THE PRINCE CHARMING EFFECT
I grew up on the Disney classics, like Cinderella and Snow White. Anything that alluded to a fairytale romance always caught my attention. As a little girl, I always assumed that I would grow up and be swept off my feet by some gallant male figure that had the solution to all my problems. Of course, in true Disney fashion, my “prince” would be a handsome and wholesome gentleman gladly willing to risk his life to save mine.
As a child, the idea that all attractive males actually weren’t princes had never crossed my mind. I had allowed myself to become brainwashed by the characters seen on screen. It never occurred to me that Cinderella’s prince charming might actually be a misogynistic asshole who only went after her because of her looks or that John Smith probably married Pocahontas to alleviate political struggles between chief Powhatan and American Colonists.
However after my tenth birthday, I was forced to reevaluate the rules to being beautiful. My childhood crush arrived to my birthday party with his best friend and both made their way over to the table I was sitting at. I turned red immediately. My crush placed my gift on the table, wished me a happy birthday, and then continued on his way. Overcome with excitement, I took the gift into the bathroom and tore it open. Inside I found a box of M&Ms and a coloring book. My heart dropped. Candy? Where was the love letter? Where were the flowers? Prince Charming never gave Cinderella a coloring book! I had been given my first taste of the road that lay ahead.
By the time middle school hit, I was facing puberty with full force. By the end of sixth grade, I had become the poster child for awkward girls everywhere. After years of watching films, like Pretty in Pink and Ten Things I hate about You, I had come to believe that I understood how the universe worked. The quarterback was born to marry the captain of the cheerleading squad and everyone else really didn’t matter.
In high school, I never stood out in a crowd. Because of this, I have never known what it feels like to have all eyes on me, never gotten out of a traffic ticket, and never was asked to prom.
Once again I had to ask myself: Would I always be treated as average simply because I look average? Does being beautiful really make life easier?
These questions led me to an article in the Montreal Gazette. Neuroscientists at Duke University did a study on woman and how they develop perceptions about men. The scientists’ results were not surprising.
“Scientists discovered that the same areas of the brain light up when females see a less attractive person or hear an immoral act described. A simultaneous neural overlap occurs when women see an attractive face or hear about someone doing a good deed.”
So the most simplistic and scientific answer to my questions above must be yes. Women subconsciously create a link between good looks and good character.
Anthony Synnott, a professor of sociology at Concordia University in Montreal, argued that the study “is the first scientific basis for what we've had in our literature and our plays and our language for a very long time.”[i]
Take the story of Jane Eyre, written by Charlotte Bronte, a female living in the Victorian Age. Jane first falls in love with Rochester after their first encounter. However, she sees herself as plain and therefore an unsuitable match for a man like Rochester. However, towards the end of the novel Jane returns to Rochester and discovers he has been blinded in a fire. After the fire, Rochester lost his physical allure and Jane finally considered herself a suitable companion.[ii]
An even more prominent example of our society’s fascination with beauty can been seen in Christian iconography. Jesus, by definition, is the Son of God and embodies all that is holy. Because little is known about his actual physical appearance, his image manifested from social expectations. Jesus, although not as physically striking as Prince Charming, is constantly painted with long flowing hair and light skin.
Ok, but what about guys? Does the Prince Charming archetype have any relevance towards them?
I began doing some research and I stumbled upon a cartoon of a boy and girl standing back to back. “Porn movies and Disney are responsible for the most frustrated human beings I know” was written on top of the picture. “Will I ever find my prince charming?” was written above the girl’s head and “Where the hell is my insatiable whore?” was written above the boy. This small cartoon captured what girls and boys have been dealing with for decades.[iii] I looked back again at my tenth birthday. I went into that birthday with unrealistic expectations. Why was I so disappointed by M&Ms and a coloring book? Or more importantly, why did I really believe that an eleven-year-old boy had any idea what romance was? These conclusions made me look back at the event through Carter’s perspective. (Carter is the boy I loved from ages 4-13).
Carter and his best friend are preparing to enter Peter Piper Pizza, the location of my birthday soiree. They walk through the doors and make their way over to the gift table where the can finally get rid of the gifts their mothers had so artfully wrapped. After running into me, they gallivant off towards the endless array of video games. Then I approach Carter and rudely interrupt him during a game of Pac-Man. He stands there confused. I am complaining to him for giving me his stupid gift and ranting about how peanut M&ms are the only ones worth eating. Needless to say, I’m fairly sure he thought I was crazy.
I may never know what men look for in a woman, but then again I barely know what I look for in men. All I’ve realized over the past twenty years is that the prince charming affect is a Catch-22. If I spend my life searching for the perfect guy according to Disney’s definition, I’ll only be disappointed, but if I give up completely, I might miss out on my fairytale.
With that, I leave you with the famous words of Pat Benatar:
“We are young. Heartache to heartache we stand. No promises, no demands. Love is a battlefield.”[iv]
[i] Sugar, Bella. "The Prince Charming Affect." The Beauty Buff Blog. 16 Apr. 2010. Web. 31 May 2011. <http://www.thebeautybuffblog.com/>.
[ii] Brontë, Charlotte, Fritz Eichenberg, and Bruce Rogers. Jane Eyre. New York: Random House, 1943. Print.
[iii] Noriega, Alex. "Stuff No One Told Me." Cartoon. Www.snotm.com. 2010. Web. 2011. <http://www.snotm.com/2010/07/27.html?showComment=1277948392920>.
[iv] Knight, Holly. "Love Is a Battlefield." Rec. Mar. 1985. Love Is a Battlefield. Pat Benatar. 1985. CD.