Get Down From Your Tower and Put Your Feet On the Ground
By Pamela Ditchoff
Author of Mrs. Beast
It must be a rude awakening when the multitudes of “little princesses” created and cultivated by marketing hit puberty and realize that despite their satin gowns, tiaras, and sparkling accessories, princes are not riding white stallions, hacking away thorns, to beat a path to their towers or doorsteps. Being a princess by title or by attitude does not guarantee a happily ever after, and is historically, a poor career choice.
We will agree that the princess craze is present and pervasive, but the fact that the princess fairytale has existed since before the brothers Grimm began collecting folktales should give every expert pause when placing responsibility solidly on Uncle Walt Disney’s shoulders. Disney’s versions are sugarcoated animation—excellent and groundbreaking animation, yet a far cry from the bloody and violent original tales. Original Grimm tales I would guess were read as children by authors like Angela Carter who grew up to write The Bloody Chamber, and Anne Rice, author of the Interview With A Vampire, and Margaret Atwood, author of Bluebeard’s Egg. Perhaps if today’s little girls read the original Grimm, they would not be quite as eager to don the tiara.
I must take a moment and admit that as a child, I loved Disney films. Growing up in the 1950’s, the opening of a new Disney film at the Michigan Theater was a family event, Mom and Dad, my brother and sister and I enthusiastically enjoyed the films. The climate of the fifties allowed us to enjoy them without any residual guilt. This said neither my sister nor I came away from the experiences wishing to grow up to be a princess. We may have had our heads in the clouds for a few hours, but our feet hit the ground once outside the theater. My sister wanted to be a nurse and read Cherry Ames novels. I wanted to be a writer and read everything I could get my hands on, including Grimm Fairytales. My brother did not aspire to prince-hood; shortly thereafter, he just wanted to be a hood with leather jacket and ducktail.
I don’t believe current play princesses aspire to an authentic royal title, but rather they enjoy dressing up and role-playing. And there is nothing wrong in doing so; it’s perfectly normal, a necessary part of childhood and development of imagination. However, when it is taken to the extreme and becomes more real than real everyday life, when it continues into adolescence, there is a problem.
When a girl receives praise and attention based solely on her appearance she believes it to be her greatest asset and learns to cultivate that praise and attention, an eye to the next princess gown, tiara, shoes, accessories, then wait for a prince to notice her. When a girl receives praise and attention for her intelligence, her performance, her cleverness, creativity and character, she learns to cultivate that praise and attention, an eye to the honor roll, the soccer team, to write a poem, a play or a song. She learns self-esteem and self-respect for her mind and her body. Good and wise parents do both; I firmly believe every little girl needs to be told by her parents that she is beautiful, and be praised equally for her accomplishments, and the same goes for little boys.
I want more for our daughters; I expect more, as do the princesses and queens, the martyrs and marchers, women who through the ages, through sacrifices, violence, patience, determination and love have made it possible for mothers to be able to experience joy with the birth of a daughter and the hope that her daughter’s options will be larger than her own. A tower is a fine place for an imaginative young princess to spend a few hours in a land of make believe, dreaming the wishes her heart makes, to borrow from a Disney song. But only with both feet firmly on the ground can a girl put down roots, thrive and succeed in life. I believe this is best summed up in the words of a girl who never felt like a princess and grew up to be a respected, admired and successful woman, worldwide.
“I still have my feet on the ground, I just wear better shoes.” - Oprah Winfrey
Pamela Ditchoff is the award-wining author of three novels. Her current book, Mrs. Beast, is a grown-up fairy tale about what happened to the famous fairy tale princesses after they said "I Do!"