bring them into the picture.

Let’s start with Princess Diana. She hit the scene in my lifetime: blonde, soft-spoken, and to be frank, she seemed a bit mousey to me. Boy, did she show me. She navigated her way out of an unhappy marriage, defied all to play an active role as a mother, and reached out to people worldwide as an advocate and spokesman. According to bio.com, Diana “worked to help the homeless, people living with HIV and AIDS and children in need” and “devoted herself to her sons and to such charitable efforts as the battle against the use of land mines.”

The fact that a woman in that position devoted herself to being a mother when she could have easily delegated child-rearing impresses me a great deal. She didn’t abandon them to nannies in the pursuit of some hollow public image of good will. I remember the news stories even now on how revolutionary her role as a mother was. I remember how inspired people were at the genuine compassion and love she showed AIDS victims and children. She didn’t hold some remote title on a board. She reached out to the people – literally.

That’s pretty … inspiring. Admirable. Not narcissistic and pampered. She took on the Queen and Prince of England. She left any hope for the throne for the right to define her own life and her own ideal of love. That’s balls, baby.

I was talking about this with someone and she mentioned Queen Rania of Jordan, a woman with a real-life Cinderella story. This from bio.com:

“She was photographed at fashion shows and high-society social events, usually mingling with a beautiful coterie of the global elite. “

But did was she satisfied with merely being one of the “beautiful people”? Nope.

“Through it all, however, Queen Rania remained remarkably grounded, using her position to advocate on behalf of a variety of causes she believed to be important. A progressive female voice in the Arab world, Queen Rania became a powerful advocate for reform in education and public health, the development of a sustainable tourism industry in Jordan, youth empowerment, and cross-cultural dialogue between the West and the Arab world. Perhaps most notably, she worked as an outspoken opponent of the traditional practice of “honor killings,” the murder of women by members of their own family for perceived violations of Islamic moral code.” (Wikipedia)

This woman has been actively involved in fostering microfinance institutions, which have been crucial to empowering the poor and disenfranchised. Nor does she use her position to create a distance between herself and the public. Instead, she uses her position to take her voice to people: the woman has her own YouTube channel, for crying out loud. And according to Wikipedia, she responded directly to questions people submitted.

Took me decades to get up the gonads to start a flippin’ blog. Princesses are wimpy, my left Aunt Fanny.

Then there’s Pauline Ducruet (daughter Princess Grace of Monaco), an Olympic hopeful. I don’t care what your title is, when it comes to the Olympics, they don’t let you run with the big dogs if you can’t hunt, as my Daddy would say. So if that’s where you’re aiming, and that’s where you get, then you’ve done the work. Enough said.

I have to add – and this completely ruins the prose style – but according to Wikipedia, Ducruet also trained elephants for the circus at one point. Not only does that make her brave and disciplined, that makes her just plain cool. Cannot say it enough. Definitely not prissy. Just. Plain. Cool.

Oh, and I nearly forgot. That princess a few centuries back who ended up ruling England … Queen Elizabeth I. Yeah, her. Didn’t they call her reign a “Golden Age”? And didn’t she lead England into one of its most prosperous and powerful ages ever, defying foes and enemies, establishing the Church of England? At a time when women weren’t allowed even to be on a stage?

I’m sure there are many officially royal and non-royal young and not-so-young women who fit the negative stereotype of a princess. But there it is, right there: a negative stereotype of a female royal position. So I had to ask myself: was I the one being the sexist here in fighting the princess persona?

Ah, that would be a “yes.”

Having given the whole thing some thought, and internet research, I’ve decided to embrace the Princess within – even mine. My pre-schooler has shown me that she will never be mousey, or a doormat, or suffer anything in silence. She is feminine, outspoken, a leader, intelligent, outgoing, and knows the full empowerment of her femininity. I’m even okay with that. So, bring on the tulle and sparkles and tiaras and pink; I want to give them new meaning and new power – grounded in reality, not some mass marketed fairy tale — in her eyes and mine.

And we have the real princesses of our age and our history to thank for it.

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