November 22, 2011

{Princess Bride: A Modern Myth of Soul Redemption}

[Wayne Purdin wrote a wonderful article on to illustrate the use of symbolism in myths and fairy tales to transmit "higher truths." He uses a modern myth, The Princess Bride by William Goldman, as his example. Whether you've read the book or seen the delightful movie from the 80s or not, you'll enjoy his explanations of the deeper meaning of what each character represents. The following is a short excerpt; see link below for the entire article.]

In the beginning of The Princess Bride, the soul, represented by the fair Buttercup, falls in love with the farm boy Westley who represents her higher self. You might think he represents her twin flame or soul mate, but, as you will see, he really is the embodiment of her higher mind. Buttercup asks Westley to do chores and he always complies with the reply, “As you wish.” This is what happens when we have a relationship with our higher self – our wishes are fulfilled. In some depictions of the heart chakra, we see a golden throne under a tree. The throne is the seat of the higher self and the tree is called the “wish-fulfilling tree.” When our higher self is enthroned in our heart, we can manifest desires and they have positive effects. The wish-fulfilling tree is a theme of some fairy tales, such as The Juniper Tree.

[Click here to see the entire Princess Bride article by Wayne Purdin.]

November 16, 2011

{Princess Redux} Disney Princesses: Part Three

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

In June 2008 a national report, “Real Girls, Real Pressure,” commissioned by the Dove Self-Esteem Fund was released, revealing a “self-esteem crisis” in the United States that “pervades every aspect of a girl’s life.” It showed that “seven in ten girls believe they are not good enough or do not measure up in some way, including their looks, performance in school and relationships with friends and family members.” The highly respected study, embraced by Oprah Winfrey and others who used the findings to inspire their own work, also showed that “75% of girls with low self-esteem reported engaging in negative activities such as disordered eating, cutting, bullying, smoking, or drinking when feeling badly about themselves.”  Conducted online among 1,029 girls between the ages of eight and 17, the study found that “the top wish among all girls is for their parents to communicate better with them, which includes more frequent and open conversations about what is happening in their own lives.”

How can we encourage little girls to let their imaginations play on their way to become more centered and grounded adults? How can we support little girls’ dreams of being a princess or a rock star—or become president of their country or a mother of five (or both!)—when they grow up and keep their self-esteem growing as well? Orenstein reported that, according to the American Psychological Association, “the emphasis on beauty and play-sexiness at ever-younger ages is increasing girls’ vulnerability to the pitfalls that most concern parents: eating disorders, negative body image, depression, risky sexual behavior.”

While magazines geared toward teen and pre-teen girls have cover blurbs that shout “get thinner, be sexier, have the perfect hair!,” they also feature articles on “embracing the beauty of differences and relishing imperfections,” writes a post on Off Our Chest blog about Seventeen magazine. “But the industry and its players can do so much more good. They just have to choose to.”

“Little girls” have always had an infatuation with beautiful “big girls”—admiring and looking up to a teacher or their big brother’s girlfriend or a bride or Miss America or a movie star…or a real life princess in the news. I certainly did. It’s just natural. I recently saw a video of Chelsea Clinton visiting school children as part of her father’s Clinton Foundation initiative. This was a year or so after her wedding where she truly had been like an “American princess bride,” radiating warmth and love. Little girls at the school looked on adoringly, seeming to hang on Chelsea’s every word; perhaps some had seen pictures of her as a beautiful bride. And I had the thought: “This is the positive side of the ‘princess myth’ where a real person—who just happens to be a pretty blonde woman—is making a real contribution by helping to shape little girls’ lives through her love and concern—and yes, her celebrity. So if it’s something sparkly and cute, or a princess gown, or being a “pretty blonde woman” that gets little girls attention—great! It’s just up to us “big girls” to direct that attention to something substantial and grounded and deeply fulfilling so little girls are truly looking up to us.

Princess Diana, a real princess and the most photographed woman in the world, had some of the same emotional and self-esteem issues as today’s little girls and young women. If she had lived, I believe that one of her causes would have been to encourage the world’s population of little girls to love themselves just the way they are. With her sudden death, her legacy can do just that if we focus our attention on the consequences of low self-esteem. Diana’s inner struggles were immense; now we get to learn from her stumbles and fears, benefiting from the awareness that her megawatt life opened for us. And her death exposed the princess myth so little girls can discover their own beauty and power not at odds to anything, not as a reflection of anyone. ~

[This is the final post for the “Disney Princesses” section. 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.]

November 8, 2011

{Princess Redux} Disney Princesses: Part Two

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

Toddlers & Tiaras contestant
“‘The ever increasing marketing to younger and younger girls of an adult sexualized version of the princesses is concerning,’” Tomi-Ann Roberts said in a 2007 interview (by Merissa Marr ) titled “Disney Reaches to the Crib to Extend Princess Magic” in The Wall Street Journal. Roberts, a professor of psychology at Colorado College who co-authored a report on the sexualization of girls, is not the only critic who is concerned that “encouraging young girls to obsess about being a princess sends the wrong message, with too much focus on being beautiful and not more substantive achievements,” Marr’s report adds.

Barbie as Princess
But it wasn’t just Disney. Other companies and entrepreneurs found that “pink is the new gold”—as Peggy Orenstein had declared! In 2001, “Mattel brought out its own ‘world of girl’ line of princess Barbie dolls, DVDs, toys, clothing, home d├ęcor and myriad other products,” Orenstein wrote in her New York Times article. This was at a time, she explained, that sales for Barbie were declining in the United States, but after being crowned “princess,” the dolls “became instant best sellers.” Another huge factor in the princess saturation of little girls’ psyche was already underway. A former Montgomery Ward executive, Chicago-area mother Mary Drolet, opened Club Libby Lu which grew into “a chain of mall stores based largely in the suburbs in which girls ages 4 to 12 can shop for ‘Princess Phones’ covered in faux fur and attend ‘Princess-Makeover Birthday Parties.’” Orenstein reported that “Saks bought Club Libby Lu in 2003 for $12 million and has since expanded it to 87 outlets; by 2005, with only scant local advertising, revenues hovered around the $46 million mark….”

Features like The Princess Diaries books and movies (three Disney films that began in 2001 based on Meg Cabot’s series of novels) and other princess-props of pop culture, continued to “up the princess ante” and lower the age of targeted little girls in the marketing campaigns that “presented what many girls throughout the world want to do: live a princess life,” according to the study “Modern Princesses” by Julia Shin. (Or at least what they think it is to live a princess life!) The bigger, real person picture of Princess Diana’s life shows that being beautiful, marrying a prince, having a palace for a home, and living in the world spotlight doesn’t equate to being happy.

When I was working on the final stages of this book, I enjoyed a chat with my neighbor’s 13-year-old niece who was spending her spring break with them in the mountains. I asked Emily—who just happens to be a descendant of the Spencer family, a 17th cousin of Princess Diana her aunt explained—about her take on the whole princess thing. “Well, when I was a little girl,”—meaning four or five when the Disney Princess enterprise was in high gear with their princess heroine marketing company—“my best friend came up and sat down right in front of me and asked, ‘Who is your favorite princess? Which one do you want to be?’ I knew what she meant, I’d seen the movies but I didn’t think of them as princesses. Maybe Ariel was my favorite, but I wasn’t much into that, I just wanted to be me.”

Lois Smith Brady, longtime “Vows” columnist for the New York Times, wrote on the occasion of Prince William’s engagement to Kate Middleton in 2010:

Most people I know are wary of fairy tales and princesses, at least traditional ones. Ever since Diana, the dream of wearing a tiara has been kind of tarnished. I have a teenage son, and I have never heard any of his girlfriends say they want to marry a prince someday.

“I never wanted to be a princess,” said one [15 year-old girl]. “It seems like their life is superguarded [sic] and they’re not really allowed to go on adventures.” Her sister, 14, added: “None of my friends want to be princesses. They all want to be pop stars.”

Has “American Idol” usurped the ages-long “princess myth” so that “pop stars” are now the new “princesses” for young girls? Either way, it still continues the assault on girls to “be somebody else, you’re not okay the way you are”—and unfortunately the message is be a sexed-up, sassy seven-year old! According to Peggy Orenstein the “girl-power” of the 90’s got hijacked by the new hard-edged pretty and pink “girly-girl” culture.

Orenstein, who has written about girls for nearly two decades including her groundbreaking book from 1995, Schoolgirls: Young Women, Self Esteem, and the Confidence Gap, asks: “Could today’s little princess become tomorrow’s sexting teen? And what if she does? Would that make her in charge of her sexuality—or an unwitting captive to it?” The author encourages parents to pay more attention to what’s in their little girls’ world:

Pink and pretty or predatory and hardened, sexualized girlhood influences our daughters from infancy onward, telling them that how a girl looks matters more than who she is. Somewhere between the exhilarating rise of Girl Power in the 1990s and today, the pursuit of physical perfection has been recast as a source—the source—of female empowerment. And commercialization has spread the message faster and farther, reaching girls at ever-younger ages. ~

[Part Three 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.]