Sunday, February 13, 2011

Confession Time

I get a little miffed when people start complaining about women wanting to look/feel like princesses, or complaining about there being a Disney Princesses wedding dress line, or trashing the wearing of tiaras.  I get that their main complaint is the idea that we are women, therefore we must all want to look like princesses.  That there is a lot of pressure to want to feel "bridal" or "princess-y" enough and a lot of women don't.  But a lot of women do, and those of us who are otherwise plugged into the indie community might get a bit out of sorts at the implication that we don't want to feel princess-y.  So I'm going to speak up in fierce praise of princesses and their dresses.  
Why yes, Prince Charming, hold my train.

Looking like a princess is something I had to come to terms with wanting.  I've been an outspoken feminist since I was thirteen, and I'm not particularly feminine in my day-to-day life or really even in my "dressed up" attire.  I don't wear a lot of jewelry, I really hate the color pink, and I went to law school so I could get a job in women's issues advocacy and change the world (still waiting...).  These are not thoughts that jive well with being a princess on my wedding day.  

At the same time, I think that princesses have gotten a bad rap in the wedding-planning community.  There is a lot of junk out there aimed at making girls feel like princesses - when else do you have an opportunity to wear a tiara and a ballgown?  And there's a lot of backfire by people who never wanted to be a princess, and I think it leaves a lot of women out.  We sit here, and we read wedding blog after blog about women who opted for simple dresses from department stores or short dresses or trumpet silhouettes.  We think, "that big poofy gown in my closet that made my heart sink and my brain go 'ohhhh' when I put it it okay to want that? Is it wrong?" And even though there is no wrong way to get married, it's sometimes hard to not feel like an anti-feminist when you get giddy while trying on sparkly jewelry and prancing around in a ballgown that you love because it has maximum twirl, or because it makes you look like a princess.

Maybe I don't get in on the princess-hating because I knew a different kind of princess.  In my world, princesses are fierce.  The princess I played growing up, the princesses my dolls were, were tough as nails b*tches who usually wound up saving the world.  Sometimes they did it wearing pretty dresses and sometimes they did it wearing nothing because, let's be real, my dolls didn't have that much clothing. (And I lost a lot of it.)  Princesses weren't helpless girls waiting around to be rescued.  The princesses in my childhood storybooks fought dragons, rescued the prince, and saved the town.  Even the princesses in some of the Disney movies are fierce, headstrong, or extremely smart.  I don't think wanting to be like them is such a bad thing, and I think it's time to rewrite the book on princesses.  Even though my dad occasionally referred to my sister and I as princesses growing up, I didn't internalize it as, "I'm a princess therefore I must be pretty and helpless."  I thought of it as, "I'm badass, and I'm a princess, therefore princesses are badass too."  

At the end of the day, you should wear a dress you love, and that you feel good in, and that fits whatever idea of, "I'm getting married!" you're comfortable with.  You should be excited to wear your wedding dress, because hey, getting married is exciting!  It doesn't have to be the One Perfect Dress, because most of them aren't.  But I think all of us should be able to express our own choices without maligning other people's.  


  1. That is Cinderella in the picture, not Belle!

  2. I get that this post is less about the princess argument and more about whether or not brides should be judged for wanting to feel like princesses on their wedding day, but I still have a serious problem with the princess thing.

    Sure, some princess stories are about fierce, headstrong women and not about helpless girls waiting for their prince (I think you can argue both sides of that coin with Disney) but by virtue of them being *princesses* they ARE helpless girls waiting for a prince. No matter how you retell the story to modernize it, it is still a story about a girl who has little power without a husband.

    But fine, if you argue that it doesn't matter because it's still teaching girls how to be headstrong and fierce, I think you're missing the point. Shouldn't we teach *children* to be headstrong and fierce? Why do girls and boys need separate teaching tools, and why do the girls' tools need to be wearing a ball gown and a tiara?

    I can't help but preach about gender rules for children, it was my main research in undergrad and I just can't help but jump to it. I know it makes me seem like a bitch because everyone thinks that I'm directly attacking them for putting on a pink dress and twirling around in their bedroom when they were seven, but I'm not. Those desires were put into your head before you were even born. You've been learning gender since the moment your parents discovered your sex, whether that was before or after birth. And when children learn things, it becomes ingrained in them as truth. Meaning that if you teach a girl that she is a girl and that she is a princess or that she should learn values from a princess, she is going to pick a princess dress over Bob the Builder any day because she believes it's what she is supposed to do, and therefore she wants. Children aim to please.

    I know I went off on a tangent. It's great that you can get values from princess stories that involve being strong and fierce and smart. But I just don't understand how that translates into wearing a tiara on your wedding day. If you're doing it because it looks pretty, then fine. But call it like it is.

    This isn't really directed at you, E, it's more of a generalization. My personal feminist philosophy dictates that girls and boys should learn no gendered behavior and that gender socialization is the root of all problems in our society. I know that not all feminists agree and I don't expect them to. But that is why I jump to that in the princess debate.

  3. 1) Our daughter was named after Eleanor of Aquitane or at least the Kathrine Hepburn portrayal. I'm talking tough badass princess from the get-go. Eyes set, fists balled up ready to explode with "you're not doing that to My sister"!
    And that was when she was two....

    2) for Kate... A certain amount of gender is wired into our brains and bodies. Boys and girls are not the same. Our social goal is to use our brains and culture to give everyone the best chance to flourish whatever their wiring.

    3) It was fun being the father of the princess. Made you a sort of a king or at least a prince.

  4. I always thought FOB was calling us princesses when he was mad that we were acting spoiled :-P

  5. I was definitely someone who turned my nose up at the "princess" thing, but this post made me rethink what I actually objected to. It's not that I have a problem with poofy dresses or tiaras per se -- I think what really ticked me off is the infantilizing way in which much of the "princess" stuff for weddings is presented. It's the same issue I have with the "Special Day" nonsense, I think. That sounds like how you describe a three-year-old's birthday party to him/her -- "it's your Special Day, sweetie!"

    But now I think the infantilizing rhetoric can and should be separated from princess-like aesthetic choices. I don't see why there should be anything inherently anti-feminist in liking a skirt that twirls!

  6. I've been trying to resist the princess thing, but it's not easy. I think if I were getting married at 23 rather than 33 I'd relish the princess dress, but I'm not. I'm 33 now and it just doesn't feel right to me any more.

  7. I refuse to be apologetic about wanting to be a princess on my wedding day. But then, I've also had a Disneyland pass for the last 10 years.

    BTW, to all the non-believers, the early 90s princesses (and Ariel!) are BAD ASS!