How Princess Culture Affects Society

A few days ago, I saw a meme pop up on my Facebook feed listing a bunch of empowering adjectives to use for girls to replace the words "princess" or "beautiful." I admit I might be a little bias as the proud owner of a princess blog, but when I saw this, I couldn't help but think to myself "Those two things are not mutually exclusive!" In recent years, there has been a huge surge of princess-related content in the media that has not only changed what it means to be a princess but has also created an entire culture around it. Just like with all movements, princess culture enthusiasts were quickly met with a large opposition who focus heavily on the negative aspects of what it means to be a princess. As a result, we end up with books like Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein, which claim that princesses may prevent girls from living up to their full potential.


Being a princess today means something completely different than it did 50 years ago, 100 years ago, or 500 years ago, when it was based around class and privilege. A princess is no longer a woman who is next in line to run a kingdom. Even most modern European princesses are nothing more than figureheads for celebrity gossip. Today's princess culture is something far more abstract. It's a mindset that anyone can choose to follow or fight against. People who think that calling someone a princess is the same thing as calling her beautiful have obviously not been paying attention. Yes, princesses from fantasy stories are notoriously beautiful, but that is not the only thing they can be, and it is not even a requirement. There are so many different kinds of princess stories out there that girls can choose whatever type of princess they want to be. They can be a brave warrior like Xena or Wonder Woman, a leader like Moana or Arkayna, or a gentle-hearted maiden who might need to ask for help on occasion like Cinderella or Snow White. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be any of these things as long as they are able to make the choice for themselves.

Another reason many parents are afraid of princess culture is that they think it is being forced on their children and that it will inevitably make them selfish or submissive. Do you know what is guaranteed to make kids resent their parents more than anything else? It's telling them that they can't be involved with something that they enjoy. Princess culture is not forced on anyone. The only reason it's such a booming industry is that it sells. Girls love it. Taking away something that a child loves will only make them feel repressed and become more submissive later in life, the very quality that princess naysayers are afraid of. If a girl wants to dress up in a satin and lace gown, it's no worse than wanting to wear ripped jeans and old t-shirts and playing in the mud. Being a modern princess means being empowered by your own inner strength and not letting the rest of the world hold you back.

When I was in high school, my parents told me that I was too old to enjoy Disney movies and shows from Cartoon Network. They tried asking different people how they could convince me to stop liking the things I was passionate about and take an interest in things that were considered more suitable to my age group. They eventually came around after realizing that I wasn't going to stop liking things just because they told me to, but at the time, it felt as if my inner princess was being stifled. I felt powerless because the one thing that made me feel inherently like myself was being denied from me. Today, I wear my princess tiara loud and proud and let the world know who I am. That is the power of being a modern princess.


Even though many feminists are anti-princess, a closer look reveals that they are really just two sides of the same coin. Feminists want women to stand tall and claim their right to equal power, and princesses do just that, whether with or without a prince's help. Just because some of us enjoy doing our nails and wearing pretty dresses doesn't mean we're trying to impress anyone but ourselves. If you call a girl a princess, you are just telling her that she has the power to be anything she wants, not that her appearance is the most important thing about her. A modern princess proudly struts her claim to the throne like an invisible crown and lets everyone know that she's in charge when it comes to any issue that has significance to her. Princess culture is not ruining our girls. Taking away a girl's right to find her inner princess and stake her claim to the throne is. Princess culture teaches us that it's okay to be as feminine as you feel so long as you stay true to who you are.

Comments

swood73 said…
Your analysis of the princess culture is spot on, and I am in no way suggesting that your analysis is wrong. I would challenge you, however, to think of it in a bit broader context. While we seem to think that the princess narrative is a choice, in many ways it is forced on us to the extent that it explains and justifies an un-interrogated gender ideology. What I mean by this is that the princess narrative typically embodies what we as a society take as natural and good forms of femininity. It sells because gender conformity is highly rewarded, and gender non-conformity is typically severely punished through marginalization, isolation, ridicule, and various other forms of social ramifications. How many girls torture themselves to fit the ideals of femininity that are imposed on us via princess culture and culture more generally? How often are we told that we need to look a certain way, act a certain way in order to find love or acceptance? The messages are both subtle and not so subtle. Now, I am not suggesting that we banish the princess narratives, but we can engage in and enjoy the narrative and social aspects of it and and be critical of them at the same time.

It’s not a fair representation to say that most feminists are anti-princess. Nor do feminists by and large want women to be or do anything specific. They merely want women, or all people for that matter, to have autonomy and equality to pursue their own best interests, whether that be becoming a princess, a prince, or something else entirely. What they don’t like, for the most part, is the imposition of a set of ideals as to what constitutes a ‘good’ or ‘natural’ femininity. And, these days, feminists are primarily concerned with the eradication of injustice writ large. I think that’s a good thing, princess or not. I am quite sure that you will find that feminists too applaud the contemporary notions of princess that you describe, they just wish the rest of the world had your depth of analysis and understanding. Of course, it’s never correct to paint everyone with the same brush, so someone will prove me wrong at some point, but I think my general points still stand.
Lisa Dawn said…
Thank you for your detailed response! I agree that saying "most feminists" was an oversimplification on my part, and I will update it to "many" for when I use this post in my vlog. I think that the concept of girls "torturing themselves" to fit the ideals of feminism is brought on more by celebrities and pop culture than princess culture. Insecure teenage girls will be more likely to want to try to make themselves look like the models and pop stars they see in magazines than they would their favorite cartoon character. That said, we would certainly benefit a great deal from having a plus-sized princess starring in a movie. For more about this, I encourage you to read my posts entitled "The Princess Body Image Issue" (http://www.theprincessblog.org/2017/10/the-princess-body-image-issue.html) and "Do Princesses Encourage Vanity?" (http://www.theprincessblog.org/2017/11/do-princesses-encourage-vanity.html) Thanks for stopping by!

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