I was not born a princess. I was not born a dainty, dress-wearing little fairytale girl like all the others I grew up with seemed to be. My birthday was the day I was cast to play one of the dragons in the shadows. I was destined to live in the deep and dark and endless misery of my own despair — the ugliness and shame that comes with naturally breathing fire every time you speak. I would never be anybody’s princess, nor would I grow to be anybody’s queen. As I got older, this continued to painfully stab away at even the toughest dragon scale that had grown to protect my heart.
At the lowest of my lows, I had burned myself with my own fire for the last time. Just days after my first big mental breakdown, I sat on the floor in front of my closet mirror trying to do my hair. It was the first time I had taken a shower and decided to get ready since I left the emergency mental health clinic. I felt okay. My anxiety had subsided to a semi-manageable level and I hadn’t been on the verge of tears the entire day. I thought that maybe if I made myself look better I might start to feel a little better too. Even the most monstrous, dangerous creatures can look appealing in the right light. The curling iron was heated and I started to curl my hair.
Now, growing up as a dragon, nobody ever taught me to curl my hair. Nobody ever taught me how to apply makeup correctly like all the Cinderella girls seemed to know how to. Nobody ever taught my anything particularly “girly” growing up, because why would they? I was not a princess.
The first curl didn’t look so great. The second was alright. Eventually, after the tenth and eleventh curl I threw the iron down in frustration and stared at myself in the mirror. My hair looked stupid. I looked stupid. To any normal person, this would just cause a little frustration and they would sigh and start over again. To me, at this moment in time, it was a symbol of everything that was wrong about myself, everything I hated about my entire being. Everything I hated about the fact that I was born, destined to be, fated into being a fire-breathing beast instead of a crown-bearing, prince marrying beautiful princess.
Your heart starts to ache when you’re in this place — when you’re a dragon and not a princess. Not in a figurative, storybook kind of way where most other girls start to ache for the attention of the handsome prince, or of a distant, foreign place. A real, hollow aching of the muscles in your chest. Rattling against your skin desperately calling out to be filled up, to be okay again. Just please, stop breathing fire. Be okay, feel okay, look okay. It is a constant stinging behind your eyes and a lump in your throat. It a battle between wanting so badly to feel better and wanting to depart from all of the pain and loneliness of being bred to sit quiet, stay in the shadows. It is not a persistent sadness, it is the inability to delight in any joy along with the sadness — the inability to speak beautiful words without simultaneously spurting fire between your teeth and have people run away.
In fairytales, everybody loves the princess. Nobody loves the dragon. And therefore, I thought that I couldn’t be loved, I didn’t deserve to, unless I embodied everything that was expected in a modern day woman. I needed to be more womanly. Wear more makeup, dress more girly, know how to curl my hair perfectly. I sat in a big fat lump on my knees in front of the mirror and broke down again. Tears started streaming down my face, etching wet lines into the makeup. Dark stains of hate rolled down my cheeks. And no quicker than that first tear trickled down my neck did I let out that first puff of fire again.
I resented it all. Why couldn’t I just curl my hair? Why was I born into a fate such as this? Surely all dragons can rise above and become beautiful princesses eventually. We must all have the same fairytale chance of transforming ourselves.
And then I thought to myself, I wouldn’t very much like being a princess. I don’t enjoy dressing in pretty little dresses and heels — they never quite fit right anyway. I don’t enjoy painting my nails. I DON’T ENJOY CURLING MY HAIR.
But, I thought, I am supposed to. All women are supposed to, all princesses are supposed to. We are supposed to delight in looking like delicate little angels who have so effortlessly constructed a costume of beauty. But, I didn’t, and I don’t.
I love my simple v-neck t-shirts under a comfy sweater that hide all of my unflattering lumps. I love my simple jeans and Converse. I love my simple hair after spending only ten minutes straightening it. I love my simple fingernails that I can bite when I get anxious. Does this make me any less of a woman? Does this make all of my personal and professional achievements any less significant? Does this make me any less capable of accomplishing anything any other woman can? Dragons and princesses are one in the same, you see, as we all desire the same things, but we don’t necessarily manifest them in the same way. It may look different, but a princess trying to break free of her royal constraints is the same as the dragon trying to break free of its dark, shallow cave.
I will never sit atop a throne, and I may never marry a prince, but I will always have the spirit of an outsider, of a dragon, a troll, or a furry little sidekick. I hope I never slay the dragon that lives inside. It is big and scary and it breathes fire instead of sparkles. But, it is me, and I have to learn to be the dragon.