Why Be a Princess if You Can Be a Lady-in-Waiting?

Let's say a princess asked you to be her best friend. Would you jump at the chance? That was precisely the role that a lady-in-waiting was hired to fill. You would have to be of noble birth, of course, but let's imagine that luck was in your favor. Considering how many stories, films, and shows are about princesses, it's surprising how few of them acknowledge their esteemed companions. If a princess is a superhero, her lady-in-waiting would be her sidekick. Is being a sidekick so bad? You would still get to be part of the all action at court. Only in recent years has the lady-in-waiting role made a comeback in the media.

There are many benefits of being a lady-in-waiting. Though it was an unpaid position, ladies got free room and board in the castle and beautiful gowns to match their status. Let's face it. Those are two of the best perks of being a princess. The position comes with esteem and honor for yourself and your family, and you get a royal best friend who confi…

The Warrior Princess

It almost sounds like a paradox. Not very long ago, "warrior" and "princess" were two opposing archetypes. Princesses wore big dresses, were dainty, delicate and needed to be rescued. Warriors were the ones who rushed in to save them, clad in armor, weapons bravely drawn, letting nothing stand in their way. The Amazons, the original warrior women, have been around since ancient Greek mythology. One particular Amazon princess has existed in comic book form since the '40s and has just gotten her own theatrical film. I'm talking, of course, about Princess Diana. No, not that one!

It's Wonder Woman. As the daughter of Queen Hippolyta, Diana is very much a princess, and as an Amazon and DC superhero, she is also very much a warrior. The fact that she was created in 1941 makes this disassociation even more significant because it was not at all customary for women to be portrayed as warriors at that time, let alone princesses. She was created by William Marsto…

Queer Princesses

Queer fairy tales could not have existed until fairly recently sue to social stigma. Gay and transgender princesses are rare, but they are out there and will only grow in number as the LGBT movement gains momentum. Since Disney is still testing the waters, we need to look to Japan, with its progressive culture of yaoi and yuri. Queer characters are fairly common in anime. When it comes to fairy tale tropes being turned on their head, there's no better example than Revolutionary Girl Utena.

Utena's gender and sexual identity are rather complex. In some ways, she is very feminine with her long pink hair and gentle voice. She got caught up in the mysterious rose duels in the hopes that she would be reunited with a prince who comforted her when she was a young girl. Yet, Utena rejects social norms by wearing a boy's uniform to school, wielding a sword, and telling everyone that she wants to become a prince. She isn't exactly transgender, but she could be gender fluid. Her …

Magical Girl Princesses

It's the premiere week of Mysticons, so let's talk about magical girls and their impact on princess mythology. The magical girl craze began in Japan as a genre of anime called "mahou shoujo." No one knows exactly how it started, but it is believed that the first magical girl appeared in 1966 as Sally the Witch. Though individual stories vary, all the series in the mahou shoujo genre contain grade school-aged girls who receive sparkly trinkets that allow them to transform into pretty superheroes. They fight bad guys by screaming magical words and releasing different types of spells, usually in a pretty sequence of recycled animation. The concept seems rather silly from an outside perspective, but it definitely sells. Not all magical girls are princesses, but it is a common overlying theme, most likely because the genre was created for the same target audience.

The most princessy magical girl anime would probably have to be Go! Princess Pretty Cure (pictured above), wh…

Princesses in Video Games

This week, I'm going to talk about different types of princesses, beginning with digital ones. I am no expert on video games, but princesses have been a big part of them ever since the NES era of the 1980s. They have become a staple of the ever evolving technology. The two most famous video game princesses are Zelda from The Legend of Zelda, a series that began in 1986, and Peach, who evolved from Princess Toadstool in the Super Mario Bros. series that started 1985. Though they both began as stereotypical blonde princesses in pink dresses who needed to be rescued by the hero of their corresponding game, Peach and Zelda each stand out as very different characters. I would say it's no contest which one of them is the better princess.

Even though Zelda began as a damsel in distress, the many incarnations of the series have evolved her into a wise, graceful, and confident leader. In many ways, she is no more of a damsel in distress than Princess Leia is from Star Wars. Both get ca…

Princess Parodies

As I mentioned in my first blog entry, Disney Princesses are caricatures of the ideal woman from their time period. Since, as well all know, nobody is perfect, this this trope is easy for other studios to poke fun at. Many have, including Disney themselves with Enchanted. By exaggerating these perfect princesses so much that the very traits that make them perfect become their flaws, the characters become more human, allowing the audience to better relate to them. Some of these parodies are more mean-spirited than others. I think the movie that struck the perfect balance between satire and humanity was Dreamworks' Shrek in 2001.

One of the founding members of Dreamworks was Jeffrey Katzenberg, who had previously worked for Disney, just like many other creators of successful non-Disney productions, including Don Bluth. Katzenberg was frustrated with the House of Mouse and created Shrek to compete with them, which is why the movie came off as a bit mean-spirited at times. Regardless …

Faery Princesses

The concept of a "faery princess" is often pegged as the most feminine thing a girl can dress up as. Yet, there are surprisingly few stories about faery princesses. The ones that do exist are somewhat obscure. Sure, there's Queen Titania from Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," but that story contains no faery princesses, and her character is not referenced often in fiction. The term "faery" is derived from the "fae folk," who were mischievous sprites from old European mythology that liked to prank mortals with their powers. They did not necessarily have wings, but this changed during the era of of J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan around the early 1900s, which portrayed Tinker Bell as a tiny winged woman. Though "fairy" is the more common spelling (even though fairy tales rarely actually have faeries in them), "faery" is more proper because it's closer to the root word, "fae."

Surprisingly, Disney …

Mermaid Princesses

From mermaid margaritas to mermaid cafés, mermaids are huge right now. I touched on this topic a bit in my "Little Mermaid" post, but mermaids are not limited solely to retellings of Hans Christian Andersen's most famous tale. The concept of a "mermaid princess" is almost as popular as a "faery princess," though mermaids do offer more limited mobility when it comes to playing dress-up. Mermaids are everywhere these days from books to movies to TV series, and Asian culture loves them too.

Let's start with Ariel, my favorite mermaid princess. She is my favorite for a multitude of reasons. Most mermaids are blonde, but Ariel dares to be different with her fiery red hair and passion for the surface world. Her thirst for knowledge is highly contagious because of how excited she gets every time she discovers something new. For this reason, I think she's a fantastic role model for girls. In the 1989 movie, she dared to defy her powerful father and se…

Animal Princesses

I'm not a huge fan of talking animals. To me, most animal stories come off as silly or out of place. However, there are some stories that do such a great job at building full-fledged animal societies that I can't help but appreciate them. Of course, it helps if they also manage to incorporate some princess mythology. The best show to do this that I've seen is My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Unicorns are the next best thing to faeries and mermaids, and no one does unicorn princesses better than Hasbro Studios. The vast world of Equestria is just as beautiful and magical as any fairy tale princess kingdom.

The My Little Pony franchise began in the 1980s as a toy line for girls. I even had a couple of them as a kid, myself. The My Little Pony 'n Friends cartoon ran for two seasons in 1986 largely to promote the toy line. It was a bit of a mess, with inconsistent characters and stories. There were a few decent specials, but it wasn't until Lauren Faust gave the th…

Princess Offspring

What stories are left to tell after a princess finds her prince and lives happily ever after? That's the question Mattel decided to explore when they created Ever After High in 2013. The series detailed the lives of the teenage offspring of famous fairy tale characters through dolls, books, and animated shorts. It was initially created as a companion franchise to their already popular Monster High series from 2010 and was clearly inspired at least somewhat by the Disney Princesses. Though this was not the first time fairy tale characters were documented to have offspring, it was the first story about all of their children attending school together and exploring their own identities in relation to their famous parents. The franchise was so successful that many other companies tried to create knock-off versions of it, including Disney with their cringe-worthy Descendants movies.

Princesses having offspring dates back to the days when the fairy tales were first transcribed. In Charl…

Live-Action Princesses

The final entry in my series of different types of princesses is about the ones who are most famous for their portrayals in live-action movies. That means I'm not counting any of Disney's live-action remakes because all of those characters were made famous through old stories and animation. Live-action movies create worlds that feel more grounded and less fantastical than animation. These princesses look like someone you might see walking around on the street, but each has an amazing secret. Somewhere in the world, there is a kingdom that waits patiently for their return.

First up, we have ABC Family Channel's original movie from 2008, titled simply Princess. I have no idea why Disney chose to air this on their channel for family dramas instead of the more age-appropriate Disney Channe. Fortunately, it wound up on Netflix later to build a larger audience. Though there was a lot in the story that went unexplained, such as where the mysterious princess powers came from or wh…

Are All Queens Evil?

In my "Animal Princesses" post, I mentioned that Lauren Faust was coerced by Hasbro to change Queen Celestia into Princess Celestia because little girls see queens as evil and princesses as good. Why is that? Surely, there were many benevolent queens throughout history and mythology. Have the Disney Princesses taken over the world so much that people believe that princesses ran the monarchy? I think it's more complicated than that. Wicked queens are usually stepmothers who seduce the king to gain power. Most princesses don't have mothers, and the few that do are very loving. What is the root of the problem behind all the queen hate?

The Evil Queen from the ever evolving tale of "Snow White" strikes fear into children's hearts at the mere mention of her name, if she has one, of course. Since Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was the first animated feature film ever, it had the side effect of setting the groundwork for certain archetypes in animated fairy t…

Are All Princesses Good?

Yesterday, I explored the stigma that all queens are evil. Today, I'd like to follow up with an analysis of the stigma that all princesses are good. In the 1985 movie, Legend, Princess Lili gets seduced by Darkness and transforms into a "dark princess" in a revealing black dress, implying that her innocence had been taken away. Does being a princess and wearing a white dress automatically make a character sweet and innocent? The creators of Child of Light, which I referenced in my "Video Game Princesses" post, had some fun with this concept by disguising a wicked princess to look like a good one. Ironically, the word "princess" is often used as an insult. Why? No one embodies the reasons behind that better than Princess Morbucks from The PowerPuff Girls.

Despite her name, Princess is not actually a princess. She is the spoiled daughter of a very rich man who gives her everything she wants. Thus, she possesses all of the princess traits that are frowne…

Princess Sisters

The fall of the Disney Prince left a gaping hole in many princesses' hearts that could only be filled by a different type of love. Instead of focusing on ladies-in-waiting and stories about friendship like in the Barbie movies, Disney decided to start giving their princesses siblings. Until recently, most of them were only children, and very few of them had two parents. I've written a little about Ariel's sisters in the past, but they come off as a separate entity from Ariel with the exception of a few episodes of the series. Modern princess sisters spend just as much time together as they do apart and compliment each other's differences, teaching children how to get along with people who don't share the same perspectives as them. The first Disney characters to achieve this were not Anna and Elsa, but Sofia and Amber from Sofia the First.

Once Upon a Princess, Sofia's 2012 premiere movie, was all about her rocky relationship with her new stepsister, Amber. Befor…

Power Princess Leaders

Princesses can't be damsels in distress all the time. One day, they will need to rule an entire kingdom. Though many princesses start out sheltered and powerless dreaming of freedom, some of our favorite animated princesses start out early and learn how to lead their companions in the fight against evil. Though these stories do give princesses more freedom than they would probably realistically have, they also open up the range of female-targeted entertainment to different types of girls. Magical Girl groups usually have a princess leading them, but it's becoming more common among Disney Princesses as well. This is a tribute to all the princesses who can wear pretty dresses and still be strong and powerful leaders at the same time.

For me, Princess Gwenevere from Princess Gwenevere and the Jewel Riders was the first one to show me that a princess can be a great leader. Even though she loves dressing up and flirting, she aggressively refuses to wait around for a man to come fin…

The "Damsel in Distress" Stigma

I recently saw a fantastic YouTube video analyzing the stigma that the title character from Disney's 1950 Cinderella is inherently weak despite enduring years of abuse and maintaining a strong survival instinct. It got me thinking about one of the most common criticisms people have toward princesses, which is that being a "Damsel in Distress" is a poor influence on girls. My issue with this is that it implies these characters somehow choose to put themselves in horrible situations in an attempt to be rescued by a prince. Why would anyone choose to be placed in such awful situations? They wouldn't. Just because many of the older princesses do find a way out of their unfortunate circumstances through the love of a prince (which is no longer the case) does not imply that they were the masterminds behind their own abuse. In fact, if they had intentionally put themselves in these situations, they would certainly have some extremely messed up psychological issues.


The Struggle of the Introverted Princess

There are many princesses who come off as introverts. Cinderella, Belle, and Tiana prefer to keep to themselves and avoid social situations if given the opportunity. Since they were not raised as princesses and lead generally quiet lives, this is not a problem for them during the course of their movies. However, as we get older, it becomes more and more difficult to avoid such situations. An inability to maintain the proper amount of social decorum can make it challenging to show the world that you are a modern princess. Keeping to yourself is often misinterpreted as pretentious, a criticism that even Belle has faced from naysayers. Is it possible to maintain your princess mannerisms in social situations without running away like Elsa?

How introverted or extroverted you are has nothing to do with how much of a princess you are. Yet, there are certain struggles that introverts face that do not affect extroverts as much. A princess must be the face of order among chaos, the glowing beac…

The Desire To Be Free

While compiling songs for my next princess karaoke medley, it occurred to me that an overwhelming amount of princess songs are about freedom. It's no secret that freedom is a common theme among fairy tales and princess-like characters, but the concept goes much deeper than that. What's particularly interesting about it is the fact that it applies just as much to characters who were born princesses as it does to the ones who found their freedom by becoming princesses. The desire to be free is such a universal concept that it transcends status, power, or race. Everyone can feel as though they are trapped at some point in their life.

The beautiful song written for Princess Jasmine in the retired Aladdin: A Musical Spectacular show (which got replaced by the inferior Broadway production) was simply entitled "To Be Free." The song's opening line, "Lucky bird inside a gilded cage," is recited with perfect irony because telling someone they are fortunate to li…


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