Recently, I heard a child at a playground ask her mother whether she looked like a princess. She spoke so earnestly, it resonated with me. It made me worry for a moment, whether by answering yes, it would on some developmental level be allowing a validation of vapid beauty or place importance on material. It raised the fundamental issue of whether a child should be praised for how they look at all. If it is based upon acts rather than appearance alone, it is perfectly acceptable and builds a healthy confidence to tell a child that she looks like a princess.
Emulation is a part of development. A child learns by examples; and by wanting to be like those they admire if not a princess, then in a mother's glamorous shoes or climbing heights on trees to be more like a superhero, we want to be like those that we see as exceptional in ways different than who we are. As a child wants to be perceived more like their idols, we too, as adults, can continually learn from others and choose what traits we admire and want to place importance upon.
When I was that child's age, I had no desire to be a princess. They were primarily equated with beauty, which I understood, but at the same time they seemed listless and unexciting to me. They were often depicted as cloistered away in high turrets wearing beautiful gowns but without happiness. There was an abundance of all things with beauty, but they seemed to have stagnant lives beyond a carriage ride.
My childhood books of choice were biographies. The lives of Florence Nightingale and Harriet Tubman and pioneers like Laura Ingalls Wilder were interesting realties. It was more exciting for me to imagine open plains and hiding for the sake of freedom and helping soldiers in a time of war. I wanted to live life, not just look pretty in a castle. Seneca Falls is not an acceptable childhood substitute for amusement parks, nor is there a need to deny the fantasy of classic stories if there is a sense that reality can be as incredible... that historical truths and modern dreams can be even more interesting than a fairy tale.
The word "princess" has evolved dramatically in the past few years with the world. Mirroring modern roles, characters are now depicted as capable and kind leaders that also have laughter and joy in life. There is a relatable, qualitative substance. They are less ethereal and more capable. The princesses of today are depicted with a breath of vibrant life as well as a happy ending.
Confidence is the attractiveness in beauty. There is a confidence that grows from telling a child they look like a princess or a superhero. It is equating them to positive role models. Emulation has no expiration. We can always choose to be more like those we admire, and each of us has the ability to live a beautiful story filled life of interest.