So yesterday we had a look at some princesses from folklore that show a different side of princesses than the one that is normally portrayed. But it's not just in stories that princesses are more than just selfish, silly twits - history is full of examples of inspirational princessing.
For a real historical under-rated princess, I always like to look to Marie Antoinette. All the cake quotes and bullshit covers a deeply fascinating story of a woman stuck in a terrifying, deeply complicated political situation, who was subjected to enormous amounts of pressure over things she had no way of controlling. It would be a more inspirational had she survived – but I think there are still interesting examples to be found in her story. This is one of the reasons I’m one of the five people who saw and loved Sophia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette. I feel like she really captured a lot of the complex motivations and really human feelings behind the actions that became famous. There is a fantastically moving scene where Marie has spent most of the film thus far attempting to convince her husband not to be such an uptight, terrified virgin and get it on with her in order to make the heir that is more or less Marie’s job to produce. She gets a letter from her mother tearing her apart for her failure, and threatening that there could be war over her uselessness, even though it’s a situation that is largely her husband’s fault. It’s a heartbreaking example of the kind of pressure she was under from the moment she set foot in France.
Antoinette was widely criticised for “wasting” money setting up a summer home of her own, complete with a working farm, where she would spend great chunks of time just chilling the fuck out. A lot of this criticism stems from the fact that France simply couldn’t afford to be supporting her in this manner at the time – but there is no way she could possibly have had access to those numbers. For someone who is known to have been wildly irritated by the ridiculous ceremonies of the Court at Versailles, I think her farm was a brilliant compromise. She would play the stupid Court games when she was at home, but then she would fuck off with her daughter and play with the ducks for a while to keep from completely losing her mind.
So how do these stories relate to femme, and fashion, and my newfound obsession with pretty dresses and putting shiny things on my nails? I’m glad you asked.
All the stories I have come across regarding princesses, be they “good” or “bad”, or selfish, or selfless, there is always a common thread running through them – the idea that a princess is inherently special. Even if she starts out as a peasant girl, or is reduced to the station of a gooseherd because her serving girl is a total bitch she is still inherently a princess. It’s something that she is, something special and wonderful and irreplaceable. Historically this is linked to the idea of the divine right of kings, the theory that the royal family is the royal family because God has blessed them with everything they need to be kick ass rulers. But in folklore, this special “thing” that princesses have crops up in even in cultures that aren’t really based around the Christian god as such. There is something special about a princess, and that can never be taken from her. She deserves good things to happen to her – in the stories I’ve read it’s only the “evil” character that begrudge the princess the handsome husband, or the tons of gold, or whatever it is she’s rewarded with in that particular story. Everyone else recognises that simply by being who she is, she deserves the good things she wants. In Cinderella, it’s only the wicked stepsisters who refuse to see the innate worth in Cinderella – everyone else accepts happily that obviously she was SUPPOSED to marry the handsome Prince all along. Marie Antoinette stood fast to her belief that she deserved the things that would make her happy, no matter how unfashionable (or unfortunately unaffordable) those things were.
I’ve noticed that a lot of women have trouble convincing themselves they deserve the things that they want, or the things that make them happy. Someone else deserves it more, I don’t have time, the kids need this other thing more, it’s alright, I don’t really need it, it’s only for me, it’s a waste of time....the excuses go on. I find myself doing it a lot, especially at work. My boss will ask why I’m not going to lunch, and I’ll explain that someone else in the company needs something done right now, so obviously I can’t go to lunch. At home I catch myself doing it when my boy asks what movie we want to watch, what we want for dinner. If I’m a little down, I will almost unconsciously default to the position of “Whatever you want,” like it’s an enormous favour to ask of him to watch something or eat something I want. If I had children, I imagine I would be even worse.
One of the fascinating things I’ve noticed from trawling around the nail community is how many of the bloggers I come across are mothers. Their lives are so centered around the needs of other people, that often their nail blog and the whole nail “thing” is the only excuse they have to do something just for them – and I think this should absolutely be encouraged. As Virginia Woolf observed so long ago, everyone needs a room of one's own. Everyone needs something that they do simply to make themselves happy, and that can be hard to find when you’re in a situation at home or work where so many other people have things they need from you, and so much of your life is effected by the decisions of others. But the thing is, whatever it is that makes you happy? You deserve it. Even without a crown, or a handsome Prince, or a castle, you can be a princess. The divine right of Kings and royalty in general has long ago been thrown out the window. We all know that the people who become princesses are the people who want to be them. But I don’t think you have to marry a prince to be a princess . If you’re smart, and resourceful, and kind, and concerned with those around you, then you are a princess. You can be a part of a long tradition of resourceful, awesome women who changed the world around them. You deserve a happy ending. You might have to work for it, certainly. There are actually surprisingly few traditional stories in which the happy ending just happens to the princess. There are a lot more where she has to travel, or sacrifice, or come up with a plan to make her happy ending come true. But a princess deserves a happy ending, and so do you.
And this is where it comes back to femme fashion for me. Indulging in pretty dresses and pretty nails makes me feel beautiful, and reminds me to celebrate the kind of power that I DO have. Instead of lamenting my lack of total control over my professional life, I celebrate the fact I can make things happen without anyone knowing it was me, like the Clever Peasant Girl. I rejoice in the kind of dogged strength I have, where I won’t give up until things are how I want them to be, like the Pigeon Bride. I celebrate the confidence that allows me to make sure I have the things that make me happy, like Marie Antoinette. The things in question don’t have to be expensive – it’s the frivolity, the impracticality of frilly dresses and holographic nail polish that remind me that I am a princess, and that there is something in me that is unique, and powerful, and deserves to be celebrated.
Take this polish for example – it was a gift from my sister for Christmas, and it absolutely makes me feel like a princess when I wear it. Not because it’s the prettiest polish I own – but because it’s ACTUAL BLOODY GOLD. How ridiculous is that? How gloriously ridiculous! It’s so amazingly over the top and frivolous and totally Marie Antoinette that I fucking LOVE it.
Wearing things like these reminds me that I am a princess, and that being a princess is something that can’t be taken from me. I can’t reach the light fittings to change the bulbs, or beat off a horde, but I can make my kingdom/office run so smoothly that it looks like magic, and that's something worth being proud of. I can’t decide when I am going to get to work every day, but when my boy asks what I want to watch, I can tell him I want to watch the Little Mermaid, AGAIN, and he can deal with that. I can’t help everyone, but if someone in my kingdom is having a bad day, I can reach out to them to try and help even if it’s only to cheer them up. Dressing like a princess reminds me that I am strong, and clever, and allowed to treat myself like a princess once in a while. It helps me hold my head high, and believe that even though my power isn’t as sexy and bold as it could be, it’s still mine, and I can still reshape the world with it.