The princesses I grew up with were Snow White and Cinderella and that chick in “The Princess and the Pea”. These were dainty creatures, with high, sweet voices and tiny feet and delicate sensibilities. They were fairy tale make believe people, nothing to do with reality and certainly not something I wanted to be when I grew up. I especially could not abide the one in “The Princess and the Pea”. In second grade, my class did a little play of this tale, and my assignment was to bring the pea, actually a green marble. I remember thinking at the time how stupid the story was—for her to feel the pea through all those mattresses, for her to complain about this tiny thing, and for the prince to take this as a sign that she was a real princess and he should take her to be his bride. She was a whiner who couldn’t cope with even the most minor of problems, and he was an idiot to join himself to her, not just knowing this but because of this. I had no patience with either of them.
(Aside: The first therapist I tried going to as an adult asked me what I’d do if there were a pebble in my shoe—she was making an analogy, but I forget about what. Wouldn’t I stop and try to remove it? Not necessarily, I replied, I might just tough it out and keep walking. I wonder if that response had anything to do with my annoyance with the pea princess buried deep in my subconscious.)
Later in life, I learned about real life princesses, beautiful and stylish women like Grace Kelly and, of course, Diana. Now, that was something I aspired to—not the lifestyle so much as the look. I wanted to be elegant and admired. I’d taken ballet from first or second grade to probably sophomore or junior year in high school, which you’d think might give me a leg up in the graceful department, but it didn’t work that way. In ballet class, I always felt like a hulking giant. I was too tall, too heavy, too busty and hippy to be a ballerina. “Are you on a diet?” the teacher would ask, and I knew that “yes” was the only right answer, regardless of what I weighed. I was probably beautiful, but compared to my smaller, lighter, stick figure peers, I looked out of place, and felt it. Out in the real world, though, I could fake it: stand up straight and project confidence and people, some not even related to me, did compliment me on how I looked and how I conducted myself. But really, outside of weddings and work-related formal parties, I don’t have a lifestyle that calls for the princess look.
My lifestyle doesn’t have much room for the princess attitude, either, that prissy “I’m a delicate flower” routine that the chick with the pea in her bed pulled. I’m an independent woman of the 90’s, thank you very much (oops, I guess that should be “of the 00’s”, but that just doesn’t have the same ring). One of the reasons Mr. Karen and I didn’t get married right out of school is that I wanted to have a chance to prove to myself that I could make it on my own, outside of the semi-protective spaces of my mom’s house and college. I found I could. When I had a mouse in my apartment, I trapped it. When my car or television needed repair, I arranged it. When the bills came, I paid them. I didn’t call Daddy or Mommy or boyfriend for every little thing or even most of the big things. It felt good. Really, I’d rather be admired for competence than appearance. What good is a thin body in a pretty dress if it can’t do anything?
Does this mean I do everything for myself and put up with hardship without a whimper? Well, no, but I could if I wanted to, and that’s really the point. I know, deep down, I am not a princess. I am able to cope with real life, handle whatever situations come up. I am not always happy to do it, but I know I can. Knowing this does not mean I have to act on it. I can call for pizza, despite my irrational fear of doing so, or I can talk or bribe Mr. Karen into doing it. It’s my choice. I can soldier bravely on through the heat wave, or I can wail that I’m going to get sunstroke if I do not stop and get an Italian ice right this minute. Better to get the frozen lemony goodness in that case, I think. I like to save my coping skills for real emergencies.
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