Glass Slippers Leave Splinters

Being a princess is not all it’s cracked up to be.

As a little girl, my second favorite story was Cinderella. She was pretty, and good, sang well, and married a prince in the end. What’s not to like? She also embodied the law of the harvest … reap what you sow, good works are rewarded, etc etc. Plus, she had fantastically stylish footwear. Obviously, this was before I ever read the more gory version from the Brothers Grimm, but by that time I was in a phase where gore was fascinating.

Later, I started seeing what real-life princesses were up to. Princess Di, with her fairy tale wedding, personal and marital problems, divorce, and tragic death. Princess Masako, living all over the world, working as a career diplomat, putting off her suitor for 6 years before agreeing to marry, being confined to a silk upholstered cell, dealing with miscarriage, the birth of (gasp!) a daughter, and depression. Princess Stephanie with her numerous, troubled affairs. In a world where little girls dream of being princesses, our young ones are in trouble.

Or are they? As a young girl, most of my heroines were of the fictional type. I remember them with fondness as my American literary princesses: Anne Shirley, Emily Starr, Jo March. Ordinary girls like me who “lived” extraordinary lives in plebian settings. Even more real was Laura Ingalls Wilder, whose life was immortalized by the Little House on the Prairie books, a set of which sit on my bookshelf.

And then there are those modern day princesses who are making a difference:

Princess Elizabeth Nyabongo Bagaya of Toro (Cambridge-educated lawyer, first female barrister of East Africa, model, first and so far only female Minister of Foreign Affairs and the first Roving Ambassador for the Republic of Uganda and Delegate to the United Nations)

HRH Basma Bint Talal, Princess of Jordan, President of the Jury (advocate for the developmental role of women and rights of children)

There are even those who, even though not progressive themselves, are figureheads for changing views of monarchy and women.
Victoria, Crown Princess of Sweden (the only female heiress-apparent in the world. Her status changed in 1980 when Sweden adopted the practice of absolute primogeniture, contrary to the King’s wishes).

Princess Aiko of Japan was being primed to become Japan’s first modern empress until the birth of her as yet unnamed boy cousin scuttled Koizumi’s efforts on her behalf.

And yet, as I contemplate these women at the crossroads of time, is it cowardly of me to think that their happiness would be better obtained by a small step away from the throne? Maybe my desire for privacy (and no, it isn’t incompatible with being a blogger) makes me a little less objective, but I believe that being just outside of the limelight allows for a clearer view, and more freedom.

And so, even as I shun the glass slippers, I glory in the shoes that hang on my closet door. Shoes to go swing dancing in, to work in, to hike in, to laze in, to party in, to exercise in, and to travel in. And maybe a few more. So many different roles to fill, and adventures and learning experiences to be had.

Which leads me to my favorite childhood story, that of The Little Mermaid. No, not the red-haired vixen of Disney’s saccharine concoction! I am thinking of Hans Christian Andersen’s unfortunate, nameless heroine. Pampered, beautiful, talented and youngest daughter of the Mer-King. She risked everything, endured endless pain, lost everything. Or did she? In the end, we see her rising with the spirits of the air, with the hope of earning her fondest desire … an immortal soul.


Jana is a university administrator and teaches History. Her soloblog is

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4 Responses

  1. Caroline says:

    Dora, what a thoughtful post. So much of what you said resonated with me and my experiences growing up. I wasn’t hugely obsessive about princesses, but I enjoyed those fairy tales quite a bit.

    Like you, however, the characters that really struck me were the heroines like Anne Shirley or even Orphan Annie. I was a sucker for the underdog. Did you ever read McKinnley’s The Hero and the Crown? That princess was probably my very favorite, since she was such a misfit.

    Interesting how sad and difficult the lives of so many real princesses are. But it’s great to know that there are also some out there who are using their fame to make a difference.

  2. Kiskilili says:

    Did you ever read McKinnley’s The Hero and the Crown?

    I loved that book! There are parts of it I practically memorized, I read it so many times.

    Beautiful post, Dora. Thanks.

  3. Deborah says:

    Me three! I push that book on all of my seventh grade girls that show an inkling of interest in fantasy. I even dressed up as Harry for Halloween in 6th grade (almost as good as my Gandhi costume from 5th grade!).

    Dora: Nice post. The “princess” is one of those “types” that seems to have a perennial hold on the imagination of young girls. In fact, I just re-viewed the movie “Little Princess” based on Burnett’s book. I *loved* this book as a ten-year-old and I love the movie as an adult (cry every time) — you know that moment where, in rags, Sara turns to Miss Minchin and yells, “All girls are princesses! Didn’t your father ever tell you that!” I wouldn’t want to be a “real” one, but as long as it’s an appealing notion, I’m glad some of our writers (and even some of our “real” princesses) are pushing the boundaries of what the title means. Ah, Xena . . .

  4. Aprilslady says:

    wonderful post!

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