Are Princesses Just for Fairy Tales?
There is much talk these days about raising little girls to think of themselves as more than objects of beauty. I recently stumbled across a Facebook Meme that read something along the lines of “Instead of calling your little girls beautiful, call them smart, strong, creative, resourceful…etc.” It contained a lengthy list of attributes that just about anyone I know would love to have describe them! This statement was one of many in our culture today promoting a blurring of gender identity descriptions, and yet, I found myself finding partial truth to the sentiment as well.
Of course I don’t want my two darling daughters to find their identity solely in their physical appearance! But is the solution really to deny them their God-given aspiration for beauty?
I wish I could avoid digging my heels too deeply into the culture wars surrounding gender identity, but I am raising two girls in a world that would like to strip them of any definitions to their gender at all, and my Christian worldview requires that I take up arms to fight.
Why I Read the Fairy Tales to my Girls
And so, I read my daughters the best of the best: good, old fashioned fairy tales. As many as we can get our hands on. Beautiful and sometimes dark stories of good and evil, beauty and virtue, romance and royalty.
You see, my daughters have an almost-lustful passion for beauty: if it sparkles, glitters, is pink or purple, or twirls and flows, they want it. And what better illustration of beauty is a princess?
I’m not talking about Disney princesses – although their long sparkly dresses sure are enticing to my five year old.
I’m talking about the princesses of old, the originals: Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Anderson, George MacDonald: these classic authors use princesses to weave in lessons on character and virtue. For little girls are drawn to beauty like a magnet. And these authors use that enticement toward beauty to help them discover what that Facebook Meme was trying to convey, and what God has always said about beauty: that the inner character of a person is of greater beauty than physical appearance.
Behind the Fairy Tales of Grimm, Anderson, and MacDonald
Take the original story of the Little Mermaid, for instance: Hans Christian Anderson uses beauty to convey not only the value of virtue but to draw out a deeper gratitude for simply being human. Read his work: the underworld of the sea is described with a beauty that makes us long to see it and touch it and experience it ourselves; and yet that is the very attitude the mermaids take on as they explore the world above where we humans dwell. One by one, the mermaids attribute our world with beauty. And the discovery the little mermaid makes in the end is the very discovery we need for ourselves: that it is, in the end, always better to be grateful for who we are and what we’ve been given, then to give up everything in search for “the other life” which was never meant to be ours in the first place. The role of the beautiful mermaid is not her physical beauty at all but her life’s pursuit and its tragic end.
George MacDonald uses a little girl’s love for beauty and princesses to draw her into the story of a princess robed in virtue and character. In The Princess and the Goblin, he says of princesses, “a real princess cannot tell a lie.” It is assumed that what makes her beautiful is not her appearance, but her moral character.
The Brothers Grimm use the draw of magic and power to paint a contrasting image of beauty in the story of Rapunzel. The enchantress is just that – enchanting! But she is dark and wicked and selfish. Rapunzel, however, is courageous, patient, and kind. For a little girl, hearing these stories over and again, which character do you think she will aspire to become? The best of our story-tellers paint the protagonist with virtue and ascribe them as beautiful. Isn’t that a better way of teaching the truest definition of beauty?
I strongly desire my girls to be feminine in every way God has designed for them. And I believe that means encouraging and cultivating their love for beauty, rather than redirecting them, for a love of beauty is part of what makes us women. And the authors of old have given me incredible stories of princesses by which to teach them that the truest beauty and truest princesses are those that are honest, true, kind, good, and beautiful.
Cynthe Burbidge is a writer, blogger, commentator, and wife of one and mother of two. Her commentaries concentrate in the areas of popular culture, literature, and biblical womanhood. Read more of her work at her blog, Christ Within Me. She holds a bachelor's degree from Biola University.