When Hollywood actress Emma Watson launched the United Nation's HeForShe campaign, she made it clear that gender equality is not a women's issue but a human rights issue — and she instantly became everyone's favorite new feminist. That very same year, Watson accepted the role of Belle in the Disney live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast. Upon hearing she'd been cast as a Disney princess, Watson exclaimed, "My 6-year-old self is on the ceiling — heart bursting!"
She didn't see a conflict of interest — because there isn't one. Princesses can be feminists. Feminists can be princesses. And the most powerful women among us have always been a bit of both.
Belle is certainly no exception. Trapped in her provincial town, she knows what she wants and more importantly, she knows she deserves it. Belle rejects the swaggering, sexist Gaston (widely considered to be the best catch in town) because she understands that mutual respect is essential to mutual love. And as for beauty? Belle could care less. She prefers to be left alone with her books.
Of course we're in love with her gorgeous yellow ball gown (how can you not be?), but what makes Belle so magnetic is the pervasive power of her kindness. In today's world — where kindness is suddenly a radical, almost rebellious notion — the power of an open heart cannot be underestimated. Belle teaches us to avoid snap judgements; to avoid dismissing anyone purely because they are different — and as we continue to live through the most divisive presidency in recent history — it's a form of princess power we can all learn to emulate.
Like all fairy-tale heroines, Belle's personal transformation takes place when she decides to leave her comfort zone (first by entering the Beast's castle; later by leaving it to rescue her father from Gaston's pitch-fork wielding mob) –—and in doing so, she finds love when she least expects it. Belle falls for the Beast not because he is handsome or rich, but because — beyond the fur and horns — she sees the beauty of his soul. This begins when she realizes they are more alike than they are different.
When Emma Watson was rumored to be romantically linked to Prince Harry, she quickly tweeted a denial, but added this: "marrying a Prince is not a prerequisite for being a Princess." And that's where the true wisdom lies.
It's not about the tiara or the title. The princess archetype is about openly embracing your feminine power.
It's about upholding the royal virtues of benevolence, compassion, and mercy. It's about standing up for what you believe in, protecting those that can't protect themselves, and using your position to increase the well-being of your realm.
And as for Prince Harry? He knows this better than anyone. He was raised by the master.
Feminist author Naomi Wolf said it all when she called Princess Diana "a glamorous yet underestimated stealth radical."
When Diana refused to conform to the archaic expectations of a royal wife, she became a feminist icon. But there is more to it than that. While the British royal family has always supported numerous charities, Diana transformed this tradition into an extraordinary personal calling. It is not an exaggeration to say that, single-handedly, Diana made activism glamorous — paving the way for other celebrities such as Bono, Leonardo DiCaprio, Angelina Jolie, and Emma Watson.
If she were alive to today, I have no doubt Diana would be marching in solidarity with the Women's March on Washington; you better believe she would be fighting for LGBTQ rights and protesting against Muslim discrimination. If Princess Diana can teach us anything, it's the power of striking out, of taking a stand, of learning to harness one's privilege for the greater good.
It is absolutely no coincidence the unofficial face of the Women's March is Star Wars' Princess Leia; she chose a life of brave resistance instead of quiet acquiescence.
Image Source: Jerramy Fine
Leia's entire planet is destroyed, her family is gone, and rather than fall into despair, she dusts herself off and decides to lead a rebel movement. Leia needed a hero, so that's what she became. It's no wonder her regal image is adorning protest placards across the world.
Leia unflinchingly stands up to Darth Vader, whose far-reaching evil intimidates all but her, telling the men that, "somebody has to save our skins." She might as well be wearing a knitted, pink hat.
As I marched through the streets of London with American women and women from all over the UK and Europe, I also noticed lots of Wonder Woman imagery — on everything from signs to t-shirts, I saw her red cape, fearsome lasso, golden bracelets, and glamorous thigh-high boots. Not that surprising on the face of it — after all, Wonder Woman has graced the cover of Ms. magazine three times.
But many don't know that she's also a princess. Wonder Woman's mother is queen of the matriarchal Amazons, an ancient tribe of magnificent female warriors. Granted life by "Gaia, the goddesses and the souls of women past," the fierce, feminist Amazons have one royal mission: to peacefully unite "all sexes, all races, and all creeds."
As per her destiny, Wonder Woman doesn't sit around waiting for love; rather love is a power she yields to save the world from the dark forces of violence, greed, and hate. In this context, princess power has never been more relevant.
It happens when an ordinary woman decides to put on her crown (or pink hat) and let the world know who they're dealing with. It happens when she joins her royal sisters to let the world know they will bow to no one. It's staying loyal to the royal within yourself by doing everything in your power to stand with the most vulnerable. It's knowing you were born to rule.
With our country and planet in turmoil on almost every level, now is not the time to disregard the power of the princess. Now is the time to claim it. Your once upon a time is now.