By Heidi Stevens
The princesses are underleveraged.
Underleveraged is a word I learned when I was placed on an Important Committee at the Tribune a few years back. It means someone could be doing a bit more with his or her time here on Earth. Give that assignment to Roger. He’s underleveraged. That kind of thing.
The Disney princesses, Cinderella, Snow White, Ariel, etc., seem like lovely people. Kindhearted, in touch with nature, possessing strong moral compasses.
They just don’t do that much. Princes get to slay dragons and kiss people out of comas and generally run the show. But the objects of their affection, the princesses, tend to top out at dreaming about gowns and gathering flowers.
Twins Laura and Beth Winters, 23, have created a perfectly delightful coloring book called “Her Highness Builds Robots,” in which six imaginary princesses are living the high life, swooning over handsome princes, attending palace balls, planning royal weddings, but not stopping there.
“Getting married was the happiest day of Princess Priya’s life …” reads Page 4, followed by Page 5: “Second only to getting her Ph.D. in chemical engineering!”
“Princess Jae loves her new ballgown … It is the perfect way to relax after a long day at the courthouse.”
“Princess Diamond is running late for the ball … Because she was giving a lecture about robot functionality.”
I tracked down Laura Winters by phone in New York, where she moved recently to pursue an acting career after graduating from Northwestern University. She said the idea came to her when she was sitting backstage at a college theater production, doodling in some Disney coloring books that someone had brought for the cast members to calm their pre- and mid-show jitters.
“The whole focus for the princesses was getting married and picking out perfect dresses,” she told me. “It just drove me up a wall.”
She started posting princess photos on Instagram with the original phrases, “Belle is the perfect princess!”, crossed out and replaced with, “Belle is a multifaceted human!” Her friends thought it was funny, so she decided to turn it into something larger.
“Coloring books are pretty cheap to create,” she said. “I don’t have enough money to make an animated feature like ‘Frozen,’ so I decided to start with something small and within my means.”
I adore it. I brought a copy home for my 9-year-old daughter, who shared my enthusiasm. So did my 5-year-old son, who was delighted to see his beloved robots mingling with royalty.
“If a kid wants to be a princess who is also an architect, that’s just inherently cooler than a princess who doesn’t have any activities or passions,” Winters said. “We wanted their stories to be about more than just putting on clothes. You can put on a dress and then go put on a science experiment.”
Beth, who graduated from Elmhurst College with a business degree, handles the contracts, financial spreadsheets and, Winters told me, “a lot of things I’m sure I’m not aware of” for the venture.
They hope to write more books about the six princesses, Priya, Rafa, Holly, Diamond, Taylor, Jae and Juanita, and eventually launch their own toy line. For now, the 42-page coloring book is available on Etsy for $10.
“Another thing I discovered is how easy it is to create diversity if you’re trying,” Winters said. “We have princesses drawn with different body types and different cultures. Of the whole process, what I’ve learned the most is that if diversity is part of your focus, it’s not very hard to achieve it.”
And you can have a lot of fun along the way.
“Princess Taylor’s parents wanted her to marry a prince …” reads a page with a solemn couple dining beneath an ornate chandelier in front of the palace fireplace.
“But Taylor prefers her skydiving instructor!” reads the adjoining page.
And boy, does she look happy.