Through the power of Storybook Princesses, Courtney Paige Allen and Sarah Goran are entertaining and teaching children how to create their “happily ever afters.”
Princesses have come a long way in the last 50 years. No longer are they damsels in distress pining for Prince Charming to ride in on a white horse and whisk them toward their happily ever after. Many of today’s fictional princesses seem to have swung in the opposite direction. No longer weak and whiny, many princesses have become heroes of their films and books.
“Women’s empowerment is at an all-time high,” says Courtney Paige Allen, co-owner of Storybook Princesses, a company with a mission to make magic in Oklahoma so that children will know they can make each of their dreams come true.
No matter how you describe them, most princesses, both old and new, have inspiring stories to tell. They aren’t just beautiful two-dimensional characters wearing fancy gowns. Many have experienced loss, grief, and heartache. It’s through these valuable life lessons and empowering stories the women at Storybook Princesses want to share hope with the community.
One story they love reading to children is The Princess and the Frog. “[In the story] Tiana teaches that things are not just going to be given to us,” says Allen. “But with hard work and perseverance, you can reach many of your dreams. She also teaches us not to judge someone based on appearance.”
While the story Cinderella teaches a similar message about hard work, the character emphasizes people can be kind even to those who don’t seem to deserve it.
“Cinderella worked her whole life for her stepmother and her stepsisters, and she continued to show them kindness and love even when they didn’t deserve it,” says Allen. “Even though she worked hard to help her family, she didn’t give up on her dreams even when they seemed impossible.”
Allen also has a special place in her heart for Rapunzel — formerly the Brothers Grimm’s tower princess — because of the life lessons Allen learned from Tangled. It was that 2010 Disney movie that brought her out of deep depression and pushed her to follow her dreams.
“Rapunzel was locked away and not able to experience life. But she turns her world around,” says Allen. “She dares to leave the tower after 18 years, and deals with social awkwardness.”
Allen knows a thing or two about social anxiety and awkwardness due to Asperger’s syndrome (AS). “I have to put a lot of effort into leaving my own ‘tower,’ per se,” Allen says. But she’s learned that having the courage to leave her tower, braving the world where she doesn’t seem to fit, and fighting for her dreams has made all the difference in her life.
Allen not only has Asperger’s, a form of autism, but also Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS), a chronic joint disorder. “This is a stand for being able to live your dreams and make your dreams happen no matter what,” says Allen. “People told me I could never do things. People told me I could never be social. People told me I’d always be in pain. This is my way of proving them wrong. We don’t need easy; we need possible. This is my way of showing children they can do the same things and that dreams are still possible.”
Allen knows her medical challenges don’t have to be a curse, and she wants to model that for the children. “It can be a blessing,” says Allen. “You don’t have to let it cripple you.” Allen knows her EDS may eventually end up crippling her body, but not her spirit. “I want to live my dream now because quite possibly, I may end up in a wheelchair when I’m 30 or 40.”
On the way to Rapunzel’s self-discovery and acceptance, she learns to see the good in everyone despite their actions or appearances, and she offers them forgiveness.
“We mess up sometimes in life, but Tangled shows everyone matters,” says Allen. “She even shows she cared for Mother Gothel, who locked her in the tower, when she reaches for her when she falls out of the tower.”
Playing Rapunzel has helped Allen find happiness and joy again. “She inspires me daily to bring light and magic to the Oklahoma community.”
“Princesses are compassionate, adventurous, daring, and intelligent,” says Sarah Goran, co-owner of Storybook Princesses. “And these lessons and qualities are passed on to children through our princesses and their stories.”
Goran loves playing Frozen’s Elsa and relates to her most because she overcame similar obstacles.
“We see her struggle with anxiety from her powers and depression from having to lock herself away,” says Goran, who was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) at a young age. “Elsa inspired me and made me feel that I was not going through this alone,” says Goran. “She inspired me to face and overcome my obstacles.”
“Frozen is the first [Disney] movie to deal with depression,” says Allen. “Elsa has PTSD because she hurt her sister and because her parents died. Because Elsa is afraid of hurting people, she shuts herself out and has anxiety and panic attacks.”
With the alarming number of children diagnosed with depression and the increased suicide rates among this age group, Allen and Goran know how powerful the love of princesses are to children.
“It’s imperative for these little girls dealing with depression to see love can cure that,” says Allen. “[In Frozen] Anna heals Elsa’s frozen heart and shows her what true love is. She helps her through her hard time.”
Allen, who plays Anna, and Goran, who plays Elsa, demonstrate to children what sisterly love looks like. “I get to teach the little kids nothing can be in your way as long as you believe in yourself and you have people that support you, like your friends and family,” says Allen.
But the healing power of love and family isn’t the only thing Frozen teaches. “Elsa overcame her biggest fears, became who she was meant to be, learned to love again and have a life,” says Allen. “Children can do the same.”
That’s why Storybook Princesses’ mission is to teach children, “there is more in you!” Their goal is to encourage girls and boys to reach out and find their happily ever after.
One can say the way Storybook Princesses was born could be a dream-come-true fairytale. Goran created her company five years ago after volunteering at a local church in Owasso. Allen began her princess journey four years ago after spending time at a boutique in Owasso.
“Rather than be competitors, Courtney and I merged our two businesses, and from that, Storybook Princesses was born,” says Goran.
Storybook Princesses offers party packages for events, birthday parties, and charity events. This includes singing performances, inspirational stories, dancing, makeovers, princess coronations, crafts, games, pixie dusting from a fairy godmother for wishes, and so much more.
“We take great pride in character integrity, which sets us apart from many,” says Goran. “We invest a large amount of time and money into our characters with professional wigs, costumes, accessories, and unique names that follow the princess storylines.”
Allen and Goran are not the only performers at Storybook Princesses. The other princesses are played by people who not only resemble a character but also respect the character integrity to help keep the magic alive for everyone. All their performers have been professionally trained in the arts such as vocal performance, dance, musical theater, and cosmetology.
“When I started, everything was simple,” says Allen, referring to the roles she played as the princesses. “The characters weren’t complicated, and there wasn’t as much detail, but as you learn, you grow.”
It wasn’t until Allen began to see how many of the children she entertained didn’t have much that she felt inspired to encourage their dreams through a little Disney magic. “Some children don’t have good home lives, and our princess stories bring the message of love and happiness to them. We show them that from the moment they are born, they are wanted and loved,” Allen says.
Allen and Goran agree there are a lot of fun moments playing princesses. Sometimes the questions the children ask test their knowledge of each princess; other times they catch them off guard.
Allen remembers the time a little boy emerged from under her hoop skirt, looked at her, and said, “Hey, nice shorts.” When Allen looked at the mom, she said he’d been under there for three minutes. Allen had no idea. “The hoop skirts are like a tent,” says Allen with a laugh. She admits she often feels like a human jungle gym with the girls and boys wanting to climb up on her lap.
And if you think princesses are just for girls, think again. Their love and lessons are for all children.
“I can’t tell you how many times boys want to be pixie dusted,” says Allen, who explained pixie dusting is when the fairy godmother sprinkles glittery magic dust and asks the children to close their eyes and make a wish.
While most children run and knock the princesses over with big hugs, sometimes children are scared. “It’s intimidating to see your favorite princess in real life,” says Allen. “But most of the time they warm up. I can’t tell you how many children have touched my heart.”
She recalls a time when they were taking pictures, and someone asked them to meet a little girl in the neighborhood.
“We said sure, but weren’t prepared,” says Allen. “The little girl had Down syndrome. She came out of the garage and started crying. All she wanted to do was give her favorite princesses hugs and love on us. She was completely stunned and couldn’t speak. We sat there and sang to her. Her family was crying, and we cried as soon as we got in the car. It’s a memory we will never forget.”
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