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

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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 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

Two Marias Are Better Than One

Maria & MariaAs a boy (which is most of the time…) I work in social media. I’ve been doing drag for a few years on fun projects or performances I think are cool. I used to really worry about doing ‘amazing’ drag and looking as much like a woman as I could, however, over time I just decided to do projects which I thought were interesting. I’ve run around Leeds Market filming for the council, I’ve been in a music video for a rock and roll band and I made 400 people take part in a 80s themed work out with me at Leeds Town Hall. That sort of stuff.

My drag name is Maria Millionaire and I wear a lot of black.

As a drag queen I’m aware of always doing things ‘dressed as a girl’ which aren’t derogatory or insulting to women. As a drag queen 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. Princesses are I suppose, a form of drag, in that they present a made up, over-feminised version of reality, but I feel drag is a critique of our expectations of humanity – we over draw our eyebrows, play with silhouettes and wear oversized hair to draw attention to the fact that in life we all wear masks or different identities.

Typical princesses only offer one dimension, drag offers thousands.

 

Fairy Tale Whitewash

IMG_9028On a Young Conservatives blog I’m not sharing a link to, someone proudly (arrogantly) responds to ‘liberal minds’ who complain about lack of ethnic diversity among fairy-tale princesses. His argument is that the predominance of porcelain skinned princesses is simply ‘realistic’, because the original stories are set in white-majority countries. I find it curious that, in fantasy worlds where pumpkins turn into carriages and frogs into princes, he’s such a stickler for verisimilitude when it comes to skin colour.

This liberal mind believes representation is really important, even in cartoons and fairy-tale worlds. Seeing yourself (and others) represented in books, on the screen and in the toys you play with is a serious issue. Even the Tellytubbies represented. I know Disney have made more of an effort to include black and brown characters in recent years, but is it good enough when many of the stories still perpetuate knackered old stereotypes? I recently watched Kenneth Branagh’s 2015 live action version of Cinderella, where the first woman of colour we see is a kitchen maid, FFS. But then this is a world where Prince Charming is still entitled to any woman he wants…

One of the Princesses in my project, Natalie Davies, is an actor from Bradford, and her heritage is mixed. She had this to say:

“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!”

And playwright/poet Zodwa Nyoni delivers African Princess realness in another of my portraits:

“There is a westernised 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.”

Well Zodwa’s Princess certainly garnered respect from a passer-by during our photoshoot, as he yelled his enthusiastic support from the street.

IMG_1687

There’s a great blog by a Dad called ‘Man vs. Pink’, chronicling the struggle he and his daughter share against pinkification. In ‘Celebrating Disney Princesses of Colour’ he says:

“As parents of a mixed race daughter, it’s important we include representations of girls & women of colour in stories, films, and merchandise she is exposed to. As far as Disney Princesses are concerned, the women of colour tend to be far less prominent than their caucasian counterparts… While I appreciate there are overriding issues with gender representation and Disney Princesses (admittedly only three of these movies – just about – pass the Bechdel Test), that is something that I can address by talking to my daughter about these stories.”

It’s great when parents can take the negatives and use them to stimulate conversation with their children, but some would also like to buy an Esmeralda lunchbox from the Disney store.