Being a professional princess was never a particular goal I had.
An unusual job ad caught my eye on Craigslist. I responded, curious to see if the tiara would fit me. There wasn’t much of an interview process. I tried on a blue dress, was shown how to make a balloon sword, and signed a form of which I only remember the ‘Don’t holding babies unless seated’ clause.
That same weekend, I began working with a North Jersey entertainment agency. I’d mostly be doing Elsa, they told me.
“Who’s Elsa?” I asked.
When I walk into the party room, my audience usually responds well.
“Elsa, Elsa! Where’s Anna? (Back at the castle. Your Mom only paid for me.) Where’s Olaf? (Outside.) Can you freeze this room? (Not right now.) Pleeeeease!”
Six-year-olds chatter excitedly, like we are long lost friends. They know I’m not ‘real’, but they still enjoy this make-believe game. Four-year-olds freeze (it wasn’t me) and stare, tongue-tied. The littlest ones run their fingers on my sequined dress, their eyes full of wonder. That can turn into a well of anxious tears. Some small birthday girls snub me, unimpressed by my royal charms. ‘Talk to the hand blondie, I’ll just roll on the floor and flash my diaper.’ Can’t win them all.
I was no stranger to princess games as a kid. I’d select random items in my Mom’s closet, and wear them with a silver paper crown. On my birthdays, my friends rode their bikes to my house, and we played and ate a homemade cake. It was the 80′s. In the small Scandinavian town I grew up in, that’s how everyone did it.
Those simple birthdays are a far cry from today’s Jersey princess parties. Typically, the living rooms were filled with Frozen merchandise, from giant helium balloons to custom made cakes. The birthday girl would be dressed as Elsa or Anna. Most clients are middle-income families, living in average neighborhoods. I admire the effort, especially of those who are not rolling in money.
Other families are wealthy, and throw a baby’s first birthday bash in a large hotel. I walked into the lobby to find a clown making balloons for a handful of kids. Adults sipped on cocktails, dressed in their finest. I tried to lure children to dance with me, but my efforts fell flat. Somehow, I had to kill an hour. The clown suggested I help the face painting lady in the ballroom. What now? I opened the door to what looked like a wedding reception. Guests began trickling in. The cocktail hour was over, and the real party about to start! This whole circus was slightly extravagant for someone who didn’t know how to walk. Imagine what her sweet sixteen will look like. They’ll probably hire whoever is Justin Bieber fifteen years from now.
Elsa is insanely popular, but other characters are requested too. Even I knew who Barbie was. In a pink dress, I bounced to the Barbie Girl song, ignoring the ‘You can touch my hair, undress me everywhere’ line. I felt like I was six again, having a house disco with my friends.
The funniest costume was My Little Pony. I’d imagined a huge pony head, and immediately felt claustrophobic. I’d done Minnie Mouse once, and hated every second of it. The giant head rendered me blind and deaf. To my relief, the pony costume was headless. (Did they think my face bore close enough resemblance?) I did the walk of shame from my car to the Hoboken restaurant in a clown wig and rainbow leg warmers. I turned heads as Elsa too, but this time I’d parked especially far. Once indoors, I pinned my tail on the tutu and put on my rubber ears and wings. My outfit was beyond ridiculous. I looked like I’d been dressed by Katy Perry.
Even without a pony head, I passed the smell test. The kids loved me!
“It’s Rainbow Dash!” (Who’s Rainbow Dash?)
I painted their faces and we partied all night.
The Rapunzel wig was the worst. The long braid was heavy, and I had to constantly adjust the wig so it wouldn’t fall off. Due to my high professional standards, I’d googled Rapunzel to know a little about her. (By now, I’d also watched Frozen, and knew the whole story. The agency never suggested I do any research.) Rapunzel’s boyfriend was Pascal. That was a useful tidbit.
“Do you have a Mom?” the girls asked me.
“Of course I do, everyone has a Mom,” I replied, dumbfounded. Nobody cared about Pascal.
Breaking from tradition, happily ever after in Frozen is not based on romantic, but sibling love. How refreshingly age-appropriate!
What’s completely routine, however, is the ethnicity of the entire cast. Yes, Frozen is set in Norway, the land of the pale, but Disney has a history of altering original fairytales. (Otherwise, Ariel would have committed suicide and become sea foam instead of nabbing the prince.) In the 90′s, Disney finally began introducing non-white leading characters. They were received with both applause and outcry. According to critics, Aladdin is too light-skinned, as is Tiana’s prince. Pocahontas’s romance with the white captain is historically inaccurate. In 2012, Disney caused another controversy with the release of Disney TV’s Sofia the First, a blue-eyed ‘Latina’ princess.
I used to find it silly to demand for more diversity from Disney, a private enterprise. I’d much rather see a non-white female president than a cartoon character. Now I experience first-hand the adoration little girls hold for their princesses. I understand children’s need to identify with their heroes, and it’s probably easier when the princess resembles the child physically. Interestingly enough, the majority of girls I encounter are black and brown. They live and breathe Frozen. They identify with the inner qualities of the characters: Elsa’s spunk, Anna’s sweetness. They relate to the story, where the love of two sisters conquers all. In our blue dresses, we hold hands and dance to ‘Let It Go’, in post-racial America.