Not All Princesses Wear Pink!

Not All Princesses Wear Pink!I have a very vivid memory of one of my first days in primary school. We were told to choose and colour in the picture that represented what we wanted to be when we grew up. These pictures were divided right down the middle into ‘boys’ and ‘girls’. Boys could choose to be Policemen, Doctors and Astronauts. Girls could choose to be Hairdressers, Nurses and Shopkeepers. I remember studying these pictures for ages, desperately wanting to choose astronaut (it looked exciting) but knowing I wasn’t allowed because it was in the ‘boys’ box. I know that in the end I chose a ‘girls’ role because I didn’t want to get told off, but I can’t remember what I chose, only that I couldn’t choose what I wanted.

IMG_1767To coincide with The Real Princesses of Yorkshire exhibition at Heart in Headingley, Leeds, I organised a songs and stories workshop for families. Continuing one of the themes of this project, to challenge gender binaries and stereotypes, I wanted to create a safe, playful space where parents and children could enjoy stories and songs that encourage them to have fun without the judgements we (often unwittingly) impose around gender and who is ‘allowed’ to do what. Although Princess themed, we made it clear that this was an activity that welcomed everyone, and alongside introducing families to some ‘alternative’ bad-ass, girl princesses, would also welcome and celebrate princess boys.

IMG_1654Hooray for the enormous talents and passion of Rachel McMahon, Pariss Elektra and Lizzie Wharton. Rachel has a fantastic resource of diverse books – a tool for reflecting real world, real people in stories and a non-threatening way to represent, discuss and ‘normalise’ people, subjects and themes that are often excluded from mainstream culture and education. We laughed and loved hearing stories of strong princess girls and boys who didn’t need rescuing, and the spoon who ran away with the spoon! Having Lizzie there to provide British Sign Language Support meant a young deaf boy who joined us was able to feel fully included. And Pariss brought joy and positivity through  music, even gaining  a little shadow in one young girl who stuck by her side and mimicked every movement.

IMG_1698Of the 13 children that came along, 6 of them were boys. This warms my heart – to see parents and children engaging with a theme that is commonly loaded with ‘girlyness’ and negative associations around weakness, but turning it on its head into something, strong, positive and truly playful. I would love to see more of this in formal and informal learning, but what an uphill battle (progress is never linear, right?).

Pariss set the tone when she asked the children at the start ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ By the end of the session the answer came down to one, simple but powerful word – HAPPY.

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There is a wealth of resources out there for parents, carers and educators. Here are just a handful of examples:

Let Toys Be Toys
Pop n’ Olly
A Mighty Girl
No Time for Flash Cards
Pink Stinks
We Are Family

My thanks to Leeds Inspired and ACE Grants for the Arts for funding this project.


We’re Back and Serving IWD Realness!

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A selection of The Real Princesses of Yorkshire photographs will be exhibited in the Assembly Bar and Kitchen at HEART in Headingley from Feb 17th to March 29th 2018. If you’ve not been to Heart before, it’s a great community venue with a variety of art and activities on offer. The cafe is open Monday–Saturdays 8am–9pm, with food served until 7.45pm. The food (especially the cake) is great!

FREE FAMILY FUN – Saturday 3rd March 10:30am

And we have family-fun planned to celebrate International Women’s Day on Saturday 3rd March. Not All Princesses Wear Pink! is a fun, gender-positive story and song workshop, free for families. Are all princesses pink and ‘girly’? NO! Are princesses sometimes boys? YES! We’ll be laughing and singing with expert storyteller Rachel McMahon and musician Pariss Elektra, with British Sign Language support from Lizzie Wharton. Children (and parents!) of all ages and genders are welcome to join us for this free workshop, but advance booking is advised.


The Photos · Uncategorized

Princess Wielding an Axe

Maria Spadafora (14)
Princess: Pariss Elektra
Location: The Old Red Bus Station, Leeds

Women – by Pariss 

A woman is always told to be bright, to shine a smile so the world can see her beauty for those that desire.

A woman is always told to be delicate, like fine China, until she falls and realises she doesn’t break, she bounces back quicker than her opposite.

A woman is strong, always centred within the eye of the hurricane.

A woman is wild, always ready to wield her axe to protect her kin, from birth.

A woman is the depth of darkness, the black hole that draws in the stars and, from that, births entire universes.

A woman is beauty in motion she cannot be kept still, do not try to keep her.

She is nature personified.


The Photos · Uncategorized

Some Queens Are Wickedly Gorgeous

Maria Spadafora (3)

Princess: Maria Millionaire (Martin Carter)
Location: The Corn Exchange, Leeds

Martin: “As a drag queen I’m aware of always doing things ‘dressed as a girl’ which aren’t derogatory or insulting to women.  I want to celebrate womanhood. I’m not sure the ideal archetype of a princess does that. It often presents women in the way of needing saving, needing a man or that the only worthwhile pursuit is singing to birds and collecting fruit.”


The Photos · Uncategorized

Princess Leia Organza

Maria Spadafora (10)

Princess: Maria Spadafora
Location: My flat, Morley

I had no plan to be part of my own project, but I was determined to include Princess Leia. Of all the princess icons (and she’s technically owned by Disney, now) I expected loads of people to jump at the chance to recreate her image, as she genuinely is/was a strong, determined character with agency. Curiously, not a single person wanted to! Those who didn’t already have their own costumes in mind, wanted to dress up in full princess bling. So I did Leia, swamped by tulle and organza, camera and long lens mimicking her blaster.

Finding a costume was a challenge. If you purchase Princess Leia fancy dress, you will
a) find it hard to get anything above a size 12 and
b) soon learn that most designs are skin tight with massive slits in the skirt, nothing like the original look, and totally fetishize her.

It’s quite depressing.

One woman had a really long look around the exhibition in Arts at Trinity, and we had a lovely chat. Not realising it was me, she asked if this was a drag queen, which made my day.


The Photos · Uncategorized

The Writers’ Block

Maria Spadafora (9)

Princesses: Caroline Mitchell, Aisha Khan, Zodwa Nyoni, Kirsty Taylor
Location: Shakespeare Avenue, Leeds

Caroline: “They (princesses) made me want to give them a good shake as a child. especially the one in The Princess and the Pea. Bruised because she was too tender! Oh please.”

Aisha: “This project made me giggle in a ‘ooh I’d like to do that’ kind of way!” 

Zodwa: “There is a westernized stereotype of what princesses look like, usually blonde-haired and blue-eyed. Certainly with fair hair and skin. I come from a culture with royalty that doesn’t look like that, but is never held up, celebrated and respected as royalty.”

Kirsty: “Should I bring like a tracksuit top and Nike air max to go with the dress? With me Pat Butcher earrings?! Is that the look or not really…?!” 

It is now! #PrincessRealness