Childhood and adolescence are full of such strongly defined, set-in-cement stereotypes. Every child starts with a vision of perfection, fed liberally by a diet of fairytales. We’ve all read about her. We’ve seen her, spoken to her, dreamt of being her, of being with her. Who is she? All stand…the Princess enters…
Much younger, the Princess is the girl you want to kill because she gets away with everything and has everything so easy. At birthday parties, everyone coos over what a pretty child she is while your family tries to cover up the mud splotches on your party dress with the napkin. Princess would never dirty her dress…even her white shoes are spotless (while your own colourful sneakers have managed to accumulate light-coloured dirt that will show on black…you filthy little dirt-magnet!!). Princess also has make-up and nice sparkly jewellery which you aren’t allowed to touch. A brief flashback to the time you stole Mum’s lipstick and ended up looking like Dracula after a feast. Yearrgh. That’s the first time it hits you.
Princesses exist in real life, outside fairy-tales too.
Then you discover that Princess isn’t a very nice girl after all. The minute the adults are looking the other way she grabs your toy. Only when you’re aiming a punch at her nose, she turns on the baby blues (or browns if you’re Indian) and there you are in the middle of a lecture …again. (Why can’t you be like her..she’s such a good girl!) Princess has a smug expression that might have reminded you of that alley cat you once fed, except that at least the cat had been starved and she rubbed her tail against your leg before she scooted. Princess is…when you are old enough to know the word….a nasty little bitch. What’s worse, after the brouhaha has all died down, she takes one disgusted look at the muddy fingerprints on your beloved toy and shucks it away.
Lesson no.2: Princess will want not just the best of everything but everyone else’s everything too. Don’t get in her way.
As the years pass both of you learn. Princess gives her tear-glands and her tummy muscles frequent workouts. They’re all in supple condition. Her hair is always in place, she is dressed immaculately, her nails polished and her make-up well done. You, on the other hand, are struggling with running mascara after your recent boyfriend dumped you to run after…guess who? After much effort, you hit the realisation:
Lesson 3: You will never be a princess!
You might mope in injured silence and then give in to be part of her retinue. Enter that much-forgotten paragon of teenage girlhood – the best friend. This is a special best friend, possibly the truest kind of best friend there is. Nothing less than the best for Princess. She’ll be Princess’s bodyguard, secretary, PR agent, counsellor, mother figure, nursemaid and woman Friday. She’s the Betty Cooper to every Veronica Lodge. She’s the one who’ll screen Princess’ suitors, ward off ardent admirers, lie to Princess’ parents about where she spent the night, behave ‘badly’ so it doesn’t reflect badly on Princess and take care to never out-shine Princess. Boys will make cruel jokes about her and sometimes other people will ask her why she puts up with it. Princess may never treat her well but the one time the best friend decides not to go back after a fight will be the first time Princess throws all style and image to the wind to grovel.
Lesson no.4: Princess is needy. Hungry, starving for attention and molly-coddling. She will always need you much more than you need her. Princess is vulnerable and your approval matters far more to her than the other glitzy crowd that clamours around her. And there is great power in knowing that, even if it is never shown.
If you have the gall right then, you may summon up enough anger to turn into another sort of royalty. Run with the wrong crowd, do the wrong things, swing all the way the wrong way till you’re as much a pro at it as Princess is at being nauseatingly good. You’ll get as much adulation as Princess and be her greatest competition. Of course, you are her exact and equal opposite.
Lesson no.5: You may never be a princess but you can always be the Black Queen. Princess will never vie with you and she’s the one person she’s scared of. Sharp, polished nails are no match for a razor sharp tongue.
And while you’re out there fighting your own battles, you’ll discover something the boys discovered about ten years before you…the thrill of the chase, the heady madness of the fight. You’ll learn to throw the punches and then to roll with them too.
The final lesson: There’s more to your life than being Princess or her antithesis.
That’s the day you crown yourself Queen. You’ll need nobody else to do it for you. And you’ll leave Princess far behind, waiting for her coronation ceremony with the parade.
The saga ends here with the pleb being a pleb no more. But what happens to the Princess?
Princess has lived in a fairytale palace that she has been able to control for a long, long time. Princess’s biggest weapons have been beauty and charm.
But even princesses grow old. No one dreams of a wrinkly, ageing princess. At 4, 14 or 24, her behaviour is cute, attractive and vivacious. But after a while, it’s called affected. The boys who’ve flocked around her all these years making life smooth and easy and sweet have changed too and none of them are interested in playing slave to Princess’ whims.
Poor Princess! She never learnt to walk on her own, metaphorically never had to lie on a bed she made. Princess, like every human being, had her share of disappointments, but sugar-coating and rebounds ensured that she never suffered through them. Right then, however, her palace crumbled and the posse handed in their papers.
Princess has a rough road ahead – one of learning adulthood at a time when everyone else has been practising it for about a decade and a half at least. It stops being about flowers and gifts and romance. It starts to be about real caring, about loyalty, about respect and wisdom. I really pity the Princess right then. She never learnt to work for these things and now that she finally appreciates their true worth, she discovers how hard they are to earn.
When the age of princesshood is over, what happens to the Princess? Will she fall by the wayside and wither away into that sullen, depressed old woman on the ground floor? Or will she, stubborn in the thought that the glorious life she’s always lived will be hers again, keep her paints and frills about her becoming that once beautiful somewhat pathetic echo of her original loveliness?
I can only speculate on what happens after happily ever after.