Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Plain Princess: A Fairy Tale Revisited

The Plain Princess, by Phyllis McGinley, was my favorite fairy tale when I was a girl.  The story is about Esmerelda, who has everything a princess could want.   She lives in a kingdom where girls who are considered beautiful have noses that turn down, mouths that turn up, and eyes that twinkle.  Esmerelda, unfortunately, has a nose that turns up, a mouth that turns down and her eyes have no twinkle.  Esmerelda, in a word, is spoiled, but her royal bubble is burst when the prince to whom she is betrothed wants nothing to do with her, pronouncing her "plain."  The king and queen do their best to help their daughter, consulting with every available physician and wizard, but nothing works.  Dame Goodwit promises that she can make the princess beautiful in three months, if Esmerelda comes and lives with her and her daughters.  While there, the princess learns the value of working, sharing, and unselfishness and when she returns home, Dame Goodwit's promise is fulfilled; the princess is beautiful, with a nose that turns down, a mouth that turns up and eyes that have a merry twinkle.

This, of course, is a story of internal beauty and its rewards.  I believe that it held a promise for me and other little girls that, even if we weren't "beautiful" and might never wear a crown, others would recognize us for our good hearts and dispositions.

There are many mothers who are still teaching that lesson to their daughters and many girls and young women who work hard and give of themselves unselfishly.

On the other hand, there is evidence that girls are being sent another message --- one that says "demand to be treated like royalty", "expect that your parents will spend beyond their means to make you happy." 

Hearing a four-year-old describe herself as a "diva" makes me want to gnash my teeth.  I wonder if the mother knows what a diva is, or if she has explained it to the child.  The word implies a certain level of success in performance coupled with a difficult personality.   Is it the success or the unpleasant personality that the child possesses?  I believe that it is most often the personality -- in other words, "I'm a brat -- live with it!"

The "bridezilla" personality is another manifestation of the acceptance of bad behavior.  Why would anybody subject their best friends and family members to tantrums, manipulation, and plain nastiness and then excuse it by saying "I am a bridezilla" or "I've always been a diva"?

The traditional "Sweet Sixteen" party, an event to celebrate that special birthday, implied that the girl was actually "sweet."  Today's "Super Sweet Sixteen Parties" are exhibitions, usually masterminded by the daughter and (very highly) financed by the parents, to demonstrate that the girl can outspend her friends, classmates, or those enviously watching on television.   To add a little "punch" to the envy or hurt feelings of those not invited, the invitations are given out in a very public way.  You may be invited to the invitation ceremony, but that doesn't necessarily mean you'll receive the coveted invitation. 

All of this is to say that maybe something has been lost in the concept of royalty.  As Americans, we have limited our tradition of kings and queens to celebrations like Mardi Gras, homecoming queens, those honored at local events like Frontier Days and the Blackberry Festival, and pageants like Miss America.  At least a portion of those have demanded a level of service and good manners with the crown.

I think that the self-proclaimed "divas" "bridezillas" and "royal" celebrants of the "Super Sweet Sixteen" parties are deluding themselves.  What they need is a three-month stay at Dame Goodwit's house.  She would straighten them out and the entire kingdom would benefit.


Michele Chastain said...

LOVE this post! You are right on, and I need to come by your blog more often! :) Thanks so much for sharing this.

Michele Chastain

Annie Joy said...

Thank you, Michele! I'm happy that you visited by blog, because it led me to yours! Annie

Teri Lynne Underwood said...

Love this! Such an important reminder. Mollianne has been reminding me that her childhood was peppered with these statements, "Be a lady" and "Be sweet." I've realized how rarely I say either of those ... and have begun to say them more to my daughter and to myself! How easily our culture invades our hearts.

Claire said...

Such a great post! I will look out for this book.


Anne said...

Wow, you raise some REALLY good points there. I enjoyed your insights about our increasingly diva/bridezilla-ridden culture!

Thanks for visiting my blog; I am now following yours. :)

Mollianne said...

Amen and amen, Annie! I am always put off when I see the little girls being pampered with their own special pedicures. On the surface, it seems cute. Deeper, it seems to me that what I still consider a luxury and treat is expected and considered a necessity by very young girls. What is the message there? One of the litanies of my childhood was "pretty is as pretty does" and the other one was, "Mollianne, be sweet. Act like a lady." I am thankful for such an upbringing.

Annie Joy said...

Thanks, Teri Lynne. Do you remember "Pretty is as pretty does"? Mother and Ann always said that; I don't think I've heard it said for years.

Annie Joy said...

Mollianne, I just mentioned "pretty is as pretty does" to Teri Lynne -- I heard that one a lot, and "act like a lady", too. My daughter mentioned the tee-shirts that little girls are wearing that proclaim that they are divas and spoiled rotten. It's not too hard to imagine what their mothers' shirts probably say! Like you, I'm thankful for the upbringing I received.

Sherry said...

Oh, what a great topic of conversation! I didn't have any girls but, you hear stories of little sweet sixteen divas right here in our hometown. Reality TV is anything but real and it is so sad these young ladies have been influenced by that. Great story!
Thanks for stopping by.

Annie Joy said...

Thanks, Sherry. Maybe that's the crux of the problem -- we know (most of us do, anyway) that reality tv isn't real and can accept it as the extreme behavior it is with some (?) entertainment value. Children don't necessarily have that capability and are vulnerable to what they see and imagine is the norm.

jenclair said...

Thanks for this post. You totally altered the post I was planning for today, but in such a nice way!

Annie Joy said...

Thank you! Loved reading your post, too -- Anne, Olivia, and Eloise are all favorites!


I agree with you. A little discipline never hurt anyone.


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