Did you want to be a princess?

Remember this Princess?

There was an article in Saturday’s Guardian called The Princess Problem. Written by Nick Duerden, it’s about his uneasiness with his daughters’ fascination with all things, you know, pink and sparkly. Fair enough. But then part-way through, an author named Jerramy Fine pops up to tell him that girls grow up wanting to be princesses. She says, “It is something all girls feel at an instinctive level. They don’t continue to obsess us because Disney endlessly peddles it. They continue to obsess us because it is truly, deeply what all little girls want.”

I admit I didn’t read the article originally. I’m as bored of the whole pink/sparkly discussion as I am of anything Royal Wedding-related, but when my friend Alex tweeted about it, I read Fine’s comments – and her reply to Alex on Twitter: “you can’t deny that princess fixations existed well before Disney – for centuries in fact…” and have been thinking about them since.

All girls? It’s what ALL little girls want? I asked Harry if the girls in his class want to be princesses and he said yes, they do. All but one. So not “all” then. (And that was a pretty small survey – I think there’s ten girls in H’s class. When I started naming names, he wasn’t sure about a couple of others either.)

I was fascinated by Princess Diana, was glued to the TV on 29 July 1981, collected memorabilia and went to see the dress when it toured the country, but I don’t remember wanting to be a princess. I do however remember wanting to be the blonde one from Abba, Pamela Ewing and a Charlie’s Angel (I would’ve preferred to be Cheryl Ladd, but my sister was blonde so I got to be Kate Jackson).

About twenty years ago, I regularly looked after four children – two boys and two girls – and I don’t remember the girls wanting to be princesses. Before that I was a nanny (okay, a “Mother’s Help”) to a particularly “girly” girl, but I don’t remember her wanting to be a princess. I don’t remember my three female cousins being princess-obsessed. My aunty – who is quite the royalist – has never mentioned wanting to be a princess, nor, as far as I can recall, did my mum. I think if I’d asked my nan if she dreamed of being a princess she’d have laughed in my face. But maybe I’m just remembering it wrong.

So did YOU want to be a princess? Tell me. I’m dying to know.

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68 thoughts on “Did you want to be a princess?

  1. I did! And I wasn’t a particularly girly girl when I was little. I just wanted my own castle. 🙂

    1. Haha! Well a castle’s a good ambition. But, as Alex said on Twitter, why limit yourself to princess? Why not go for queen? Dream big, Erin! 😉

  2. Nope, I never wanted to be a princess. Can’t remember having friends who wanted to either.

  3. I did! I wasn’t a girly girl and wasn’t into pink, sparkly things but when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I always answered ‘a princess’. But, as much as I love Disney now, I don’t remember the films from my childhood. I was always more of a Grace Kelly/Doris Day/Marilyn Monroe devotee x

  4. William Goldman wrote the original novel The Princess Bride for his two daughters one of whom wanted a story about a princess and one of whom wanted a story about a bride. As a little girl I never wanted to be either, BUT I DO NOW. Seriously. I am married, but we eloped and I never got to be a bride and I am shocked that I regret this and feel like I missed out. And I want to be a princess because I think it gives you extraordinary power. Kate Middleton is stepping onto the world stage and it is my sincere hope that she and William become known for their inspirational acts of charity.

    I think, sadly, little girls who want to be princesses (and brides) just want to be pretty.

    1. I can remember playing weddings, Alison, but not princesses. I agree with you re Kate Middleton too – here’s hoping she can be a role model and humanitarian like Diana and also have a happy and successful marriage.

  5. Never wanted to be a princess. But did hanker to be Miss America- had the costume which I bought with my 1st Communion money- red cape, sash, crown, etc (my practical sister bought a tape recorder and a camera -just to give you an idea of where my head was at) and I used to parade up and down our street in full costume at the crack of dawn- before my mother got up. Then I desperately wanted to be Farrah Fawcett- for a long time. And Pam Ewing. Had both haircuts too.

    1. Ooh, The Bionic Woman – that’s another one I wanted to be. Sorry, know you didn’t mention her, but you reminded me 🙂

  6. Why do people get so upset about girls wanting to be a princess? Princesses are beautiful, wear pretty dresses, go on exciting trips and in many fairy tales have magical powers. Queens tend to be old so it doesn’t feel to me they are aiming low.

    I wonder if there are as many concerns that boys want to be super heroes, cowboys etc.

    I definitely wanted to be a princess but would never have admitted to wanting something so unobtainable.

    1. I’m not upset about it, I just think Jerramy Fine is wrong – well, I know she’s wrong: these comments prove it. But you don’t have to be a princess to be beautiful, wear pretty dresses or go on exciting trips. And there are plenty of women (and, no doubt, girls) who aren’t bothered about doing any of those things. I’ll give you the magical powers though, that’d be ace.

      There’s no point comparing it with what boys want to be since there’s the whole balance of power thing, but it’s interesting that boys don’t want to be princes, isn’t it? (Or do they? I’ve never heard of it.)

  7. I don’t recall ever wanting to be a princess (or a ‘bride’, although I think I always assumed that I would be a wife and mother one day…)
    I remember wanting to be a writer, an actress, and, for a brief spell (before I remembered that I am sqeamish and loathe hospitals), a nurse.

    1. Yes, Sarah, I can remember thinking of my future self as being married with children, but I didn’t fantasise about my wedding in the way the media insists all women do.

  8. I definitely wanted to be a Princess! I wanted the pretty dresses, the castle and the crown. However, I also wanted to be a dog and a horse so I’m not sure if I’m the best example. I used to send my grandparents insane crawling along the floor and barking.

    1. Ha! Rose, my Harry wanted to be a dog too. Maybe I should follow Jerramy Fine’s lead (ha! lead!) and set up a kennel for kids… 😉

  9. I’m missing the so-called princess gene (along with the walk-up-the-aisle gene – are they connected??) and my daughter would laugh at the thought of being a princess, despite a brief run-in with Disney princesses at about 3 (now 7). She gets called “cute” a lot and loathes it, hasn’t worn a dress for a few years, highly competitive and gets on great with boys – I’m sure it’s tied in a bit with how petite she is, she’s rebelling against the very prettiness of herself. As for me, I wanted to be a postman (so I could read other people’s letters) or any number of fictional characters, but princesses always seemed so restricted despite their cash situation.

    1. They must be connected, Emily – I’m missing the bride gene too (even though I’m married – I had a really self-conscious, rubbish wedding).

  10. I never wanted to be a princess. I wanted to be a writer. 🙂
    I don’t remember any of my friends wanting to be princesses either. Presenters of Top of the Pops, or members of Bucks Fizz, maybe.

  11. Great blog post, Keris. You can imagine my reaction to that article, can’t you?

    I never wanted to be a princess, but I did want to be a model and truly believed at one point that becoming Miss UK would fulfil my greatest potential. I also thought that the UK had floated away from France ten thousand years ago, babies came out of you belly button and that I would make a good primary school teacher.

    Thank goodness I became a psychologist, now all I want to be is myself 😉

    1. Oh god, I wanted to be a model too. (There was a series of books about a model and I thought it sounded ace.) And a singer (I can’t sing). Oh and a fashion designer!

      Have you read Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine? I’m recommending it to everyone. 🙂

  12. I never wanted to be a princess. I wanted to a be a boy called Johnny. I hated skirts. I detested Pink.
    My daughter is as pink as a pink thing. Wears dresses by choice, has sparkly pink hairbands, and tends to throw a skippy hop into her serious running races. But she gets FURIOUS if anyone calls her a princess. She is NOT a princess. She is a Bear, thank you.

  13. Oh yes, I wanted to be a Princess. I wanted the dresses, the castles, the pretty little animals – and have grown up to be quite the feminist, ironically. My childhood was pretty unhappy so maybe that was my escape. I totally bought into the Diana and Charles thing like you and I would quite happily have swapped places with her, until the truth emerged, of course.

    I also wanted to be Pamela Ewing and Sabrina from Charlie’s Angels – I always wanted to play her in our games, which was great because everyone else wanted to be Farrah Fawcett.

    Most of all, though, I wanted to be Sarah Jane Smith. I was very, very sad when the actress who played her, Elisabeth Sladen,passed away last week.

    1. Caron, can totally imagine it as an escape fantasy. My childhood wasn’t unhappy, but I lived in a world of my own most of the time. Mine was mainly Faraway Tree and Malory Towers-based in early childhood though.

      I don’t remember Sarah Jane Smith, but I was really sad when I saw she’d died too. Have read a bit about her since and she sounded wonderful – the actress *and* the character.

      1. I met Lis several times at conventions in the 90s and she was every bit as lovely as I’d thought. They say never meet your heroes, but in this case I’m very glad I did. She came as a guest but always made a weekend of it with her husband and daughter. I’m just glad Anna had the chance to see Sarah Jane in action in the new series these last few years.

    2. Oh and I meant to say I don’t think I wanted to swap lives with Diana, even before the truth came out. Although this is probably where my sister will leave a comment saying I insisted everyone call me Mrs Windsor, snogged my pillow and called it Charlie… or something.

  14. I wanted to be a Jedi Knight, an archaeologist’s plucky kid sidekick, and a child not a grown-up anyway. (If I was going to have to grow-up, assuming Jedi Knight was an unlikely career option, I wanted to be a writer.) I did not want to do anything that involved wearing a skirt as it prevented you from climbing trees.

    I want to know where the concept of ‘tomboy’ went. Can you write an article about that, Keris, please?

    1. I think tomboy’s still around, isn’t it? I’ve been ranting about it (mostly in my head, obv) lately since the male equivalent is basically ‘nancy boy’.

      1. Not to be a huge party pooper, but I’ve always had trouble with the whole “tomboy” thing, because it still plays into gender stereotypes, the idea that climbing trees is not only a “boyish” thing to do, but that “boyish” pursuits are somehow superior to stereotypically female behaviour.

        What would really be ideal is if girls and boys could play how they wanted, without cultural expectations formed by stereotyping. But even if kids’ parents let them choose their toys, shops and adverts and other people seem so keen to enforce rigid gender roles from a very early age (e.g. the furore over the ad featuring the boy with pink toenails).

  15. Just asked David if he wanted to be a prince when he was a kid. He said, “Yes… of darkness.” Ha! Then I asked if he knew any boys who wanted to be a prince and he said, “Yes. One. Yea big [about two foot off the ground]. Purple…”

    Smart arse.

  16. Nope, I don’t remember wanting to be a princess. In fact, when people occasionally called me “Princess Di” (ha) as a kid, it was more to suggest that I was a diva. (Rude.)

    I do think that there has been an increase in peddling the Princess ideal to little girls in the last 20 years, though (Disney’s profits from princess merchandising alone show this) but that’s something that’s deliberately and cynically been created to push one stereotype of femininity onto girls. I fail to understand why people (women!) are now suggesting that every stereotype is “innate”. Apart from anything else, it’s such a lazy view of the world, and an easy (but facile) way to suppress feminist concerns.

    Wait, what was the question?

    1. Yes, I was just thinking the same about this “innate” thing. So irritating (and can genuinely be disproved in about five minutes via google / wikipedia if you don’t want to do a lot of reading!).

      1. Oh me too (once I grew out of the i-want-to-be-a-boy thing). But even more i wanted to be Doris Day than Doris…. something-owitz… from Fame. Though i quite liked the idea of wafting-around-wispily like the sad cello player girl/woman.

  17. Just wondering, we’re all talking about tv and film – who did we want to be from books? I wanted to be Sally from Mallory Towers, Madge Bettany from the Chalet School books and, later, Elizabeth Bennett. And that was before she got to marry Colin Firth.

    Oh, and Jo from Little Women too.

    And Sue Barton, District Nurse.

    And more recently Tonks from the Harry Potter books.

    1. Ooh, good question! I SO wanted to be Darrell from Mallory Towers, to the extent I asked to go to boarding school… That would have been destined for disaster. I basically wanted to be anyone in any Enid Blyton book, for the midnight picnics alone 😉

      1. Darrell for me too. And Katy in What Katy Did (or maybe one of the sisters? Can’t remember now).

        One of my favourite more recent characters is Princess Mia from Meg Cabot’s Princess Diaries books, so I’m not automatically anti-princess, I just never wanted to be one.

  18. Diane – you know I agree with you on ‘tomboy’. I just meant that I still see/hear it used a lot and it’s another one of those ‘it’s okay for girls to be like boys, but boys had better not want to be like girls’ things.

    1. Oh, I know what you meant (just had to let off some steam that had been building up about it). And yes, there is very low social status for boys interested in “girlish” things, where the reverse isn’t true. Which is sexist and homophobic and transphobic (oh my).

  19. Because I always felt ‘different’ (or maybe because I was so fed up with being ‘ordinary’, I don’t know) I had a secret yearning to be either a Nun, the Lady of Shallott or Doris Day. All of whom, as far as I’m concerned (now) have dubious attractions. I don’t remember wanting to be a princess but I did the whole scrapbook thing with Diana’s wedding too. Most of my friends wanted to be horse riders… what the heck is it with girls and horses?!

    1. Ha! I don’t think I ever wanted to be a nun… I loved Doris Day, mainly in her Calamity Jane incarnation, I have to say.

      I had a short-lived horse obsession, but I think it was either My Friend Flicka or Flambards-inspired. Used to ride and groom an imaginary horse. What a div.

  20. I didn’t want to be a princess. I *was* a Queen (cue undersupply of other kids willing to play with me!) I wanted to be Something Very Learned when I grew up.

  21. Obviously I didn’t. Neither did I much enjoy being the third King (twice) in nursery and school nativity plays (the curse of being tall and, later, quite fat).

    I seem to remember always assuming I’d be married and a mum and occasionally playing flouncy-skirted dressup which might have been quite bridal, but I wasn’t all that interested in the wedding and was not a bridezilla even though we had quite a big wedding (mostly to accommodate family expectations).

    I wanted to be all sorts of things, including a writer and a baker, both of which I’d still quite like to be. 😉

    I think what perplexes me about Jerramy Fine is the idea that the princess ideal = the best possible version of yourself. I’m not sure why that has to be labelled ‘princess’, and I’m not sure how princess camps get you any closer to being a great philanthropist or a polite, interesting person in the real world (in which the vast majority of us are not actual princesses). Learning how to curtsey to the Queen doesn’t really contribute to any useful or admirable skill as far as I can see.

    The ‘innate’ thing I also find lazy. At best it’s a way of justifying a personal obsession you’ve been encouraged to give up as you grow up, and at worst it’s a way of trying to put people in the place you want them to be through questionable scientific enquiry.

    I’m all for keeping childhood loves in your life, and resisting being too grown up (there’s a reason one of my blog categories is devoted to Disney), but that doesn’t mean you have to label it an inherent quality. By all means indulge in it – with likeminded people if you want – as much as you like, but don’t try to make me feel like a gender freak or outsider when it doesn’t appeal to me.

    And the Disney princess thing is SO a new marketing venture. It barely existed when I was a kid and falling in love with the films. There were princesses, yes, as there are in myriad fairy tales, but the pink and fluffy branding is very recent and very calculated to appeal to a certain type of parenting.

    PS My sister aspired to being a cat, and once informed a teacher that she couldn’t possibly do a piece of work because “cats don’t write”. She also pretended I was a boy called Michael, which apparently I was perfectly happy to play along with.

  22. Hej 🙂

    Nope, I’ve never wanted to be a princess. I was a tomboy growing up and my little sister was even worse 🙂 I don’t recall my friends wanting to be princesses either. :/ I grew up in Switzerland and we don’t have a Royal Family/Monarchs that are close. I never dressed in pink (by choice)…..oh, I just remembered wanting to be an *Ice-Princess* or rather *Figure-skating Princess*..haha..I was totally obsessed with figure-skating when I was younger (and quite good too 🙂 )and sure, I wanted that princessy-dress you saw female figure-skaters wear on tv. But I think it wasn’t so much wanting to be a Princess (urgh) but having the skills and the dress..haha. I gave up on that dream when I became a teenager.
    So, the answer is no, I never wanted to be a Princess. Although, I’ve become quite girlie in my *old*-age, now I love everything pink (it’s some kind of weird rebellion)…but, nope, still not interested in being/becoming/in Princesses….

    (Funny that Stephanie Perkins, another favourite author if mine, posted this on her blog today: http://naturalartificial.blogspot.com/2011/04/playing-pretend-method-writing-princess.html )

    1. Thanks, your majesty 🙂

      Yes, I was also thinking about how the princess thing can’t be ancient and universal, since not all countries even have princesses.

      And thank you for that link – I am so with her on the imaginary world thing! When I was growing up it meant I was a weirdo, but now it’s research. Hurrah!

  23. haha, I just realized that my name Queen N would imply some kind of interest in princesses..but nope, I didn’t choose that nickname by myself…Friends at Uni call me that…it’s some kind of joke as my middle-name is Regina which means Queen in latin…

    //D

  24. I wanted to be Spiderman. I even had an outfit, and hoped it would mean I would be able to climb walls. Then I went through a phase of wanting to be in the Famous Five. I wanted to be George. But a Princess? Never.

  25. Yes I did. I really really did want to be a princess more than anything. I can remember being shocked when I discovered that princesses ‘in real life’ just wore ordinary clothes like the rest of us – unless they were going to a ball, obvs. I loved (still do) long, pale pink floaty dresses and silver sparkly shoes. In fact, anything with diamonds, white gold or silver. I hate to say it (on the grounds of revealing ageing) but Princess Anne was born the same year as me and it’s obvious that she and I were swopped at birth. I should SO have been a princess. (She just couldn’t care less – give her a horse and she’s no bother.) Having said all that, I also used to climb trees, play cricket and rounders in the street (can’t do much of that these days, too much traffic) wi’t’lads, insist on wearing jeans all the time and end up filthy after playing outside. And to this very day, I want to be a prima ballerina. (Please don’t burst my bubble!) 🙂 x

    1. Oh and Maz, which princess were you thinking of when you wanted to be a princess? A generic fairy tale princess or a real one you’d seen? (Presumably not Princess Anne…)

  26. I feel a little silly going all deep into this, but anyways-
    When I was little I wanted to be a princess. I know not everyone did, and that’s perfectly normal. I’ve had a bit of a hard time putting it into words. but here’s what I think:
    We don’t all necessarily want to be the type of princess living in a castle with beautiful dresses, but I think we all want to be a princess of some sort during some time in our lives, that being a princess is deeper than being just like the Disney Princesses. You know? Being a princess isn’t just that. It’s feeling good about yourself, being treated right, being above your enemies…. The list goes on. Everyone wants those things at least once, sometime during their life. I think being a princess doesn’t have to mean you’re rich and have everything, that you could be a princess in leather or high tops. Sure, when you’re little and say you want to be a princess, you may mean the Snow White kind, but as you get older you want to be a different kind of princess, you just might not call it that.

    1. Sarah, I agree with you that we want to feel good about ourselves and be treated right, but what I don’t understand is what association that has with feeling “like a princess.” For a start, there are plenty of princesses who DON’T feel good about themselves and AREN’T treated right. Princess Diana for one – would anyone really want to swap with her? The most important thing to me is feeling good about myself and living the best life I can, but I can honestly say I have never even thought to myself that I wanted to “feel like a princess.”

  27. I wanted to be a princess. But I wanted to have been born a princess, not to have to marry some prince to become one. Because I also wanted to be a queen. The proper queen, not the wife of a king. I had little interest in weddings and boys. I wanted to be powerful and to get to wear puffy dresses whilst being powerful. I also wanted magical powers, to be a witch, or a fairy as well.

    Basically I was a very power-hungry child, I guess! In real life I didn’t even wear dresses or skirts very often, because I liked to run and crawl around. I wasn’t interested in pink at all. My sister and I were too tall by the time the Disney Store opened for their costumes, so we never had the option of developing much of a Disney princess obsession. I thought I was Belle though, because I loved books too.

  28. Not been able to john in until now as x were in Wales with no mobile signal and therefore no Facebook. Eek. Withdrawal symptoms easing now phew. I didn’t want to be a princess but I did want to be Princess from Battle of the Planets. I also wanted to be in the Famous Five (Anne strangely despite the fact that George got to have the fun I was a girly girl and didn’t want a boy’s name.) However Olivia has told me on many occasions that she is going to be a princess when she grows up.

  29. Nope, never. I wanted to be a librarian. Then one of the lesser orphans in Annie. You know, the ones who can do cartwheels with no hands… Then a librarian again.
    “All girls want to be princesses” – it’s kind of dangerous tosh glorifying and encouraging a sense of entitlement ie expectation of success without a work ethic or education, non? or am i overanalysing? You know i love to do that….

  30. nope. i wanted to be a paleontologist, then an archaeologist, then a marine biologist (incidentally, i’m not any of those now… just a corporate tool). i was obsessed with animals, not princesses. i DID like “pink and sparkly” things. i even took a few ballet classes (i wanted to get to wear a tutu).

    i never understood why anyone would want to be a princess – or any royalty for that matter. there’s a major lack of freedom involved with being royalty. all those rules about how to act, what to wear, whom to marry…. it just seemed so dull.

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