Growing up, I liked Cinderella and Snow White, but I was more preferential to Dorothy, Wonder Woman, and Madonna. I was girlie but badass, or at least I wanted to be. And let's be real: Madonna wasn't the best role model. "Like a virgin. Touched for the very first time"?
However, I do remember being jealous of a little girl in preschool, because every day while I showed up in jeans, she showed up in a fluffy, pageant-style dress. Not only did she wear a fluffy dress and shiny shoes, but her hair was perfectly curled. I swear that kid did not break a sweat or spill a drop of paint. She was the ultimate child princess, and while her uppity attitude really grated on my totally imperfect and outspoken self, the pain was real when it came to wanting her frocks. Oh, Mom: why didn't you let me go fluffy? But besides my love for fluff and bling, I wasn't that kid who planned her wedding, mainly because I was imagining living in a material world with dudes carrying me around in a tight red gown. Someday my prince might come, sure, but most likely, I would be too busy ruling the world to care. So when my ex-in-laws, my mom, and the rest of the world introduced my daughter to the magical world of Disney princesses, I felt a small sense of dread.
"Oh no," I thought. "It's all over."
Growing up, I saw my mom do just about everything in the house. She worked, she cleaned, and she managed four kids. My dad, who's the hardest worker I know, was not involved in these aspects of life like most fathers from that generation. So early on in my little mind, I decided I was not going to be doing a family alone. I was going to expect my partner to share his load of the work. I was not going to be Cinderella, cleaning and sweeping. I was not going to be Ariel, whose sole purpose in life was to sing and snatch some guy she saw for two seconds on a boat. I was going to be an independent woman! No little girl of mine was going to sit and pine away for some prince.
But then it happened. Suddenly, the Disney princesses were doing everything with us. Tiana ate dinner with us. Ariel, Sleeping Beauty, and Belle watched movies with us. The whole freaking gang followed us from room to room and front door to car. Rapunzel joined us for tea, and Jasmine came with us to Panera. I couldn't escape the royalty. There were outfits, dress-up shoes, dolls, dolls with pop-on and pop-off dresses, tiaras, glitter — a whole boatload of glitter, like I was living with a stripper or a drag queen — CDs with songs for the car, books, castles, carriages, and then some.
We were fully indoctrinated.
It's hard for me as a mom getting a divorce and learning to fend for herself financially and otherwise to hear my daughter say as she plays, "The prince has to save me!" I have to bite my feminist tongue from saying, "You can save yourself, woman," and OK, let's be real here: it does come out sometimes. She looks at me like I'm crazy and just watched Cinderella in Japanese, not English.
"That's not how the story goes, Mama," she says. "The prince saves the princess! She doesn't save herself."
I want to scream for all of eternity in the name of women's lib.
Personally? I prefer Tinker Bell and the fairies. They have jobs. They do stuff. The movies focus on learning lessons, like discovering the answer to a mystery (shimmery wings!) and fighting to believe in yourself (not so you can meet a dude and gain legs instead of a mermaid tail, but so you can accomplish a goal like going to the Mainland for Spring). The movie doesn't focus on "Here's a dude to make my life better finally. Yay!"
Yet, there is some value in these princess fairy tales. Which one of us wouldn't love to find a person who loves us to the core? A man who makes us feel like the prettiest girl at the ball? My personal favorite is Beauty and the Beast. That's one Disney princess movie with a strong lesson: people are only as beautiful as who they are on the inside, not the outside. Of course, I can't forget to mention Frozen, with its lesson that love essentially saves us all, and replaces love's true kiss with the love of a sister. That was amazing and such a great sister story! Then there's Cinderella, which is sweet, and of course, we all love when good triumphs evil — Sleeping Beauty . . . Snow White. These movies represent hope, the happy ending, and love. Those aren't exactly bad things. And I confess, I love musicals, so these movies bite right into my Broadway-singing self. I want to break out into song right along with each of these princesses.
A part of me worries, though, that I am sending my daughter the wrong message. That she won't be happy unless someone arrives at the ball, and yet here is her mother at the ball with no one to dance with. But the great news is that even though fairy tales may teach her that the prince always arrives on a white horse at the end, she will have me, her mother as an example of what a woman really does out in the world. She works hard. She supports her family. She goes it alone but does the best job she can. So really, won't my daughter learn that women are capable, that she is capable of doing everything all on her own without a man, because of me?
I believe yes, and if that is the case, then let the princess parade go on and grab me a tiara. Since I'm riding out into the sunset alone, I better look my best.