I stood in front of a room of young girls and women, first graders to college students. I talked to them about how we want to carry good words with us. Words that remind us we are beautiful just the way we are, that we are loved and accepted, that God has plans for us and created us for a reason, that none of us are mistakes no matter how we got here.
I showed them pictures of my little girl self and how it took me so long to love and accept her and that I’m still learning to do so. And then I took questions.
One of the girls asked me, “Who is your favorite Disney princess?”
“I don’t have a favorite Disney princess,” I said.
And the entire room gasped.
I cycled through all the Disney movies I knew, the classic Disney films I’d grown up with before there was “Frozen” and “Brave.” I thought of “Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty, how I never identified with their fair skin and straight hair. I thought of how divorce limited any memories I’d have of being daddy’s princess. I thought of how I grew up being raised by strong women who could not wait on Prince Charming or fairy godmothers or spells to rescue them so they became “can-do” women instead.
So I never dressed up as a princess, never imagined myself a tiara, preferred a fresh pair of sneakers instead of glass slippers, found my fairy tales in Toni Morrison’s fiction, Maya Angelou’s poetry, and John Steptoe’s African tale, “Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters.”
Then I remembered talking about princesses with another room of young women, many if whom had lived enough life to be twice their teen age. They were survivors of exploitation, trafficking, and abuse, beginning the lifelong journey of recovery. Once or month or so we sit at a table and write together.
We write about God, about the past, about things we love, about wounds. I asked them to write about what they thought about the word princess. I was curious to see if they had the same complicated relationship I had to the word princess. Some found it easy to identify with fairytales, some couldn’t bring themselves to believe in fairy tales based on the harsh realities their lives had been.
We tried an experiment. I asked them to invent their own princess and kingdom. We used our pens to describe what our version of princess would be like, what would be the rules of our kingdom, how we would treat the people who lived there.
We wrote about how we would help the people who lived in our respective kingdoms. Princess fashions ranged from gold to couture to sneakers and jeans. As we read aloud our various inventions of princess, I realized there was power in that.
Movies, magazines, or fairy tales don’t have to be the sole definition of princess for my generation of girls or any of the generations to follow. We get to invent our own princesses, tell our own stories.
I hope to say to young girls what I continue to say to my own little girl self; you can be your own version of princess. Whether you wear tutus or chucks, have freckles or rock an afro, remember that God makes no mistakes and he creates no replicas. So be the unique, original you that God made. That is the coolest, most awesome, absolute best thing you can be.