Once upon a time, in a land far, far away known by all as Hampton, Va., a little girl — no older than six or seven — sat on the floor of her living room, glued to the television screen in front of her. She was absolutely captivated by “The Princess Diaries” and by Anne Hathaway’s poofy curls that surprisingly resembled her own. The aspiring princess watched in admiration as Julie Andrews waved her manicured finger a few times and turned the quirky high schooler, Mia, into Amelia — Princess of Genovia.
She took notes — princesses sit like this, they wave their hands like that. Princesses talk like this, and princesses look like that. Everyone remembers the iconic makeover scene where the talented Paolo and his team transform frizzy, bushy-haired, undesirable Mia into the shiny, polished, flat-ironed princess. And for the little girl taking notes while shoving her own poofy hair out of her face and her glasses up her nose, this scene was devastating.
That little girl was me — but I’m sure you saw that coming. And I’m sure it’s already clear how the reactions to Mia’s before and after affected my view of myself and the curls I started asking my mom to “smooth out.”
I recently rewatched this movie with my roommates and was in awe of the explicit negative message on naturally curly hair that I was unaware of until my rewatch two weeks ago. I had so many questions. Why couldn’t Paolo just whip out some Shea Moisture leave-in conditioner and styling gel? Why did he have to break a paddle brush in her hair? Did he seriously not know that you are supposed to start detangling at the ends, not the roots?
But the answer is deeper and more complex than a fake Italian hairdresser who obviously doesn’t know how to do hair. What I didn’t realize I was being taught as a child, I see too clearly now — straight hair is more royal, more professional and more desirable.
I’ll spare you the day-to-day details of my journey towards loving my hair in its natural state and instead provide you with some of my most vivid memories that show how exactly Mia Thermopolis ruined my life.
Imagine me in middle school — everybody’s least favorite time to recall, I know — going to the bathroom between every class to wet my hands and force my hair into a tight bun before it started to curl again. Imagine high-school me, giving into the demands of a boy who asked me to straighten my hair because he liked it better that way.
I couldn’t even begin to describe how many times I sat in my high school locker room, distracting myself with my phone, while my teammates braided each other’s hair in matching styles before our games. Looking back on it now, I can’t believe that I let some of these girls touch my hair, and that I forced myself to laugh with them when they failed to French braid it.
Back then, not even I could have imagined who I am right now. I did not foresee that I would straighten my hair once or twice a year, for myself and no one else. I could never have predicted that for every single backhanded compliment I received about my straightened hair, I would be reminded twice that my natural curls are beautiful by my amazing friends and by myself.
Now, I don’t think about “iconic” makeover scenes that depict girls like Mia Thermopolis as the frog that comes before the princess — excluding this column, of course. And I do whatever I can to make sure my little sister knows that her curly hair — in all of its natural complexity — deserves to be loved, and that she deserves to be loved, exactly the way she is.
So, perhaps stating that Mia Thermopolis ruined my entire life is a tad bit dramatic, but I don’t think it is an exaggeration at all to say that “The Princess Diaries” negatively altered how I viewed myself. In a way, it primed me for the dominant beauty standard I continue to see everywhere, but more recently, it reminded me that this standard requires constant subversion — within ourselves and in the media we consume.