‘Buy me pretty clothes. Look after me. Call me your Princess.’ I see this trope plastered across my Facebook newsfeed all the time, usually in the form of tacky quotes or video slideshows of apparently ‘perfect couples’ (usually heterosexual, well-off, cisgender youths) that this generation aims to emulate. The trope falls in with the grotesquely rose-tinted ‘Justgirlythings’ lifestyle so oft reposted, that is rampant with vapid, superficial ideals that teach adolescents to place their priorities in precariously fabricated places. Set your life goals higher than simply obtaining an attractive mate that’ll spoil you rotten please, you’re much more than that.
I must confess, I’m looking at this ideal from the ‘female side of thing’s, so I can’t cover a truly comprehensive picture of how these idealisms impact perceptions of love and romance (although according to some ‘psychological test’ my brain is nearly enough androgynous). I merely speak from observation, and personal perception, and how, in theory, young girls could be affected by such manufactured fantasy. I see young, straight women lamenting over their loneliness, or frustration that they aren’t being satisfied romantically – ‘Nobody loves me! What’s wrong with me?! Why are all men so stupid, they never treat me right! etc.’. There is a collective yearning for ‘him’, the elusive Mr. Perfect, to apparate mysteriously into their lives and provide a dash of danger and burning passion . 99.9% of the time that isn’t going to happen. Besides, aiming to derive your happiness from somebody else is a terrible bet to heap your future on, as you’re going to lose every time. You make your own happiness – your own actions fuel those endorphins and hormones that create the chemical cocktail of our emotions, and you can choose how to feel about your experiences in life. Why not set your aims higher, and hope to spoil yourself with success in doing whatever makes you happy? Be your own Queen. We all have to individually accept that there isn’t ‘something fundamentally wrong’ with us, in order to cheaply explain continued singledom (I’ve made this mistake so many times, and it’s an utter waste of time).
Make peace with the fact that every guy is not going to fall for you, and love you; life would just be a massive orgy/spooning festival if we all found each other attractive, we’d never get anything done. Rejection or simply leading ‘the single life’ doesn’t mean that you are innately flawed as a person; we can’t help who we are and who we aren’t attracted to, and you are not incomplete if you aren’t in a relationship. You have no obligation to romance, destroy the notion that single women are pitiful and secretly desperate. And no man or woman is perfect, stop putting potential relationships on a pedestal of unrealistic expectations. If you’re expecting them to treat you like it’s a perpetual Valentine’s edition of Groundhog Day then you have some seriously skewed perceptions of what a healthy, happy relationship should be like.
From my experience, this trend began with the Disney Princesses, and really gained traction with the popularity of ‘Dark Romance’ novels for teens, (I remember blanching at the first appearance of the genre in my local Waterstones) beginning arguably with the pop culture behemoth of success and hyperbole that was the Twilight Saga. On numerous occasions, my curiosity tickled at the enduring popularity of these novels, I would pick up a random book and skim over the blurb, or even some of the inner prose. The books were almost parodical of the Twilight formula – plain, ‘different from everyone else’ girl meets dark, handsome stranger and twisted, angst-ridden romance ensues. And for the straight men’s edition of Miss Perfect we get the ‘manic pixie dream girl’, (usually played by Zoey Deschanel or Mila Kunis), skilfully sketched as the ‘Cool Girl’ ideal by Gillian Flynn in Gone Girl, , who then proceeds to critically slam-dunk the trope in a masterful, twisting plot.
Thankfully, some respite can be found in Suzanne Collins’ heroine Katniss Everdeen, whose conflicted and intelligent but insecure personality makes for a complex protagonist that proves female-led action/sci-fi novels can be just as edgy and enjoyable as the male-led ones. Although it is a shame that some of the plot is bogged down by a tiresome love-triangle in which neither potential suitor matches up to the depth and intrigue of the protagonist. In reading the novels, I couldn’t have cared less if Peeta or Gale bit the bullet, they were dull as dishwater. It would have been far more interesting if Katniss was made a clear asexual, and the clichéd lure of ‘hot boys’ was omitted completely. Then young girls could have found inspiration in the strength of a character who was compelling and powerful without a man by her side. The same goes for newer Disney attempts, such as Princesses Tiana, Rapunzel and Anna.
We need a healthier ideal for young girls to aspire to, not this vain, submissive dream of becoming some rich ‘Prince Charming’s’ spoilt little trophy princess. Why aren’t they being encouraged to reach for the stars? Why aren’t they being taught that true happiness will come from satisfying their own individual needs, and falling in love with themselves first. Self-love is a vastly underrated necessity for this generation. And I don’t just mean it in the sense of thinking yourself attractive, although that is a step in the right direction. Rather, it means really being able to accept yourself from the inside and out, flaws and all; all the things you’re good at, bad at, all your hobbies, memories, unique hopes and dreams. By cultivating an ideal of self-love before the love of another, that inner security and confidence that comes form such cultivation will project itself onto future relationships, and help to create solid, healthy foundations, with realistic expectations of support and understanding. Of course it’s fine to treat your loved one, but mutual trust and respect is of far greater importance. The materialistic façade I see portrayed everywhere is helping nobody. You’re not in a relationship for the sake of creating a ‘beautiful picture’ on Instagram, so it can be copied and then reposted with a godawful quote photoshopped on top.
We need to teach young women to stop spitting fire and anger at the wrong things, (like being single, and therefore ‘unloveable and unattractive, and thus unworthy’) – they need instead for example, to get angry that within their lifetime, they are incredibly likely to receive some sort of abuse or oppression, due a society that is largely still structured to allow patriarchal misogynistic views to succeed and flourish, whilst stamping out the strengths of bright young women. It’s so important to teach women to find strength and happiness in themselves, for so many reasons, not least of all for their own health and wellbeing in future relationships.