Are Disney princesses really that bad? Meghan and Nigella are just living fairytales for grown-ups
Once upon a time - or, earlier this week, to be exact - feminism and fantasy collided when actor Kirsten Bell spoke about her concerns over the message that fairytales send to impressionable girls.
The Good Place star said that when she reads Snow White to her young daughters, she makes sure to point out that it's not ok to take food from strangers or to kiss someone while they slumber. Meanwhile, fellow star Kiera Knightley said she had banned her three-year-old from watching films like Cinderella and The Little Mermaid because both the heroines wait around to be rescued by a dashing prince.
There was a predictable backlash to the comments online, with a lot of criticism directed at Bell, who has herself voiced a Disney princess, playing Anna in Frozen. How the literal 'sisters are doing it for themselves' theme of that movie escaped anyone is beyond me, but 'haters gonna hate' as the millennials say. Besides, Bell and Knightley have played enough strong women between them to speak out on feminist issues without looking like the #Time's Up bandwagon has just driven by.
It strikes me as curious, however, that we don't want our little girls dreaming of growing up to be a princess in a big dress on the arm of a handsome prince, but it's ok for them to aspire to be a movie star in a big dress on the arm of a handsome date. (Or even an actual prince in the case of Meghan Markle.) To me, that's just the princess fantasy by another name, and it's one I don't think we ever get over.
It would certainly explain the fascination with the royal wedding this summer, and new excitement over the impending royal baby. It would also go some way towards explaining the sight of grown women fangirling (thanks again millennials) over Nigella Lawson when she visited Dublin this week.
The celebrity chef was at the National Concert Hall on Monday night for a public conversation to celebrate 20 years since the release of her How To Eat cookbook. The largely female audience was palpably excited to see the object of their admiration in the flesh - squeals of "I love Nigella" echoed around the building.
When the woman of the moment appeared, she looked tall and disappointingly slim in a bright pink floral dress that stopped below the knee, her hair in its customary gentle curl. (Yes, I know it's not very sisterly of me to comment on another woman's weight, but I always preferred curvy Nigella.) And her hands, oh her hands! As she spoke, they danced a mesmerising aerial ballet, leaving me shocked when she professed to not possessing great dexterity.
Though the questioning could have been juicier, Nigella was eloquent and entertaining, studding her culinary chronicles with jokey asides about being an uncool teenager and dreading food without butter. She admitted to feeling torn about judging on Australian Masterchef when she doesn't think food should be a competitive sport, and insisted that while television might make her look glamorous, she doesn't adopt a public 'persona'.
When she laughed about the freezer being the place that good food goes to die, there was a ripple of delighted recognition from the audience - I do that too!
As she spoke, I found myself wondering what it is that makes an Irish audience connect with someone like Nigella Lawson (beyond the fact that she'd told us, to rather cringey applause, that she'd just been converted to a cheese and onion fan by a packet of Tayto). After all, she's the kind of woman who says "one" instead of "I"; the kind of woman who flashes a crimson Louboutin sole when she crosses her legs; the kind of woman who runs her own business empire but still gets home to cook for her kids; the kind of woman who eats for a living but has a tiny waist; the kind of woman who comes back from a cocaine scandal and an ugly divorce by appearing on the cover of Vogue; the kind of woman who professes to be a mess but still looks perfect.
She's the kind of rarified woman the rest of us 'normal' women should hate, but instead dream of being… in a big dress, with optional handsome date, who lives happily ever after.
It's the princess fantasy for grown-ups - and she's even already got the title. The princess may have had her day, now we're in the reign of the goddess.