Family Matters

For Little Girls, Kate Middleton Pales Next to Pretend Princesses

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Little girls love princesses. With royal wedding coverage everywhere — alone had more than 10 related stories on Friday morning’s homepage — it would seem the perfect opportunity for diminutive ladies-in-waiting to take notes on how an ordinary young woman catapults to royal status. Except they couldn’t care less.

I had told Shira, my 6-year-old daughter — who’s of the mindset that sparkle imputes worth and only dresses that twirl merit wearing — that a woman was poised to become a princess an ocean away, just like that. (More on Photos: Kate Middleton’s Wedding Dress)

Initially she was intrigued. How do you become a princess, she wanted to know. It’s pretty simple, I told her. You meet a guy who just happens to be a prince, fall in love and decide to get married. It’s the same old love story the world over. This one just happens to be writ large.

Shira was largely unimpressed. A big-time Disney princess aficionada, Shira once cut her curls off because no princesses she knew had curly hair. But Kate Middleton was unlike any princess she’d ever come across. Unlike Belle, Middleton had not been confined to a castle with a beast, had not languished in a tower like Rapunzel, had not outsmarted a duo of nasty stepsisters as was Cinderella’s destiny. (More on Disney’s Princess: A Breakthrough for Curly Hair)

Earlier this month, princess boot camp was held in London. The one-day “Princess Prep” workshop — dreamed up by an American, no less — amounted to a crash course on etiquette for the 12 British and American girls who participated. There were cardboard cutouts of Prince William and bride-to-be Kate Middleton, and “activities included learning how to drink tea properly, curtsying to a woman with a cut-out Queen mask on (hilarious!) and walking gracefully while balancing a book on your head,” according to our colleagues at NewsFeed. “You know, the useful stuff.”

Sounds amusing, but almost beside the point. Because it seems that being a princess often turns out a lot better in fiction than in fact, where authentic princesses have not always fared so well. The much-publicized unraveling of Princess Diana’s marriage, followed by her demise in a car crash? Crown Princess Masako of Japan’s emotional breakdown, ostensibly due to her failure to produce a male heir? “Not so good,” says Peggy Orenstein, author of Cinderella Ate My Daughter. “In real princesses, there are a lot of cautionary tales.”

Orenstein was in London two weeks ago, sightseeing with her second-grade daughter — the one Cinderella ate. She didn’t seem aware that a royal wedding was underfoot. “There we were in the red-hot center of it, and it just didn’t come up,” says Orenstein. (More on Time.comHow Prince William is the Model Modern Groom)

That’s because fantasy princesses ignite kids’ imagination far more than real ones. “Kate Middleton doesn’t look right,” says Orenstein. “She doesn’t wear a tiara. She looks like she could be their babysitter. I don’t care who she’s marrying, I don’t care what she’s doing, she doesn’t have the bling.”

Yawn. In contrast to Disney’s maidens, being a modern-day princess seems downright boring. Charity work? Impeccable behavior? That’s hardly the stuff of little-girl dreams. Don’t expect Friday’s viewer demographic to exhibit a significant dreamy-eyed preschooler component, though unattached college-age women may take more of an interest: after all, Prince Harry is still up for grabs.

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Photos: Scenes from Will and Kate’s Wedding Day