Getting schooled on princesses by Julie Andrews

I have been so lucky to have a lot of incredible experiences offered to me as a blogger. It’s nice to have those perks when you’ve got  $.04/hour writing job with no insurance benefits or retirement savings plan. But I have to say, one that’s up there at the top of the list was having tea with Julie Andrews this week.

Liz Gumbinner and Julie Andrews

Okay, so it was a press conference with tea on the snack table, but. But! The Julie Andrews part was real. I have photographic evidence. Also a gift bag with a boa in it.

To answer your questions, yes she’s beautiful. And kind. And gracious. And funny. And she did the queen’s wave ever so perfectly with those gorgeously long fingers. Her favorite family movies that she ever made were The Sound of Music and Thoroughly Modern Millie. And later, when she told me she’d been admiring my earrings the whole hour, I just about slid off my seat and onto the conference room floor.

I was invited there with other media folks on behalf of Target and Disney at the start of National Princess Week (yes that’s a thing) and the launch of her newest Very Fairy Princess book which she co-authored with her daughter Emma Walton Hamilton– quite the remarkable woman herself.

Now I love Target with all my heart, which very well may have a red bullseye on it somewhere. If I go there one more time, they’re going to set up a house account for me. But still, you could imagine that I was a bit ambivalent about even more princess marketing, even as I’ve stop worrying and learned to love the crown.

And so I asked Julie Andrews (JULIE ANDREWS!), and Emma, who happened to be there with her own young daughter, how we raise strong, confident independent girls in a culture that’s so saturated with princesses.

I asked really nicely, I promise.

And their answers were terrific.

Because they didn’t talk about tiaras. Or even princes. They talked about values.

-Princesses are involved in charitable causes

-Princesses are kind

-Princesses are patrons of the arts

-Princesses make their friends feel good about themselves.

And I thought ya know, she’s right. And that’s the problem with this whole princess culture thing that’s going on right now–it stops at the tiara. Not that I don’t love a good tiara; I own one myself. But think about the real world of princesses and the causes they’re committed to:

Like Princess Diana‘s remarkable early support of people with AIDS, followed by the same from Princess Stephanie of Monaco. Princess Beatrice‘s commitment to literacy programs for inner city children. Queen Rania’s work with the White Ribbon Alliance. And Queen Noor‘s support of a host of incredible non-profits, from the Daniel Pearl Foundation to the World Wildlife Fund to Women Waging Peace.

I even get the sense that Julie Andrews very much lives these values herself, although she’s a Dame, not a Princess. (Close enough, in my non-British opinion.)

So maybe if our daughters are going to prance around in polyester glitter capes, practicing their curtsies, we as parents have an opportunity there. Perhaps when we join in the role playing, instead of asking are you excited to marry the prince and live in a castle? We ask, so, what charity should we help out today?

And we ask, can you say something kind to your sister right now?

And then we tell them to sit up straight.

I’m totally going to try it.

Thank you Julie. Thank you Emma.

You may now resume singing Doe Re Mi in your head right now, like I have been all week.


66 thoughts on “Getting schooled on princesses by Julie Andrews”

  1. My princess wants to help animals and plants. She never talks about getting married and living in a castle (yay!). We even have a princess book (disney no less) that talks about what a princess is–she is kind, smart, giving, etc. I really like that message. I think these are the important messages–that you can be “pretty” (dressed in princess clothes) and smart, etc. You don’t just have to be one or the other. That is where I have the biggest problem.

  2. I cried a little because she is my all-time favorite (Thoroughly Modern Millie is THE BEST) but hey, we’re kind of like the same person, sometimes, right?

    I love this, and not just because I’m a JA fan girl but because it reminds us to look at the bright side. And when we might be bogged down by our kids’ obsessions as frustrating as they can be, there’s a way to spin it so that lessons can be learned.

    1. Oh man, I wish you could have been there. She was amazing–with an amazing daughter (and four other kids) to show for it.

      I can’t believe I learned a life lesson from Julie Andrews. Gah.

      1. We’ve all learned life lessons from JA, haven’t we? A beautiful, smart post. Reminds me of the lessons and intelligent conversations possible where the starting point is video games (including violent ones). Meet kids where they are, enjoy their worlds with them, then expand them where you can.

  3. Sure, it’s easy to be charitable when you live in unspeakable and unearned luxury provided by an empire built through colonial oppression, slavery, and the exploitation of the natural resources of poorer nations and the labor of millions of poor people around the world. that’s like saying robber barons weren’t actually so bad because Andrew Carnegie built a few libraries.

    Sorry Julie Andrews, I’m just not buying it. If I met Julie Andrews I would ask her why when she ran off to Switzerland with another woman’s fiancee to escape her ward/future daughter-in-law’s Nazi boyfriend, she didn’t take some freakin’ Jews with her. I guess that’s why I’ll never get to meet Julie Andrews.


  4. 1) So insanely jealous.

    2) I appreciate this and your other princess posts. My two girls never got much into the princess thing, which I admit has been a bit of a relief – mostly because it’s saved me from having to overanalyze what kinds of societal messages they may or may not be internalizing by being drawn to such things (thanks, kids!). I’m a big analyzer, for better or for worse. And I think most times that’s a good thing, but I also recognize that it can be overdone.

    Example: I have a peace-loving friend who tried to completely block her son’s exposure to any kind of violent play, TV shows, movies, etc. G.I. Joe was the devil incarnate. And at first, I was right there with her. But the more I started to think about it, the more fuzzy that idea became. My older brother played all kinds of things, from Star Wars to G.I. Joe, and he’s not the least bit violent (and never has been). We were raised in a peace-loving home, and that’s what we became. Another peace-loving friend’s son tends toward quite violent play, but in a “superhero good-guys protecting innocent citizens” kind of a way, which she feels fits his protective, kind-hearted personality and gives him an outlet for his massive amounts of energy. I’m not a fan of violence, but I can see how violent play does not always equal future war monger, just like princess play does not equal future damsel in distress. I do think certain media and certain messages can be very damaging, but I think it’s also easy for conscientious parents to take it to the extreme. I have to check that response in myself all the time.

    1. Really great points Annie. I know boys who don’t have toy guns at home, but still pick up sticks off the ground and go “pow! pow!”

      What’s more important is to talk about it, not pretend it doesn’t exist. That’s why I’m coming to terms with princess stuff–in my own way.

  5. This is now one of my favorite things — along with snow bells and sleigh bells and snitzel with noodle, of course!

  6. I love the spin on this, positive princessing! Btw, I probably watched The Princess Diaries (1&2) a hundred times with Mini-Me. Big Julie Andrews fans.

  7. Julie Andrew daughters name is Emma Walton Hamilton not Emma Watson Hamilton

  8. Wow. Just wow. I’m totally doing that with my princess obsessed girl. We already talk about real princesses when she gets too caught up in the tiaras. I love being able to point out pictures of a very athletic, wearing jeans, Duchess Katherine.
    She really seems amazing. Congrats on getting to meet her.

  9. I recognize those earrings – Fiesty Elle, right? I have ’em in red… 🙂

    But oh yeah, JULIE ANDREWS. What a thrill!

  10. And this is why I love you and your posts. You look at an issue and analyze it. And then reanalyze it and find a way to embrace it. You keep an open mind, and change your perspective as you learn more. And that right there, is how the rest of us learn and grow with you. I love it. Just love it.

  11. I think my mother would go into cardiac arrest if she had the opportunity to meet Julie Andrews! She used to live and breathe The Sound of Music when it came on every year when I was a child. It was one of the only things she stopped to watch, letting the dishes in the sink for the night. 😉

    And you’ve made a wonderful point here.

    p.s. love your hair! 🙂

  12. I think I would have fainted at the mere presence of Julie Andrews. My daughter is still convinced her name is “Maria”. And I love her answer to your princess question. It reminded me of my favorite quote from the movie Ever After.

    Compliments of Wikiquote:
    “Henry: But to be so defined by your position. To only be seen as what you are, you have no idea how insufferable that is…
    Danielle: A Gypsy, for example, is rarely painted as anything else. They are defined by their status as you are, yet it is not who they are.”

    Being a princess is merely a social status…it’s not who they are. And I actually think, as you so well pointed out, that modern royalty has done a pretty good job of showing there is more to them than just a title.

    1. She had such lovely things to say about Kate Middleton too. I may have never met a more gracious celeb in all my life. Sigh.

      1. *SIGH* I love Kate. I think she and William are shining examples of the potential the next generation of royalty has.

        I have a friend whose hubs is Welsh and she’s taking her two girls to the UK for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee this summer. I keep trying to bribe her into stowing me in her luggage so I can go too. I don’t think the TSA or customs will mind.

  13. Amazing!! I am about to have my third boy (!) and my oldest who is 5 is bombarded by the whole princess theme by the girls at school. I never thought about how I could talk to him about this! Now I do! Thank you!!!

  14. Perfect. I’m drawing a tiara on the side of her “GIVE” mason jar piggy bank and renaming it the “Royal Chest”
    What a fabulous way to reframe the whole (inevitable, inescapable) thing. Thank you. This is quite possibly the single most practical parenting tip I’ve every had.

  15. Don’t know how I could have made dinner, nursed my youngest or finished a phone call without Mary Poppins and Sound of Music over and over and over again…

  16. HOLY GOD if I met Julie Andrews I would pee my pants. Which is not very princess-like.
    Also, I do not know of this movie called “The Sound of Music”. I do know of a Julie Andrews movie that my five year old enjoys called, according to her, “I Hear Music”.

    1. Ha!

      We are actually going to sit down and watch it this very second. Or at least the first 20 minutes. I imagine it will be like the Ten Commandments–we’ll finish watching in a week or so.

  17. When my daughter started to be interested in princesses (which was really early on), I was scared that she would think that being a princess simply meant being polite and finding a prince.

    I corrected that notion. Being a princess should be about being strong, kind, and compassionate. Of course, there was a few “Princesses don’t sit like that,” and “Princesses eat with their mouths closed.”

    But my little princess is en route to running her own kingdom, that’s for sure!

  18. You met Julie Andrews! Julie Andrews! *Sigh.* How cool is that?! I had no doubt that she would be as elegant in person. It is refreshing to know that some people who are in positions of influence use their influence positively.

  19. My 4 year old daughter is a complete princess fanatic, which I had no idea what to do with at first since I am not a real girly-girl myself. But I’ve embraced the princess phase and I love this advice. We have the Disney “What is a Princess?” book that actually helps to pinpoint some of these admirable features in the Disney lineup. I figure if she learns these values and gets the princess phase over now it’s a win-win? Maybe?

  20. You lived my dream right there. I’m so completely jealous now.

    Loving the focus they put on the princess world. It does put things in a different light.

    1. She talked a lot about the theme in her book which is about “bringing out your inner sparkle.” And that could mean making someone else feel good (to bring out their sparkle too) or playing trombone, if that’s what makes you happy.

      I haven’t yet explored the books thoroughly, but it seems while they are unapologetically pro-princess, the more modern take is fresh. I also like that on her website, the other Princess books she recommends includes Do Princesses Wear Hiking Boots? and The King’s Equal. I still can’t endorse The Little Mermaid…but hey, at least we have choices.

  21. Very cool! And so great that Mary Poppins who is such a role model to parents and kids can stand there right next to you and preach words of wisdom! I never grew up with princessess (i grew up with 3 brothers who had a history of breaking their heads off), so its new to me. But i have heard of the princess wars between girls at schools…with little girls ‘booking’ princesses for the year. That is,. I am the only one who can be Snow White…and so on. Apparently, there is a hierarcy of princesses which i am sad not to be privvy too (with three boys, but u never know). And then the introduction of the princess and the frog…is super…coz princesses can be black too. So many african families have royal kingdoms, uganda, lesotho, and so on. And the princesses really are real!!!I love the evolution of the princess idea…(i know many moms that have banned princesses from the home), but really not necesssary especially if you can share positive messages about them…kindness, charity, manners. With a bit of ingenuity you can get your princess child to do anything (good luck with that, wink). Thanks for the post. Must read for all my friends!

    1. Thanks Milbert, eek that Princess booking thing is frightening. I’m lucky that my girls are equally happy to pretend to be chefs, firefighters, sailors, and these days, magicians. (Sage is pretty good at card tricks for a four year old!) So perhaps it’s easy for me to be more temperate about it, because they’re not princess-obsessed. And our community is fairly progressive in that sense. But you bring up such a good point about the African legacy of princesses, which is a little different than the European one. (Ahem, JDG…)

        1. I’m going to give my kids a few more years before they have to be cynical about the world. They already have their father to counterbalance me in that sense.

          1. Awwww, come on! I’m not sure if it’s cynical as much as it is “critical.” my point with all this stuff is simply that in order to have subjects, you must subjugate—no matter what culture you’re talking about. I do want my kids to understand that elevating a person above others simply because they were lucky enough to be born to the “right” parents is as wrong as denigrating someone because they were born to the “wrong” (i.e. poor, black, etc.) parents. if that’s “cynical” then I guess I’m proud to be a cynic.

            1. I’m not disagreeing. I just think that the childhood fantasy isn’t about subjugation or authentic history of royalty. It’s a very basic image of tea parties and dresses and white horses and people being nice to you. Which is why I love the idea of bringing charity into it.

              I’d love to know what you tell your kids about pirates!

  22. Card tricks, that’s super! Love that many girls and boys are growing up androgenous. Really great point about not needing to be so extreme about the princesses when your kids aren’t so obsessed with them. I suppose that applies to superheroes too (which are effectively dolls) right? We are obsessed with them in my house, i love that i can apply those tips on princesses to superheroes too! Here here…

  23. The last of the princess goods just left my house. The end of a strange little era.

    Now that it’s in the rear view mirror, I can say that how you temper the hyper-girlie glitter pretty with other things (how princesses behave, what’s expected of them; empathy, kindness, etc) really does goes a long way toward putting it in perspective, both for your girl AND you.

    That said, OMG! Julie Andrews! Squee! I had The Sound Of Music album on constant rotation at my house when I was little. I used to hide behind a chair during the Nazis-Are-Coming part.

    And I started taking tap dancing lessons because of Thoroughly Modern Millie.

  24. Liz, one of the best articles/posts I’ve read yet on Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton, and Princess Week. So down to earth. Loved your humor! Am happy you had the opportunity to attend!

  25. Ugh, you mean I can’t just brainwash my daughter into skipping the princess phase? Ha. I have a 6-month-old. I’ll be sure to remember the wise words of you and Julie Andrews (JULIE ANDREWS!) when the time comes 🙂

  26. This reminds me a little of how when my brothers were little my dad instilled in them the idea that it was important to behave like gentlemen. For the longest time when you asked them what they wanted to be when they grew up they would say things like, “An artist… and a gentleman.”

    I love the idea of using the princess games to include gracious behavior and compassion for others. That’s brilliant.

    With great tiaras comes great responsibility.

  27. You may enjoy “The Paperbag Princess”, if you haven’t read it yet. It’s all about princess empowerment!

    I love that the princess saves the prince and they DON’T get married in order to live happily every after!

    1. I love it too! Also a big fan of The Well at the End of the World–if you don’t know it, it gets a lot of mileage around here.

    2. I love it too! Also a big fan of The Well at the End of the World–if you don’t know it, it gets a lot of mileage around here.

  28. I took my then 5 year old to a book signing event with Julie Andrews. She waited patiently in line for HOURS! She is 9 now and if you ask her she will still recall that as one of the best days of her life! (and she has had a pretty great life which has included seats for the Obama Inauguration parade directly across from his viewing area!)

    JA was so kind to her and surprised that my daughter is a fan of the black and white old video of Roger’s and Hammerstein’s Cinderella where JA was Cinderella. It may have been one of her first roles.


  29. Julie Andrews? Oh my! that is sooooooo COOL! meeting someone who is really popular and influential.

  30. That was great, Liz!

    I got to meet her and interview her as part of a Despicable Me press junket and the second she left the room, I started to cry. Because, you know, JULIE ANDREWS.

    1. Oh Yvonne, I totally understand. I’ve been with a lot of celebrities before but there’s something almost ethereal and transcendent about an icon you’ve known your whole life. You know, like Charo.

  31. Once I was stuck at LAX at baggage for an extended period and saw Julie Andrews on the other side of the room and stared at her for and wondered if she’d mind a comment or two from a huge fan. I went back and forth and left her alone but right when we were leaving, luggage in hand, I went up to her to tell her how much her work has meant to me (almost in those words) and she smiled genuinely and for that moment, I felt the same way you did in her presence.

  32. Since I was a kid, I have always dreamed of becoming a princess. I even asked my mom if she can build a castle for me! Oh well, how was she in person? I wish I’ll have the chance to meet her in the future!

    Thanks for sharing!

    -Marie F

  33. Lucky you! That’s is not just any ordinary Hollywood star! That’s Julie Andrews! Just by the way she looks, you can merely tell that she’s truly adorable. Nice experience and thanks for making all of us a little bit envy of you! Ha ha! 🙂

  34. JULIE ANDREWS? Are you kidding me? She’s a legend! You’re so lucky to have a conversation with her. I’m so envious of you…Well, congrats and great post^^

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