October 25, 2011

{Princess Redux} Disney Princesses: Part One

[excerpt from upcoming book The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride]

In 2000, as the world was merging into a new millennium, the nature of the princess myth changed dramatically. In fact, before this new level of hyped-up consumerism, the influence of the princess myth could have been considered subtle. Andrew P. Mooney had just become president of the consumer products division of the Walt Disney Company and saw the next huge market: little girls! He became the chief pioneer of the super successful $4 billion Disney Princess franchise. An idea, he said, that came to him while attending a Disney on Ice event where he realized that there was a demand for “princess products” that would allow young girls to “project themselves into the character from the classic movies.”

Or as Peggy Orenstein, who has written extensively about girls and women’s issues and is the author of the 2011 book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture, puts it: “…he went to an ice show in Phoenix and he saw a bunch of little girls dressed as princesses. And horrors: they were wearing homemade costumes that they had developed with their imaginations. That had to be stopped—that had to be licensed.” So old Disney-version favorites like Cinderella, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty were joined by newer Disney enhanced fairy-tale characters Ariel (“The Little Mermaid”), Belle (“Beauty and the Beast”) and Jasmine (“Aladdin”) to become crowned princess-sisters!

“Mooney picked a mix of old and new heroines to wear the Pantone pink No. 241 corona,” wrote Orenstein in “What’s Wrong With Cinderella?,” her 2006 article for the New York Times Magazine that inspired her new book. There are now more than 25,000 Disney Princess items for sale worldwide according to the author. “‘We simply gave girls what they wanted,’ Mooney said of the line’s success, ‘although I don’t think any of us grasped how much they wanted this.’” (Yeah…little girls crave sugar as well; and if they have too much, they become addicted!)

The executive added in his interview with Orenstein that little girls and boys “pass through” various stages of attachment in childhood. “‘I see girls expanding their imagination through visualizing themselves as princesses, and then they pass through that phase and end up becoming lawyers, doctors, mothers or princesses….’” But there’s a big difference in a child being encouraged to use their imagination naturally and to be indulged in staggering overkill by their parents, grandparents and others—usually because of an attempt to fulfill something incomplete in their own desires.

In an interview on American Public Media’s show, “Marketplace Morning Report,” broadcast soon after Orenstein’s Cinderella book came out, the host Jeremy Hobson asked the author about the Disney princess phenomenon: “Now, when you think about all of the characters that little girls look up to and want to be like, I would think princesses would be the least bad.” In response, Orenstein shared: “What happens with the princess culture is that it goes from being this sort of sweet, innocent wand-waving thing to being about being the princess diva, and [about] the make-up. The culture is telling them and encouraging them to define themselves from the outside in.” It’s as though we’ve put the mentality of those little girl beauty pageants, like “Toddlers & Tiaras” (sexing up two year-olds) on a global loudspeaker, announcing to the girls of the world that they’re not okay just the way they are. (Change, and you’ll be pretty. Change, and you’ll be popular. Change the way you naturally are and you’ll be happy.)

This is one of the problems with Disney’s “princesses.” Their look is the masculine-driven idea of the feminine ideal straight out of a Victorian romance novel, only now with digital enhancements. The characters not only continued but reinforced the convoluted Western extreme of female “beauty” by molding the dolls, or drawing the images, or air-brushing the real-live models into distorted versions of being a woman: tiny waistline, large breasts, long silky hair, big eyes, flawless skin, high-bridged nose, long slim neck—and the Photoshop list goes on. And this distorted image was part of a worldwide marketing campaign going straight to the hearts and psyches of pre-teen, and now much younger, girls.

The images were a retro trend toward the ultra-feminine; as though returning to the Barbie doll stereotype (that’s been around since 1959 when the doll made its debut), but with an injection of Disney steroids! Granted, many of the new Disney characters (later labeled “princess” by the marketing team even if they weren’t “royal” or a real princess) were strong, independent, think-for-themselves girls or young women and healthy role models as characterized in the original film from which the characters came. (Or like new versions of old fairy-tale characters that are not part of the princess realm. For instance, Rapunzel in the 2010 Disney film, Tangled, that I mentioned earlier and which I liked.) However, when the characters became more sexualized with the girly-girl marketing slant, then there is trouble at the castle. ~

[Part Two of “Disney Princesses” will be posted in a few days; all are excerpts from the soon-to-be released book, The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride. To see other excerpts in the series, click on Disney Princesses in Labels below.]

October 20, 2011

{Princess Redux} Part Three

[excerpt from upcoming book The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride: How Diana Exposed the Princess Myth & Other Royal Fables that Kept Women in Their Place]

What fuels the princess dream? What is at its heart?

As Caroline Weber, author of Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution, wrote in her review of The Diana Chronicles by Tina Brown: “Ladies, let’s be honest: who really among us hasn’t dreamed of becoming a princess?”  Women around the world, “sometimes against their better judgment,” fall entranced by the glamorous prospects and “redemptive metamorphosis that this particular myth promises.”

However, even Lady Diana Spencer herself, who as a dazzlingly beautiful bride became a real princess on her wedding day and lived her life as the most famous woman in the world, confirmed: “Being a princess isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.”

Being a princess—or a prince for that matter—is a title, a role to play, and for many such title holders, it is a big job (and not always an easy or glamorous one.) The Hollywood “princess” Grace Kelly—who like Diana, became a real princess when she married—said: “I certainly don’t think of my life as a fairy tale. I think of myself as a modern, contemporary woman.”

Howell Conant, in his 1992 book, Grace (a beautiful collection of memories and photographs by the acclaimed photographer and old friend of Grace) shared: “The transition from Hollywood actress to princess of Monaco had not been an easy one for Grace. Yet once she became accustomed to her new role, she showed an eagerness to be the very best princess she could be.” Grace, like Diana, “focused on several pet projects” that included the arts and children.

Soon after Diana became engaged to Prince Charles in 1981, she met Princess Grace—someone she had admired from afar—at the first official formal engagement attended by the couple. The nineteen year-old Diana got lots of attention in a revealing, low-cut black strapless gown and her uncertainty and discomfort at the extreme scrutiny caught Princess Grace’s attention. Leaving the other guests, the ‘experienced’ princess “whisked her off to the powder room,” explained Andrew Morton in his biography. “Diana poured her heart out about the publicity, her sense of isolation and fears about what the future held in store. ‘Don’t worry,’ Princess Grace joked. ‘It will get a lot worse.’”

So if the life of a real princess isn’t always so great, why does the appeal to be one continue, like a call from the other side of the mirror? I believe that this princess myth touches all women in some unique way. Not necessarily as a desire to become a princess or to marry a prince (or princess), but at the heart of the dream is the desire to be noticed, to be seen as beautiful, to be attended to, to be loved. ~

[Next series of posts will being the "Disney Princesses" section of the “Princess Redux” chapter; all are excerpts from the soon-to-be released book, The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride: How Diana Exposed the Princess Myth & Other Royal Fables that Kept Women in Their Place. To see other excerpts in the series, click on "Princess Redux" in Labels below.]

October 15, 2011

{Princess Redux} Part Two

[Excerpt from upcoming book: The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride: How Diana Exposed the Princess Myth & Other Royal Fables that Kept Women in Their Place]

Darcy Cosper describes young women becoming brides in her novel Wedding Season as a chance to “live out a dream that may very well have haunted them from girlhood.” In parts of the world where the “white wedding” is de rigeur wedding protocol, a particular womanly ritual is repeated again and again. Brides-to-be, usually with an enthusiastic entourage, gather in mirrored salons devoted to ‘princess myth enthralled women’ trying on those fabled white fem-fem gowns. These potentially deeply connecting, heart opening rites-of-passage with friends and family have all too often become angst riddled girly ceremonies driven by too many opinions and much too much “all about the dress and cleavage” drama. 
TLC's "Say Yes to the Dress"
If this sounds like one of those over-the-top cable television reality shows, well, it is! And it is aptly named, “Say Yes to the Dress.”

Disney Princess Bridal Collection
Indeed, without glamorous fashions, the princess myth could not survive; without the gown, there is no princess myth! It’s no surprise that even the Walt Disney Company—the international headquarters of “wish-upon-a-star” princess fairy tales—launched a line of wedding gowns in 2007 as part of their Disney Princess collection. Then in 2010, designer Alfred Angelo teamed up with the Disney company to expand the concept and collection “because every bride wants to look like a princess on her wedding day,” insisted Pam Lifford, executive vice president of fashion and home for Disney Consumer Products. “OK, we get that many brides wouldn't mind looking like a princess,” Joanna Douglas wrote on the Shine blog, “but a Disney princess?

Disney Princess Bridal Collection
Really? We know that Disney often sets up little girls to expect her happy ending, but we didn’t expect grown women to want to literally dress like a Disney princess for her wedding.” ~

[Part Three of “Princess Redux” will be posted in a few days; all are excerpts from the soon-to-be released book, The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride: How Diana Exposed the Princess Myth & Other Royal Fables that Kept Women in Their Place.
To see other excerpts in the series, click on "Princess Redux" in Labels section below.]

October 11, 2011

{Princess Redux} Part One

[excerpt from upcoming book The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride: How Diana Exposed the Princess Myth & Other Royal Fables that Kept Women in Their Place]

In my work with thousands of brides since the early 1980’s, I’ve observed many ways a woman experienced feeling ‘special’ as a bride. I considered that when she “felt like a princess” in her pretty ceremonial outfit that it was a sweet, natural and feminine way to express the experience. But the commercialization of weddings during our media-blitz’d, celebrity-obsessed age the last couple of decades has fueled the “being a princess” desire into a brash explosion, making a spectacle of weddings as well as many brides who lose themselves in the fantasy. Women approaching their wedding can get stuck in their heads, not knowing how to center themselves in their hearts (i.e., they are “thinking” more than “feeling.”) The princess tug is so strong for some women they acknowledge that to be able to feel and dress like a princess was the main reason for wanting to have a wedding and get married. (Yikes!)

The Princess Myth
The “fairy princess myth” stirs deep in many women from an early age and it’s easy to see how it can overlap into the dream of being a bride (a shimmering-in-white princess-for-a-day) surrounded by all the trappings the wedding pageantry includes. Is that because, in a frenetic culture hungry for intimacy, the modern wedding ceremony is one of the few times a woman, all dressed up in this costume of a princess, can be the focus of attention where all eyes are on her? We’re a culture needy for approving, admiring attention (or simply to be noticed.)

However, scholar Elizabeth Freeman, in The Wedding Complex, points to a more unattractive and showy side of attention in relation to the twentieth century industrial phenomenon that’s become the “white wedding.” She asks: “Why does the white wedding make the couple, especially the bride, look sacred and untouchable even as it puts them on an often embarrassing regulatory display? Why does it englobe the couple in mystique, and yet also seem to make them run the gauntlet of spectators and pass a series of tests?” When did weddings and marriage become separated? When did ‘being a bride’ sever itself from ‘being a wife’? Does the heart of the “wedding complex” reveal, as Freeman says, a woman’s “longings not for marriage necessarily but for public forms of attachment, ceremony, pageantry, and celebration”? ~

[Photograph of wedding ceremony: David Willems]

[Part Two of “Princess Redux” will be posted in a few days; all are excerpts from the soon-to-be released book, The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride: How Diana Exposed the Princess Myth & Other Royal Fables that Kept Women in Their Place.]

October 9, 2011

{Duchess of Cambridge's Gown Apres the Wedding}

[from a report by Gordon Rayner in the Telegraph, 4 October 2011]

The Duchess of Cambridge's wedding dress has helped raise up to £10 million after it drew record crowds to Buckingham Palace this summer.

More than 600,000 people saw the bridal gown during the 10 weeks on which it was on display, far outstripping the previous record of 420,000 visitors, set in 1994.

Palace officials have not yet released a figure for the amount of money raised by the summer opening, which ended on Monday, but it would equate to £10.5m worth of sales at the full ticket price of £17.50. Millions more are likely to have been spent in official Palace gift shops.

Most of the money raised will go to the Royal Collection, which maintains the thousands of paintings and other treasures at the Royal palaces, but a slice of the money will go to charity, in accordance with the wishes of the Duchess.

When she gave permission for the dress to go on display, the Duchess made it clear that she wanted the gown to raise money for charity, and a proportion of the takings will go to the charitable foundation set up by the Duchess and her husband to receive wedding gifts.

Exact figures for visitor numbers and revenue will be released by the Palace at a later date.

A spokeswoman for the Royal Collection said: "We've enjoyed welcoming visitors from all over the world to Buckingham Palace in record numbers this summer. It has been an incredibly busy few months and we're delighted that it's been such a huge success."

Demand from the public was so high that the Palace's 19 State rooms and the wedding exhibition were opened for two weeks longer than in a normal year.

The Duchess's wedding dress will now be put into storage and is not expected to go on public display again for several years because of fears that its delicate lacework will be damaged by wear and tear.~

[Top Photograph: PA - Curator at Buckingham Palace]