Combating the Fairy Princess Syndrome

By Sandra Duffy

fairy princessI am a single mother to a 3 ½ year old daughter. I try to be a good role model for her, showing her that women can earn a living and take care of themselves—that we don’t need a man. I want to teach her to expect the best, but prepare for the worst.

Yet, I am no match for the Disney Princess Marketing Machine. How do I explain to my three-year-old that Ariel is just plain shallow—she gives up everything for a man she never even spoke to (in the real version by Hans Christian Andersen, she gives up her life)? Or that a fairy godmother and a prince are not going to come to her rescue and make everything alright? I want to point out that not one of these princesses has any friends—I mean real human friends—they all have dwarves and forest animals and inanimate objects that befriend her, but none of them has a peer friendship, another young girl to share secrets with and confide in.

I want to tell her that I fell in love with her father based on his sense of humor and intelligence, not his looks. I want to point out that 50% of marriages end in divorce, that woman tend to outlive their spouses and she needs to have an education, job skills and financial stability. I want her to see that my close girlfriends have become my support system since my husband died.

And that’s when I discovered the “fractured fairy tale”—a twist on traditional fairy tales. We are all pretty familiar with the re-telling of The Three Little Pigs from the wolf’s point of view, but there are also a large number of twists on the princess stories, too.

I hit the bookstore and purchased several for me to read to my daughter. Following is a brief summary of some of my favorites:

The Paper Bag Princess – A dragon burns down the princess’s castle and all her clothes, kidnapping the prince. The princess dons a paper bag and through her cleverness outwits the dragon and rescues the prince. The prince is disgusted by the way she looks and she is disgusted by his shallowness takes off on her own.

Princess Smartypants—This princess does not want to get married and live “happily ever after” despite her parents wishes. She comes up with a contest that is impossible for anyone to win in order to rid herself of her suitors. In the end, she gets her way and lives happily ever after with her pets.

The Princess Knight –In this story, the princess trained with her brothers to become a knight, but when she turns 16 her father decides to hold a tournament and the best knight in the land will win her hand in marriage. She disguises herself in order to compete, wins the tournament and chooses independence.

As a parent, do I need to ban Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and the rest of the princesses? Honestly, I would like to, but the balance of more “traditional” princesses, the fractured fairy tale, and a mom who exudes the qualities of independence and strength, should be enough to combat the “Fairy Princess Syndrome”.

Sandi Duffy works as a freelance writer and educator. She hosts a blog entitled A Widow for One Year where she shares her journey as a recently widowed single mother of two young children.

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