The Princess Paradox

After writing a blog about the Royal Wedding, which I called “materialistic pornography,” I decided I should clear a few things up.  I read a few debates on FB and understood the points of all those that were critical of my post.  I decided a long time ago to not engage in long-running online debates with people on this blog, so I am not going to address anything in particular (Although the assertion of one critic that the royals used “their own money” to pay for the wedding made me smile.  I’m not sure how we define what “their own money” is- and neither does the NY Times.) 

The point I was trying to make had nothing to do with the kind of people Will and Kate are.  It had nothing to do with their philanthropic efforts.  It really didn’t even have anything to do with the exact amount of money that was spent – or the source of that money.  My point was this: things like the Royal Wedding, and especially the way the American media portrays it, contribute to the princess mythology that girls are drenched in from birth.

I can spend the next few paragraphs explaining the princess mythology, but instead I’ll share with you a conversation I had last night with my four-year-old daughter. 

“Am I a princess, Daddy?”

I resisted the temptation to just say, “Yes, of course you are.”  Instead I asked her, “What does it mean to be a princess?”

“It means you have lots of pretty dresses.”  Okay – this was her first response to defining what a princess is.  By this definition my daughter is a princess.  She has a lot of pretty dresses.  And I love them all.  I love seeing her in them.  I love watching her twirl her skirts.  I love the joy and confidence she exudes when she wears them.  I love the look on her face when she opens up a gift and finds a pretty dress and she exclaims, “Thank you, I love it.”  I love that she would wear a pretty dress every day of her life if we let her because she knows in her heart that she is, in fact, a princess. 

I have to insert here that this conversation took place while my daughter was wearing one of her favorite pretty dresses.  It’s her “ballerina dress.”  It is pink and has a wide flowing skirt made of touling that twirls when she spins.  She had on a white sweater and a pink overcoat and had a big pink flower in her hair.  And I was wearing a sportcoat and a pink tie.  We were on a date, and were heading to the ballet to see – yes, I am aware of the hypocrisy in this – Cinderella.  And she loved every second of it. Afterwards she met the dancer that played Cinderella, and I now have a new favorite dancer.  I was moved to tears several times during the night while I watched my daughter’s face light up.

But here’s the problem – if the feminine ideal is to be a princess, and being a princess is defined by “having lots of pretty dresses,” where does it stop?  How many pretty dresses is enough to be considered a princess?  And does having lots of pretty dresses define happiness?  I can say with confidence that to my daughter, there is more.  She is kind and compassionate and appreciates what she has.  On our way to the theater we got a little turned around, and for a few tense moments I wasn’t exactly sure how to get there.  She sensed my stress and told me, “It’s okay Daddy, even if we don’t get to the theater, I still had a great time because I’m with you.”  So I feel good about my daughter, the princess.  But even so, here is more of that conversation:

“So, princesses have lots of pretty dresses.  What else?”  I waited, then asked, “Are princesses smart?”

“No, they are beautiful.” 

“Are princesses brave?”

“Yes – but well, sort of.”

“What do you mean, they are sort of brave?”

“Well, princesses wait for Prince Charming to come and rescue them from evil witches and monsters and stuff.”

And here is the princess paradox.  My daughter is a loving, compassionate, intelligent and articulate little girl.  She is smart and brave and beautiful.  She is a princess.  Not because she has a lot of pretty dresses – but because of who she is inside.  She is a princess because she should be honored and adored, and I pray someday she finds someone who loves her as much as I love her mother.  She is a princess, but I do not want her to ever think for even a second that she has to wait for Prince Charming to come and rescue her from monsters and stuff.

There are plenty of monsters in this world, and real monsters are a much bigger threat to my daughter then watching the Royal Wedding.  When those monsters rear their ugly heads, I pray my daughters will have the strength, courage, and confidence to defend themselves and rely on God, family and friends – not wait for Prince Charming.

Maybe the Royal Wedding is just a moment to escape.  Maybe it is just a chance to live in a fairy tale.  Maybe it is just a celebration of two young people who fell in love and want to help make the world a better place.  Maybe Kate is the kind of princess my daughter can aspire to be – I have no idea, and frankly I don’t care.  I have bigger dreams for my daughter than anything that was on TV this week.  I have bigger dreams for her than anything Disney can package and market.

I want my daughters to know how much they are loved.  I want my daughters to know that they are smart and brave and beautiful.  I want my daughters to be strong like my Aunt.  I want my daughters to have faith like my mother.  I want my daughters to be passionate like my sister.  I want my daughters to be kind like my grandmother. 

What turned me off about the Royal Wedding wasn’t so much the wedding itself, but its place in the greater princess myth.  It is a story that is told over and over by our culture.  Disney, celebrity news, tabloids, commercials, and our surrounding culture drown our girls into believing this myth.  The tell them why they are princesses, and most of it is a lie.  My daughters are princesses – not because of anything they own or buy or because of anything that is marketed to them.  They are princesses for this reason:

They are princesses because they are daughters of princesses.  They are princesses because they are daughters of the King of Kings.

4 Comments

Filed under Media

4 responses to “The Princess Paradox

  1. Erin Waldron-Smith

    I agree, and I tell me daughters this every night before we go to bed. ” You are smart, you are special and last I say you are beautiful” I say beautiful last because I want my children to know how you look is not as important as who you are on the inside. I ecourage kids to “sparkle” because they are children of not just a king, but “THE KING”

  2. Kate A.

    For me; it’s more important what you do with your “princess.” I think in the case of William and Kate, their “royality” is already being used for great causes. William has picked up his mother’s philanthropic life. They invited guests to their wedding from the charities they support and those guests genuinely stated how much William and now Kate were involved. They don’t seem to use their “royalty” to be the face of an organization–they seem to do the work as well.

    I’ve not been a princess, I don’t want to be a princess. Personally, I couldn’t BE a princess but I’d rather aspire to do the work that Kate will do with her “princess” life as opposed to some of the “royalty” that America has to offer. I’d rather emulate Kate than Lindsey or Paris.

  3. I have been a nanny for a family of 4 girls for several years and now have a precious 10 week old girl myself. When the girls would talk about princesses I always made sure they don’t fall into the “prince charming” trap. Instead, I tried to focus on that princesses are kind, they have manners, they’re smart and make others feel good about themselves when in a princess’ presence. I don’t know if any of this has sunk in for them but I hope it eventually makes sense.

  4. I pray that my daughters will find someone that loves that as much as I do, and it’s my job to teach them what that means.

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