As I stated before, I loathe the Disney Princesses. Over the years I have many conversations with friends about how ridiculous I think the Disney princesses are with their stereotypical portrayal of pretty, pretty princesses and handsome princes. If anything, Disney, realizing what a cash cow selling unrealistic expectations to pre-pubescent girls is, has upped the profile of their princesses. They are building an entire new portion of the Magic Kingdom devoted to the princesses. They have those ridiculous Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutiques that turn little girls into hideous walking interpretations of the princesses. If I had a daughter and she came away from any salon with her hair teased and sprayed looking as grotesque and fake as those little girls always look after their appointments, I would be demanding my money back. Disney princesses portray unrealistic expectations of romance, unempowered female doormats, and unconscionably poor uses of language.
When I was at Disney World lounging poolside, I instead read biographical portraits of English Queens from the Medieval Era. These women were more than just baby-making machines (as, of course, queens were intended to be in that time) smiling admiringly at their strong husbands. The lives of these real women from a different era have much more to say to young girls growing up than the artificial prettiness of Disney princesses. Surely, not all of these women were admirable (and generally, although they became queens of England, they were not English). Not everyone could be Matilda of Flanders. Furthermore, most of them had to be married to pretty reprehensible men. However, their reactions to their horrible husbands is precisely what makes them so fascinating and so real. They generally had not control over the decision of who they would marry, but they could control how they reacted to these marriages. Consider Isabella of France and Anne of Bohemia. Those women had opposite ends of the spectrum reactions to their terrible marriages. At a time when most women couldn’t own property, Isabella of France inspired an invading army and the English people to overthrow her good-for-nothing husband, the King, and put her son, Edward III, on the throne. She became dreadfully unpopular because of her lust for power, and spend her final days in quasi-house arrest, but that woman was remarkable. Then, you have Anne of Bohemia, disliked by the English upon her marriage to Richard II because she brought with her no material wealth, but ending her days beloved for her sweetness and kindness, particularly to “pregnant women” (since she herself never bore children). On most days of the week, I can’t decide whose behavior is more admirable. Is it Isabella, standing her ground, refusing to be walked all over, and zealously fighting back? Or is it Anne of Bohemia, all kindness and long-sufferingness, bearing her own unhappiness with quiet dignity?
Probably the most Disney-like princess of that era was the famous Catherine of Valois, wife to Henry V. The romance was lionized by Shakespeare and others because both parties were known to be so attractive. The real story though, is less Disney-like, as in their 26 month marriage, the couple probably only saw each other for less than five months and probably barely knew one another, due to the Warrior King’s schedule of conquests. When he died, she wasn’t even present. She really only becomes interesting when subsequently, she married a minor Welsh servant, Owen Tudor.
Modern-day princesses even appear too Disney-like to be taken seriously as these ladies of old. Take Princess Diana for example. She totally fits the bill of the Disney pretty, pretty princess. I never was a Diana fan. She was neither Isabella or Anne. Instead, she was a sniveling, complaining attention-seeker in my book. When she called herself a “strong woman” in that 1995 interview on television, I wanted to throw something at the TV screen. There she sat, complaining about her privileged life just to try to get some attention and sympathy from the mass public, who were eating up every word because she was a pretty, pretty princess, content to do her goodwill only for the benefit of the camera and her media persona. Those doe eyes filling with tears at just the right moments; vomit-inducing. I always liked frumpy, unstylish Camilla much better and could completely understand why Prince Charles preferred her more realistic, less affected company.
But I do give Diana respect for at least realizing that her fairytale, that started with its script straight from a Disney movie, was unrealistic and unsustainable. If only Disney would do the same.