When I was a little girl, growing up in the 1960s and early 1970s, I loved fairy tale books. I especially loved the illustrated ones, with the painstakingly limned pictures of beautiful fairy princesses. Indeed, I still own my favorite (which has been reissued), The Golden Book of Fairy Tales (Golden Classics). Adrienne Segur’s lavish, but still delicate illustrations ravish the senses, and the princesses are perfect in all respects. Although the reproduction quality is poor, this website has those illustrations and you can get a sense of how exquisite they are.
Although the Segur illustrations are the best, they certainly weren’t unique. In all the books I loved as a child, the princesses were drawn with such love. I would gaze at them, mesmerized. I wasn’t at all disheartened by them either. I had no aspirations to be a beautiful princess myself. I simply enjoyed looking at the pictures, much as one is dazzled by a beautiful landscape or a lovely painting.
What I noticed when my children were little, and what I still see now whenever I happen to be in a toy store that sells fairy or princess products (books or toys), is that this exquisite sensibility seems to be a thing of the past. I’m sure that, were I to dig, I still find examples of beautifully princesses or fairies, but what sits front and center in the toy shelves tends to be cartoonish beauties. The characters are caricatures, not loving portraits of imaginary perfection.
To give just one example, think of the difference between Disney’s Cinderella, a perfect model of cartoon pulchritude and the more recent beauties (Ariel, Pocahontas, Jasmine), all of whom are still attractive, but each of whom has impossibly exaggerated, overblown, angular (or overly round), out-of-proportion features that bear no relationship to a real human.
Every time I see these books or toys or movies, I wonder why the downgrade in princess quality? Is it laziness? Or is it something a little deeper, namely the fact that, in this PC age, conscientious publishers don’t want to hurt girls’ self-image by creating impossible standards of beauty? And if the last is true, what a foolish thing, considering that movies, TVs and magazines all work together to convince girls that “ordinary” girls can be impossibly thin and perfect. While I knew I’d never be Cinderella (she wasn’t real after all), legions of American girls are doing horrible things to themselves (starvation, slut clothes, surgery), to try to look like a model or movie star — and nothing you can do will convince these girls that their icons are no more “real” than Cinderella was.Email This Post To A Friend
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