Who doesn’t want to be a princess? It might just be less painful to elect a U.S. royal family and be done with it. Because there’s always something new to observe on the princess front, and the latest wrinkle, you’ll pardon the expression, is moms bringing their younger and younger daughters to fancy spas and nail salons to do a little bonding during a facial or manicure.
In girl culture, it’s hard to avoid this princessy explosion. There are the literal princess products, like the huge array the Disney child-mind control experts have created, as well as princessy-girly things like the stores where girls can waste their parents’ money on pinky, sparkly body decorations of all types.
It’s easy to criticize. Sure, there’s an element of fun and healthy fantasy play, but as so often in U.S. culture, it goes too far. For every liberated, brainy, active princess story, it’s overwhelmed by the thrust of an old message: girls are pretty objects.
But while annoying on its own, it’s not like this girl culture sprang out of nowhere. We’re all princesses now. (Even the men. What’s metrosexuality but princess behavior for males?) Or even if we aren’t, being a princess gets validated everywhere you look.
After all, if mom doesn’t take daughter to the nail salon, what will she do with her? Auntie’s at a Botox party, Grandma’s getting her teeth bleached, and the babysitter’s out buying $300 shoes. And you couldn’t disturb any of them when “Sex and the City” used to be on.
Feminism was supposed to liberate women from some of the tyranny of having to look a certain way, of slaving for your image. Now putting princessdom on a pedestal is in part the pendulum swing away from ideas that some people stereotyped as insisting that feminism means no makeup and hairy armpits. I can make CFO and wear mascara, some women said.
And this pampering stuff surely can be fun. I like getting a pedicure or a good haircut as much as the next gal. (Send me a spa gift card and you’ll see. In fact, send me two.) And you can make an argument that focusing on these beauty tasks, enjoying them, sharing our girlyness, is a celebration of women’s rituals, or at the least, harmless pleasures.
But context is everything. Princess culture is easy, is fun, plays to stereotypes and most of all, is sellable. It’s one of the images of womanhood that’s more publicly celebrated these days. High maintenance has become a badge of honor; a really successful woman is one who can afford to have an army of personal services providers come to her, instead of having to schlep to get her legs waxed – just like movie stars, whose business actually does depend on looking a certain way. Grown women feel they need purses that cost more than their first car. Age or youth is no excuse to slack off – surgery is available for the one, tween-ager makeup for the other. And mommies need their “me time,” not to catch up on their reading but to stay “yummy.”
Being a princess takes some funds, and what feminism has done for the contemporary version of princesshood is helped give some women the means to pay for their own pampering. It’s a new twist on leisure class conspicuous consumption: busy women can pay to look like they spend their days shopping and lunching. Women have made progress professionally, in areas like law and business and medicine; so now the symbol of success is being able to afford to be our own trophy wives?
Obviously, being a princess is only one of the personas women are presented or present themselves in public. But it’s an easily distracting image, and it means that ideas of “girliness” trickle down to real girls. And if grown women are being “girls,” you can’t expect any less from their daughters.