What’s So Great About Princesses Anyway?

I’ve always wondered how princesses got to be such a hot thing.  Obviously it’s been a brilliant marketing strategy for Disney for decades, but what is really the appeal?  A princess isn’t in any real kind of position of power – at best she is second in line for the throne, at worst she is never considered eligible for the throne.  And this is, of course, assuming the throne is even something worth having.

The princesses in the stories never have a particularly nice life, and the ‘happily ever after’ part is assumed but never actually seen/heard.  Princesses in stories don’t seem to have much fun, and often deal with curses, evil relatives, being prisoners, being forced into manual labor and slavery, cases of mistaken identities, and plain bizarre stuff like living with a bunch of mining dwarves.

The princes who do the rescuing of these princesses are bland, overconfident, and not usually terribly bright.  So much so that many princess movies poke fun at those brawny men while still following the same basic princess story formula (I’m looking at you, Shrek and Beauty and the Beast).  Most of the heroes make me genuinely fearful for the futures of the countries these idiots might someday lead – like the idiot who couldn’t recognize Cinderella after the ball.  You really want him as your sovereign?  Is he really going to be a big step up from the evil stepfamily for Cinderella?

Being a princess in real life seems pretty boring, too.  You’re basically a glorified spokesperson for your family/country, and the most anyone expects of you is to produce heirs, smile a lot, support a few charities, and show up to ribbon cutting ceremonies.  You may be rich, but you’re stuck with a job you can’t quit, ever-present security, and constant media scrutiny.

So what is the appeal?  Does anyone know the history behind this particular selection as the supposed ideal of what a girl can be, and why so many people go crazy obsessive over it?




1 Comment

Filed under Equality, Opinion pieces

One response to “What’s So Great About Princesses Anyway?

  1. Originally, it was “romance:” the prince was willing to go to great lengths (risk his life, or search the entire kingdom), for the princess. That kind of attention would make anyone feel special. During the Disney renaissance of the 90s, the formula had to be shifted because the old version of “romance” wasn’t enough for a new generation. Those princesses had to play a somewhat more active role in the adventure, and had to find “true love:” a prince who was a perfect match for each princess, with whom she would quickly form a deep connection. These princes were necessarily less two-dimensional than their predecessors. Starting with Rapunzel in Tangled, and culminating with Merida in Brave, the princesses became the action heroes themselves: Rapunzel and Flynn saved each other, while Merida saved the day herself without any help from any prince. Merida also didn’t need a romantic relationship to reach her “happily ever after,” a trend which was continued in Frozen, where the “true love” in the story was familial, not romantic, and actually did look like legitimate true love.

    Disney has certainly been a driving force in defining cultural ideals for young girls, but it has not between a one-directional process: Disney has also had to change their portrayal of princesses in response to changing cultural preferences. Recently, it seems that they have chosen to follow and amplify some of the more positive trends with movies like Brave and Frozen. They have also been running a campaign to redefine the word “princess” as any girl who pursues a certain set of ideals (kind, brave, generous, etc), so that anyone can aspire to be a “princess,” regardless of lineage or marriage.


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