Princesses get a bad rap. They usually have nice clothes, sing to wild animals and generally act happier than anyone else in the room. Disney was wise to poke fun at themselves in the beautifully naïve character of Giselle in Enchanted. The culminating moment? When the saccharine princess finds out that she has learned to be angry.
Thesis: If you’re a princess, you have to be happy, beautiful and perfect all the time.
Because of this totally unrealistic perspective on what it’s like to be a grown-up girl, a lot of super-progressive moms have made it clear that princesses are off the plan. “Oh, I don’t let my girls watch those movies,” a mom said to me. “It’s not the way things really are, and they’re not very good role models.”
I can’t really argue that, can I? I mean, Ariel was married at 16 to a guy that she had never really talked with. He was attracted to her talent and fluffy hair, not her personality. Not many other Disney princesses had dissimilar fates. Aurora, Snow White…even Pocahontas – all of them barely met their future spouse before they decided to marry them. There was no great emotional connection to these heroines. They become vehicles to drive a romantic story that ends inevitably in marriage and “happily ever after.”
Once, I complained that my 5-year-old daughter was becoming obsessed with the idea of marriage and romantic love as the end game of life and worried that the Disney brand of princessing was having an effect. My well-meaning friend looked at me with unfeigned shock. “Well, isn’t that what we’re trying to do, get our girls ready for marriage? What’s so wrong with that?”
But, what am I saying? This is an argument FOR princesses, right?
And so, let us take one of the newest princesses in the Disney pantheon, Leia, as a case study. Through her, it is clear to see what a real princess is like, and how acceptance, love and moral strength form the bedrock of the true princess mentality.
Real Princesses Have Opinions
Anyone knows that our little Leia wasn’t about to be bossed around by anyone, especially not some scrubby nerf herder, a pre-pubescent boy and a dog who could drive. She had things she believed in, she had causes she was willing to fight for – to the death if necessary. Being a princess doesn’t mean being nice and letting people underestimate your personal power. Being a princess means making your own destiny and showing people you can make a difference, tiara or not.
Real Princesses Sacrifice for the Greater Good
Guess how much Leia wanted to see her home planet get blown up? Not very much. But, she was willing to sacrifice her own personal interests in order that evil would be kept at bay. Even though it cost her the things that were most dear. This is not the kind of princess that we see on reality TV shows like My Sweet 16 and Yes to the Dress. These false princesses demand that their needs be the most important thing in the lives of everyone around them. A true princess is able to clearly see what will benefit the most people, and then sacrifice whatever is necessary so that her people, all people, can find happiness.
Real Princesses Know (and Love) Their People
It’s not often that we are asked to befriend beings that are outside of our own species, but Leia paves the way for true princesses everywhere. When the chips are down and she is taken hostage, what does she do? Give up? Fight the strangers that have her captive? No. She gets to know them. She finds out about them. She learns their weird dances. Fake princesses spend so much time with their own cliques that they don’t have time to get to know the little people. True princesses see the importance of even the smallest, hairiest and weirdest person in their kingdoms. Those people are often the most important to her. Not just because they may help her later, but because she is often the only one powerful enough to defend them against tyranny and evil.
Real Princesses Are Beautiful Regardless of How They Look
Whether it is a mind-blowing metal bikini or a safety jumpsuit made of camouflage, a princess isn’t a princess without beauty. Undeniably, Leia is a beautiful woman, but she is made more beautiful by her passion, her spunk and her kindness. She spends lots of time being dirty, smelly and showing virtually no cleavage. Although some people might object, I conjecture that she is made beautiful by her actions and attitudes, not the clothes she wears or the grubby starship that she flies in.
Real Princesses Have Bad Days
When your planet gets exploded, that sucks. We live in a world where our universe can do the same, virtually at any time. There is no rule that says you have to keep smiling through the miserable parts of your life. Take a moment and scream. Cry and beat at the sky. Feel bad about things, about yourself, about the future. That’s what real princesses do.
Real Princesses Never Lose Hope
Still, Leia would tell you that you can’t stay down forever. Just because things go horribly wrong doesn’t mean that you can give up. Then the dark side wins! Instead, you have to believe that things can get better. And then, you have to wait and work for that better day. It took her years before she was able to set things right with the man that destroyed her home planet. But, she never gave up and she never stopped believing that things could, and would, get better.
Real Princesses Are Not Afraid to Be Alone
Notice that Leia doesn’t have to be with any boys to be special? Getting a man isn’t her number one concern. She doesn’t spend hours in front of the mirror or think of ways to “catch” Han. Instead, she focuses on her personal goals – goals that have been chosen because of their greater good. She eventually finds a companion, but she is already a whole person without him. Her life is focused on making the world better, not making herself into a product for men to consume.
Real Princesses Ask For Help
“Help me, Obi-wan…” It’s Leia’s first line, and indicative of her strong character. A real princess knows when she can’t do something alone. And, most princesses know that asking for help doesn’t make them weak, it just makes the people who help them stronger. In fact, a true princess is a combiner, knowing that if one person can make a difference, more people with the same goal can make a bigger difference. To a false princess, asking for help just takes away from her, making her seem unfit or stealing her thunder. A true princess uses her need to help build up those around her, knowing that they need the lessons of giving just as much as she needs to learn how to receive.
Real Princesses Appreciate Diversity
Who else has squid-men, hairy-faced people and blue antennaed mutants that they have to deal with on a daily basis? Well, certainly not Cinderella. But, let’s think about that. Would Leia judge Cinderella for her interest in rodents? Probably not. Would she make fun of Snow White for having a neat streak? I doubt it. Just because someone wants to be pretty, or sing constantly or ride in a nice carriage, doesn’t mean that they don’t have value. A true princess see the royal streak in every person she meets. Instead of judging people by how they look or their interests, she values them for their inner worth and how they share that worth with others.
Real Princesses Seek and Find Joy
A real princess knows what it’s like to dance with abandon, to laugh till she cries, to ride fast through the forest, to kiss the people she loves with her whole heart. Leia isn’t the only one who does this, though. Every princess, from Snow White to Elsa, is looking for their version of happiness. Whether that means finding a person to truly love, or finally accepting the fact that you can freeze dry the universe, each princess is seeking for deep happiness. And, you know what? Because they seek for happiness, they tend to find it. Real princesses eventually find that happiness isn’t something that was outside of them, but something that was always just waiting to be discovered inside of themselves.
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Willow Dawn Becker is an author, voice personality, marketing maven, and entrepreneur. She co-founded Weird Little Worlds Press in 2020 despite a raging pandemic and huge personal losses. Her work can be found at Black Fox Literary Magazine and Space and Time Magazine. She lives in Utah with her family and pug-huahua, Indiana Bones.