Wednesday, January 10, 2018

the tale of four princesses

Recently, the ideology of a Disney princess has been in popular media. There are all these quizzes and memes displaying some sort of favored princesses. I have been asked many times, "Who's your favorite Disney princess?" Which I reply, "Tiger Lily", by default even though I am not a Disney princess person.

There are four princesses that greatly influenced me. Two are fictional, another non-fictional, the fourth falls somewhere in between.

1.) The Little Princess
I first became aware of the story of A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, through watching the movie The Little Princess staring Shirley Temple. I must have watched (and cried) through this movie hundreds of times as a child.

Photo Courtesy: Turner Classic Movies

Later, I had the privilege of reading the story. Sara Crewe is moved from India to a posh boarding school after he mother passes away so that her father can serve in WWI. The boarding school receives the news that Sara's father is missing in action and they strip everything away from her. She spends her time giving from nothing as a scullery maid and her kindness eventually leads her back to her father.
This was my Cinderella story. There wasn't a prince. There was friendship and honor. There was blind faith and suffering. I hung on to the line, "every little girl is a princess". Although, others might have some feminists arguments against this phrase. It meant to me that I had power and value no matter where I found myself  or what the world said. 
2.) Princess Dala
I watched a lot of classic movies as a young person and my parents were especially interested in me watching old comedies. One of these movies was the 1963 version of The Pink Panther. The movie follows the theft of a pink diamond stolen from Princess Dala and the bumbling French inspector Jacques Clouseau trying to solve the crime.
I can't tell you if I wanted to be Princess Dala or wanted to date Princess Dala, but her character and the actress herself had this growling sensuality that I was aware of even as a pre-teen. She somehow juggled being pure and dark the same time. She set boundaries in her aloof handling of others. It felt like a beautiful dance, even if there was too much fantasy in it.
What I took from her was my own sensuality. I molded it after her character. (Although, I never took interest in kissing grizzled old men.) I grew a sort of confidence in taking risks, but being in control of those risks. I owned my sexuality. And for that, I forever grateful to the actress and writers involved.
3.) Inge Sargent or Sao Nang Thu Sandi a Burmese Princess
I met Inge Sargent in the mid 90's when she was doing a book tour. It was purely by coincidence that this happened. For some reason, my school was hosting her and a few of us were randomly shuffled into a small sitting room where we met her.
She then talked about her life and Burma. There was something about her that was deeply humble and conversely touched by an earned regality. That is when she began telling us about her book Twilight Over Burma: My Life as a Shan Princess.
Photo Courtesy: A Show of Hearts
This story is about love. Love for her Prince. Love of Burma and it's people. Ultimately, love for humanity. 
She was born in Austria and during that time faced the Nazi regime. Life wasn't easy but through hard work she secured a scholarship that led her to the same school where she met her future husband Sao Kya Seng. He was studying engineering and they fell in love. But, he had a secret.
This secret wasn't revealed until the then married couple arrived at a Burmese port to hundreds of people waiting for them. As it turns out, her charming Burmese engineer was a Prince. 
Burma eventually was dragged through a military coup. Her husband was thrown in jail and killed. Her and their daughters were held in house arrest for years. I saw the pain as she spoke about these things, but also the passion she still had for the Burmese people. 
She wanted everyone to know her story and to understand why human rights were so important. Twice in her life, she had personally witnessed a regime rip rights from the people and she worked tirelessly as an activist. 
I hope others continue her work as Burma still suffers under the Republic of Myanmar. And I can't stop thinking that her story, would be on the tongues of many if she had been let's say a movie star like Grace Kelly, who eventually became the Princess of Monaco. 
So often, for hers is a story of realism. Of the lucky and unlucky truths of this world. She fell in love with the man of her dreams, became a princess, and lived in luxury in an exotic place. Then it was all taken away. She could have been bitter, instead she took it all with grace and used her struggles to help others. This taught me about sacrifice and honor.
4.) Princess Caraboo 
I watched a lot of movies in the summer of 2000. Mostly because I was living in my own place, had just bought my own VHS player, and lived close to Blockbuster (RIP). Going out was too much money so, I rented a lot of movies. That is when I rented Princess Caraboo on whim. The movie was so-so, but I was really fascinated by the idea of character. Then, I realized it was based on a true story.
In the 1800s, Mary Baker tricked all sorts of people into believing that she was an exotic island princess named Princess Caraboo of Javasu. Eventually the truth came out but she had a whirlwind of attention for those few months. 
Photo Courtsey: Wikipedia

For a time, I became obsessed with this story and I mark it as the first recognition that I love weird history. The stranger the story, the more delighted I am. This woman had to have the biggest balls to try to pull this con and enough knowledge to make it passable for a time. That amazes me.
She was one of the things that made me start thinking about critical thinking. What is real. What isn't real. The motivations of people. Why and how people lie. What the differences between story teller and grifter really are. 
For these things and more, I thank the princesses of my past. They had more influence over my life than any Disney princess ever did and that is freaking awesome. Sorry, Tiger Lily.

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