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Joanna Weiss

The princess platform

You don’t need a Prince Charming to live happily ever after

(Reuters)
By Joanna Weiss
Globe Columnist / April 26, 2011

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IT’S TAKEN as a given in America that every girl aspires to be a princess. This is no surprise, given how much merchandise for girls is bejeweled, bedazzled, or marked with someone wearing a tiara.

Whether girls aspire to be Kate Middleton is an entirely different question.

Yes, the marketing mavens — who really want you to buy that Kate-and-Wills commemorative coffee mug — are hawking Friday’s royal wedding as a source of aspiration: a reason to gather tweens around the TV set and get them dreaming about happily-ever-after. And maybe it’s working in England, where people accept the concept of noble lineage and also eat blood pudding for breakfast, and where Friday marks the day when a commoner marries herself through the royal gates.

In America, princess-dom is far less dependent on a prince’s love, or even his existence. Disney’s innovation in packaging Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Belle as a single marketing unit was divorcing the princesses from fairy tales entirely, replacing the concept of happily-ever-after with perfectly-happy-right-now.

Being a princess today means luxuriating in girl stuff: tea parties, pedicures, feather boas. Princessdom is an attitude, and an egalitarian one, given that all it takes is a set of props on sale at CVS. Even for adults, the trappings of royalty — clothes, paparazzi, magazine covers — are conferred by the networks Bravo and E!, attainable to anyone who lacks a certain amount of shame.

As crass as this can be, it’s far more appealing than the alternative. Real royal weddings have not historically been happy affairs; most weren’t romances so much as human treaties, often involving a young woman and her much older cousin. Even Princess Diana’s wedding, 30 years ago, was a tragedy wrapped in tulle: a wide-eyed woman, pushed into the arms of a crusty older guy who carried a torch for somebody else.

The royal family was cast as the villain in that one, though some recent movies have proffered a kind of condescending sympathy toward the poor dears — a sense that they’re actually less than us, not more, and that their cloistered, coddled lifestyle is nothing to wish for. Last year’s “The King’s Speech’’ and 2006’s “The Queen’’ showed us a miserable, emotionally stunted bunch, with a duty to their people, but little human contact. When Princess Diana died, we were reminded, Queen Elizabeth misread the public mood completely, and huddled in Scotland with her husband and dogs until her prime minister swooped in to save the monarchy.

It was a sort of Cinderella story in reverse, and Diana turned out to be its modern, American-style tragic heroine. A woman who seemed naive and shellshocked on her wedding day grew up to be one of the savviest celebrities in history, a woman who managed to maximize her glamour without losing her show of innocence. She played her position perfectly — and didn’t need a husband, after all.

That’s the image of a princess that America celebrates, even amid the overblown wedding frenzy. Julie Hall, a PR executive from Charlestown, is throwing one of those early-morning wedding parties you’ve heard about, with a catered cake and fancy printed invitations and mock-ups of Kate’s engagement ring. But her obsession is sign of modern womanhood as much as Anglophilia. Hall got hooked on the royals as a 10-year-old, watching Diana get wed. But she got into PR because she saw what Diana could do.

That’s one thing Kate Middleton will get from her royal marriage, too: the power of a platform. Which wedding dress she chooses will set the fashion standard for a decade. Which causes she chooses will get funding and attention. Whether she works — apparently, an open question — could influence women in her country, perhaps beyond.

That’s enviable clout, and if true love came along with it . . . well, that would be icing on the cake. But make no mistake: the girls who watch Friday’s wedding won’t be pining much for William (who seems pleasant enough, and balding, and kind of bland). They’ll be more interested in Kate’s shoes, and where they can buy the knock-offs. American princess types know how to make themselves happy.

Joanna Weiss can be reached at weiss@globe.com.