Imagine, if you will, a gauzy, parti-colored fairytale world. Everything is cast in a faint rosy glow and Disney music floats softly on the manufactured breeze. There isn’t a single surface that isn’t glazed with fine violet glitter, and the primary ingredient on everything edible is whipped pink frosting. It is serenity, it is femininity, and between six to ten little girls sit primly in a circle, waiting for their cue to begin—but no more than ten, because each additional Little Princess is an upcharge.
The music fades to silence, and the collective excitement in the room is palpable. The “hostess”—usually a tired mother with glue-gun-burned fingers—calls out for the Princess. That’s my cue.
I step into the room to a chorus of little-girl gasps, and it is the closest I will ever come to knowing the blind adoration of celebrity. My slippers are glittered to match the theme of the day, and the 20 pounds of synthetic hair draped over my shoulder is wound through with ribbons and artificially perfumed flowers. I’ve got a heavy cast iron frying pan in my left hand, my “Princess Bag” in my right. Today I answer only to Rapunzel, and I am a Birthday Party Princess.
Of course, all of that only details the “before” period of a little girl’s birthday party. I intentionally omitted the hour or so into it, where one of the kids would kick a cup of Mountain Dew onto the hem of my hand-painted and nauseatingly expensive costume, or a little girl would yank hard on my braid and say confidently, “I know you’re not real. That’s not your hair.” Since the braid was pinned to my skull with enough bobby pins to withstand a Geiger-upsetting earthquake, my head would always jerk when they pulled, and my very real wince of pain was usually enough to convince them of my authenticity.
I thought it’d be a fun, easy gig, going into the Party Princess business. I did it half on a whim; I’d been turned down years prior for a chance at princessing in the Disney parks, not meeting the height requirement (though I’m sure my complete inability to dance had a lot more to do with it).
I did my due diligence, though. I researched for months and realized there was only one similar company in my area, and it had dismal reviews. I had a lawyer help me write a contract and used the money I’d made selling my wedding gown to buy two parks-quality costumes: Rapunzel and Elsa. I figured if they did well, I’d add Cinderella and maybe Tinker Bell down the road, though that was the extent of my abilities since I am utterly useless with wigs.
To get the ball rolling, I did a lot of free events—a lot of free events. I volunteered at hospitals. I made appearances at fast food chains, at city-hosted park events, at schools. I littered the town with my business cards, plain white cardstock that simply read “Grace Treutel, Liaison to Royalty” with my phone number beneath in elegant script. It took a good two months before I finally landed my first paying gig, and when I did, I was ecstatic. My client had chosen the most expensive package, the one that included arts and crafts, coloring, and story time. It came with a hefty price tag, and I excitedly cashed her deposit check and marked that day on my calendar with about forty exclamation points surrounding it. (My metaphorical calendar. I am not an organized person.)
The day came, and it changed my perception of party princessing forever. If that seems melodramatic, it’s because it was. It took me exactly two hours to get into costume as Rapunzel, one hour to drive to the venue, two hours to host the party, and one hour to pose for pictures with every single kid and a few ruddy-faced dads. Add on the extra hour to drive back, and that sizeable paycheck I’d been so greedy for was thinning out to equal just about what I’d made per-hour waiting tables. Okay, no matter: it had still been fun, it was something new, and I had booked two more parties from that single party alone.
What a sweet summer child I was back then.
It became quickly clear to me over the next few months that while princessing itself was fun, the business aspect of it was a headache. My day job was substitute teaching, so I was familiar with miserable parents; what was new to me was miserly parents, people who wanted to haggle with me about my rates which I now knew were more than fair for the amount of preparation and effort that went into each party. I had to constantly pay to have my outfits dry-cleaned, a pain since they were delicate and had to go to very specific dry cleaners with very specific instructions. I was asked often to do free events, something that was doubly infuriating since I’m also a copy editor and people don’t seem to regard what I do as “real work” worth money or respect.
After one particularly horrific experience where a woman refused to pay the second half of her balance post-party, I hung up my slippers. In a bout of young-person rebellion, I also went and slapped a huge tattoo onto my inner bicep, officially ending my career as any sheer-sleeved princess. I didn’t care. I was relieved. Party princessing was for girls with endless patience or with someone above them who could handle all of the business and simply tell them where to show up and when to leave. I had neither, and it was a brief, infuriating career, though there were a few moments of crystal-clear brilliance where little girls would hold onto me impossibly tightly and whisper into my ear, “I love you, Rapunzel. You’re my best friend.”
… And then there was the little boy who managed to successfully peek underneath my skirts, the one who triumphantly exclaimed to the roomful of family members, “I KNEW GIRLS HAD SUMP’IN UNDER DERE!” Thanks, little guy. I still don’t know what you think you saw, but I hope I gave you lots of good questions to ask your mom in a few years’ time.
For an irreverent take on important trivial matters and more from Grace Treutel go to howtolearnyourtwenties.com