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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.

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The Photos · Uncategorized

Bad Time to Take to The Throne

Maria Spadafora (16)
Princess: Kath Morgan-Thompson
Location: Bathroom in Iberica, Leeds

Kath:  “I was never really bothered for the princess thing as a little girl and saw through the ridiculous idea of a prince coming to save me. That was probably due to the mystique of manhood being farted out of me by my four flatulent brothers!”

#PrincessRealness

 

 

 

The Photos · Uncategorized

Where There’s a Will, There’s a Waist

Maria Spadafora (13)
Princesses: Lorraine Brown, Anna Gray and Charlotte Jones
Location: Mind The Gap, Lister Mills, Bradford

Lorraine: “I am very good at most stuff. I like playing in a band and love dancing. I’m very talented at different arts things.” 

Anna: “I love the costumes, definitely. First I love Cinderella, because I’ve played Cinderella here at Mind the Gap. But my ultimate favourite, is Elsa from Frozen. I love the costume, I love the make-up, the finale dress on the steps and the song”.

Charlotte: “I quite like dressing up as a princess, I also like the encouragement of being part of it (this project) – empowering women to be strong together, not necessarily as princesses, but as women. Love yourself and be yourself. Because we are women and we are in it all together, it doesn’t matter who you are. You don’t need to change yourself, it’s about loving yourself and accepting who you are in yourself”.

#PrincessRealness

 

 

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.

#PrincessRealness

The Photos · Uncategorized

Our Dreams Are Way Bigger Than These Dresses

Maria Spadafora (1)

Princesses: Simran Virdee, Zahabia Naveed, Harpreet Panesar, Kirtan Virdee
Location: Bracken Edge, Leeds

The sentiment here should be very clear. Girls are more than princesses, more than pretty, more than whatever limiting stereotype we throw at them.

Zahabia’s Mum, Kauser, wrote to her daughter’s school about this project, exclaiming: “I feel this event and project resonates with the schools ethos about girls achieving their potential and challenging stereotypes”.

#PrincessRealness

The Photos · Uncategorized

One Size Does Not Fit All

Maria Spadafora (17)

Princesses: Jenny Wilson and Natalie Davies
Location: Cartwright Hall, Bradford

Jenny: “We’ve all been brought up in a patriarchy, and our language is formed in that context, the words we have, the frames of reference we have, the very thoughts in our heads – those words are patriarchal words. Everything is so very gendered.”

Natalie: “The princesses do not reflect the everyday female. I never could quite relate to any of the Disney princesses – so I just settled for being Mowgli!”

#PrincessRealness

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