By Alexa Moses
August 6, 2005
Adult women who swooned over Princess Diana now swoon over Princess Mary.
From theatre to reality TV, the myth of the princess has never been more popular.
The five women are learning to walk. Shifting their weight backwards, they painstakingly extend a leg, place the foot down and pause. They take another step, and another, bobbing across the room like tentative storks.
Their fairy godmother, Teresa Page from StarMakers studio, shows the women in her presentation class how it looks at speed. Page panthers across the room until she reaches the opposite wall, pauses sideways and snaps her chin over her shoulder. She panthers off again in the jaw direction. Page is a Chilean-born model, whose claim to fame is that hers was the first deportment course that Crown Princess Mary, nee Mary Donaldson, attended after meeting Denmark's Crown Prince Frederik. Up to 50 women attend Page's courses each week to tap the princess power within.
Of the female archetypes, the princess is the most ubiquitous. Adult women who swooned over Princess Diana now swoon over Princess Mary. Tweens are riveted by the oeuvre of actor Anne Hathaway (The Princess Diaries, Ella Enchanted
). The Disney Princess brand, which brings together seven of their female characters and dubs them princesses, is colossally popular among little girls. Hillsong Church frames segments of its women's ministry in the language of royalty (instead of being Christ's brides, women are now his princesses).
Why does women's fixation with the princess continue in the face of feminism and harsh reality? The Australian fascination with the princess is so robust that when, this year, Granada Productions called for women between the ages of 18 and 30 to be groomed for a reality television show called Australian Princess, more than 4000 women applied. Fourteen women are being taught grooming, deportment, elocution, conversational skills, public speaking, etiquette and how to mingle in Australian and British high society.
Talking to women, teenagers and girls, it's clear the appeal of the princess goes far deeper than the desire to walk nicely and wear a ball gown. The aspiration is as much about transforming the personality as it is about polishing the exterior.
At the heart of the princess myth lies the notion of transformation. Inside the female, the myth goes, waits a flawless being, gracious and pure. Oh, and physically beautiful, of course. It just takes someone - a fairy godmother, prince or reality-television producer - to pare back the soiled layers and scrub off the tarnish, and the true, perfect self is revealed. The delicious moment in so many fairytales, books and films is this rebirth, when the true self emerges shyly. So a fairy godmother turns housemaid Ella into Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty and a Tasmanian account manager receive their tiaras after they are kissed by princes.
Deportment teacher Page describes the alchemy this way: "Australia doesn't have a monarchy, but I believe there's nobility in the individual. I try to help people bring that powerful, noble being out."
The key word that wannabe princesses, deportment teachers and even entertainment companies use to describe this transformed being is "power", in various forms - "empowered" and "powerful". When Ruthy Anscombe read the website of a feminist who characterised the princess of fairytales as a weakling who needed to be rescued by a prince, Anscombe felt compelled to post a reply.
"I wrote back to her disagreeing, because she mentioned a lot about the Prince Charming," Anscombe says. "Men don't have to be involved; women can enjoy life by themselves. I think we're valiant creatures, we're extraordinary and mysterious and powerful. I don't think wanting to be a princess takes away from that at all. I think it helps."
And isn't the princess powerful? Whether she's Cinderella or teen actress Hilary Duff, she's invariably the protagonist of the tale. The prince, a shadowy figure in tights or jeans, depending on the era, dances attendance. The princess is fawned upon, scrutinised, adored, and gets the goods - the prince, the frocks, the applause.
One way of explaining the princess myth is that it taps into some deep human anxiety about not being complete, about not being sexy, smart or successful enough. Academic and author Dr Catherine Cole, of the University of Technology, Sydney, likens shows such as The Nanny
to a fairy godmother transforming hyperactive kids into obedient children, and believes plastic surgeons and renovators transforming your face or home can be equated to handsome princes.
"I wonder what people really think happens when those programs end," Cole says. "You've transformed the external, but what you think motivates your unhappiness - will that change? What once might have been a mythological process, a fairytale or a story that was a metaphor for something has become something that people see as quite real and potentially doable."
Being a princess also implies an element of restraint. The adjectives commonly used to describe Princess Mary, for example, include groomed, cool, elegant and poised.
Even Innes wonders how Princess Mary maintains her poise. "There's a bit of subjugation," she says. "She's serious. I find it draws you to observe it; it amazes you that this human can be so controlled. There are great things about it and things that make you a little concerned."
Early in our lives, both males and females discover that participating in formal situations involves restraining oneself, assuming a formal persona with the black tie. Yet formal finesse is perhaps scarce in Australia, which is known for its casual clothing and casual manners. Australians are generally not taught social manners, such as how to accept an award graciously, walk confidently, write a thank-you note or put others at a gathering at ease.
As the grey-suited, immaculately groomed Miss Dally glides into a large room in her Sydney city school for education and training, the eight young women practising their catwalk routine to Shakaya's song Are You Ready? suck themselves up, straight as soldiers. Miss Dally says good afternoon to her "young ladies" and asks them to continue walking so she can watch.
"Keep ya body movin', keep ya hot body groovin'," Shakaya sings as the girls walk in a way that looks nothing like groovin'. They lift their chins, tuck their bottoms under and walk across the room as if they had ceased breathing. "Body control!" Miss Dally urges them from the sidelines. "Don't let your body be sloppy because that's how it will grow!"
To Miss Dally, these girls aren't princesses, a word she equates with girls who dress like Barbie dolls. "Those 'princesses' are showing themselves off in clothes that are far too brief and way-out, instead of developing themselves as good human beings," she says.
The Grade-A princess, in Dally terms, is not about undue restraint but about refining oneself and learning social rules so one can be comfortable in one's own skin. "When you know the right way to be, it gives confidence and self-assurance," she says.
That presupposes there is a right way to be. If there is, the code is scrambled. Is the right way for Australian women to behave dictated by European monarchy, or is it something like 1950s Australia, or are the rules decided by groups selling corporate grooming programs described as being empowering to both genders? Even if we could agree on a right way to be, would these rules free women by teaching them confidence, or would they be yet another way of playing on female anxieties about not being perfect?
It's the opening night of Disney on Ice's Princess Classics
, which, despite the name, isn't about cryogenically frozen princesses. The show stars ice-skaters dressed as Sleeping Beauty, Jasmin from Aladdin
, Mulan, Ariel the little mermaid, Belle from Beauty and the Beast
, Snow White and the show stopper, Cinderella. They've Disney-fied the classic fairytales and myths.
The foyer of the Entertainment Centre rings with the chirpy voices of little princesses. Their tiaras are plastic instead of diamond, their dresses are bubblegum-pink tulle instead of silk and their slippers are rubber. A miniature Snow White in yellow rayon and sneakers bounces past. A plastic-moulded Cinderella model with whom little princesses can have their photos taken is ransacked at intermission by eager girls. It's a pandemic of princess fever.
In the centre of the throng, galumphing towards door nine, is the kind of princess a classic fairy godmother would refuse to enrol. This girl is plump, ungainly and argumentative, with fuzzy hair and thick glasses. She tugs at her mother's hand for attention. "Look, Mum! I'm a princess!" she bellows, climbing the steps in her rubber slippers.
Surely this princess can't last long in the palace. But after she's ejected, will she spend her youth hammering on the castle door, or will she discover other, brighter ideals by which to steer herself?
P.S: i hve posted this entire article because it's necessarily to be a member of this journal.