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My Last Duchess

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Princess. It’s gone viral five times over. Like the swine flu. May I ask why?


It starts when they’re babies. I know it’s reflexive to give your sweet baby pet names. I know I’m weird, because my boys have nicknames like Smuckers and Gwanzookie. But, at least I don’t call them Little Lord Fauntleroy.


Maybe I don’t get it because I was a tomboy. I desperately loved my older brother and had my hair cut like his until I was about seven. My childhood was spent riding my bike, skinning my knees, and forever being shooed outside by my mother. Oh, and acting out scenes from Little House on the Prairie. Let me tell you, the life of a pioneer is not a pampered one. The only Princess I ever wanted to be was Princess Leia. But unlike the Disney sort, Leia got sassy with Darth Vader, was a mean shot with a laser gun, and had a Wookie at her disposal. 


Is princess something I don’t understand because I don’t have a daughter? Before we found out Baby’s sex during my pregnancy, I was pretty certain that I was going to have to learn to make baby clothes should I be blessed with a daughter. The clothing, the room decor, I swear, 80 percent of it was princess. (I will forever love my best girl Jane for the fact that when her daughter was born, she bought her blue and green bedding and decorated the walls with William Wegman Weimeraner prints.) If you wanted to outfit your little girl child from birth right up through college with princess-themed pacifiers, bedding, onesies, bibs, toothbrushes, breakfast cereal, beanbags, notebooks—anything you could think of, really—your choices would be endless. If you’re like me and feel that princess has been done to death? Well, sorry. Hope you like Winnie the Pooh. 


I’ll spare you my feminist rant about how teaching little girls that life is all about being pretty, passive, and co-dependent on Prince Charming is wrong, wrong, wrong. (OK, maybe a little rant.) I know a lot of lovely parents whose daughters sport the occasional princess bib or indulge in a princess themed birthday. It’s make-believe. I get it. It’s just that it’s everywhere. The ubiquitous merchandise is one thing, but the entitlement, materialism, and insipid attitude that often accompanies a full-bore princess upbringing is insufferable. So are the parents who can’t figure out how in the world their daughter became a spoiled little terror.


Equally confusing to me is the progression to the late-teen and college Princess. I challenge you to sit through an episode of MTV’s My Super Sweet 16 (the show’s logo is a crown)—if you can stomach it, you will see example after example of the post-pubescent princess mentality gone mad. This group’s plethora of merchandising includes cell phone skins, purses, key chains, jewelry, vehicle floor mats, pet beds … if you can think of an item and slap a tiara and scepter on it, it’s yours for the asking. I’m pretty sure that Tampax Pearl, the most outrageously expensive tampon on the shelf, was originally marketed to be called Tampax Princess before cooler heads prevailed.


If I sound bitter, I probably am. If I had developed and marketed something with Princess on it ten years ago—a shoehorn, a lightbulb, anything—I’d be typing this from my beachfront condo. 


I guess I’ll never get why every girl thinks she’s a princess. What was once a title that conjured images of beauty and grace has been mass-marketed and, in my opinion, drained of its original allure. It’s just odd to me to see a girl buying cigarettes at Wal-Mart at 11:30 a.m. on a Sunday morning, looking obviously straight out of bed and quite possibly nursing a very nasty hangover, hair extensions matted, same black eyeliner she put on fifteen hours ago … all while wearing a Swarovski-crystal encrusted T-shirt declaring her a Princess. If that girl is a Princess, I’d love to get a look at her subjects.

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