The fairy tale is dead. That’s the message that Mercy Academy, an all-girls' Catholic school in Louisville, Kentucky, is sending with a splashy new ad campaign that tells students, “You’re not a princess. But you can still rule the world,” “Mirror, mirror on the wall. Be more than just the fairest of them all,” and “Don’t wait for a prince. Be able to rescue yourself.”
The campaign, created by Doe-Anderson, a Louisville-based advertising agency, is meant to reflect one of the school's core goals: to help its students become independent, productive women in the real world. For example, during entrepreneur courses, students create real businesses and donate the proceeds to women in Sudan; in chemistry class, they clean up simulated oil spills. It’s also an attempt to woo prospective students to the school, which serves grades 9 to 12. “Our ad campaigns have been pretty traditional in the past, but this year we wanted to really get the message across that Mercy students have the power to write their own stories,” Amy Elstone, principal at Mercy Academy, tells Yahoo Shine. “When we showed the campaign to current students, many said they would have loved to hear this message when they were in middle school.”
The campaign comes at a time when Disney itself is taking baby steps to revamp its princess archetype. The upcoming Disney film “Frozen” features a princess named Anna who embarks on a dangerous mission to save her kingdom from a fate of eternal winter, and in May, Disney pulled a glammed-up version of Princess Merida from "Brave" after fans complained that the makeover (which removed her bow and arrow, smoothed her frizzy hair, and cinched her waist) set a poor example for young girls. And in 2009, Disney debuted “The Princess and the Frog” about an African American waitress turnedbbusinesswoman who opens a restaurant (named after herself).
It's not yet clear whether or not the anti-princess message will resonate with social media-happy eighth graders aging out of Disney’s target demographic of 9 to14, since young women are still bombarded with messages that they need a man – all those romantic comedies where the quirky career gal finally finds happiness, thanks to the affable guy she knew all along; websites that encourage ladies to seek out sugar daddies; and an entire industry that aims to convince every living, breathing female that nothing she'll ever experience will trump her wedding day. “Many women, young and old, harbor fantasies of being saved by a prince,” Jennifer Baumgardner, author and feminist activist, tells Yahoo Shine. “It’s not a literal desire for women; it’s the subconscious idea that life isn’t complete until a man is in it. And it’s never too late to reinforce the idea that women should be independent.”
It’s a sentiment that resonates with Rebecca Traister, author of "Big Girls Don’t Cry: The Election That Changed Everything for American Women" and of a forthcoming book on unmarried women. “When I was pregnant and getting an ultrasound, a well-meaning technician told me I was having a girl by saying, ‘It’s a little princess!’” Traister tells Yahoo Shine. “It’s a message that begins in the womb.”
Encouraging women to get educated and shape their own futures contradicts the make-believe princess ideal, which, according to Traister, is a passive position for women. “You don’t get to be a princess by your achievements; it’s a role women are born into,” she says. “Teaching girls to aspire to more during their school years, a training ground for girls to discover and develop themselves, is key."