Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


I don’t want to be a princess … or do I?

So there I was on my couch, trying to make myself stand up and go do something useful after my allotted “Simpsons” break, and then it came on.

“Who,” the announcer boomed in a self-important baritone, “Wants to Be a

“Not me!” I said decisively. Scrambling for the remote, I switched the TV off. Then I heaved myself off the couch, tracked down my backpack, and embarked on my women’s studies reading.

At least, that’s how I’d like to say it happened.

I’ve never wanted to be a princess; I used to whine if I had to wear a skirt on Christmas. Reality shows, I’ve convinced myself, are beneath me; I may be the only person in my demographic who has never seen “Survivor.”

I believe beauty pageants exploit the dreams of young women who have learned to use their bodies as currency; when a high-school friend made it to the national pageant of America’s Junior Miss, I congratulated her, yes, but I also played Feminist Mystery Science Theater 3000 at the viewing party. And I refuse to believe that a woman’s purpose on this earth is to ensnare a man of power.

Which, of course, is why I spent my evening epoxied to the couch, watching a beauty-pageant-style reality show wherein the contestants competed for a “romantic adventure” with a prince. And why I made dinner and got ready for work in two-minute spurts during the commercial breaks.

“Who Wants to Be a Princess?” was fairly standard. Beautiful women swayed bony hips, giggled and tossed their hair across desperate lipstick smiles. The announcer patronized them and asked probing questions such as, “Where’s the most exotic place you’ve ever shared an intimate moment?” Glitzy synthesizer music played as the 10 finalists paraded first in evening dresses, then in cocktail dresses, then in swimwear (ribs protruding), and finally in gigantic ball gowns.

What set the show apart was the creepy element supplied by the “Mystery Prince,” who watched all this low-calorie cheesecake from a box above the stage. At any minute, I expected him to raise his arm and shout, “Bring the wenches to my royal bedchamber!”

It reminded me of the book of Esther, where the land was scoured for nubile virgins and King Xerxes tested them out one by one. “Hey, little girls! Careers are nice and all, but wouldn’t you rather have a rich, powerful husband? If you’re pretty enough and smile big, you won’t have to do any work, ever.”

But I kept watching. I shouted at the screen when my favorite didn’t make the top five. And I realized what it was that kept me riveted: besides fascinated scorn and the desire to see how it turned out, it was envy. And not just because my smile isn’t as big and my ribs don’t stick out like that. I suppose envy is what the show’s producers hoped to evoke (well, that and lust). Who hasn’t read “Cinderella?” Who doesn’t want to be whisked off to a life of fabulous wealth, ease, and glamour?

Me, for instance. Or so I always thought. After all, I’d be a terrible princess, falling asleep at state dinners and saying preposterous things to members of the press, and I don’t look all that great in a ball gown.

“Who Wants to Be a Princess?” didn’t exactly change my mind about that, but it did make me realize how much I’d underestimated the desire for transformation. Who hasn’t dreamed of waking up to an entirely new self, a new life where past mistakes would disappear, vices would fall away like shed skin and the world would get to see the person you’ve always believed yourself to be?

I’m not defending the show. Parading women as a sort of T&A buffet for one man’s pleasure mocks the progress toward gender equality that has been so dearly won. As long as TV producers think up chauvinist concepts, and as long as there are women willing to be treated as eye candy and sex toys, the sexes will not be equal.

But as my roommate observed, “You’d think they would have learned their lesson after ‘Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire?'”
They did learn their lesson. They learned that people can be found who will do anything for fame and money, and that other people can be found to watch them.
But they also learned that even in the face of trash-slinging controversy and opportunistic liars, the Cinderella myth still holds power. Even over me.

Jacki May is a sophomore majoring in English

Leave a Comment
Donate to The Badger Herald

Your donation will support the student journalists of University of Wisconsin-Madison. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
Donate to The Badger Herald

Comments (0)

All The Badger Herald Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *