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On Princesses and Dissociative Disorders

October 2, 2014

"Deep in every heart slumbers a dream, and the couturier knows it: every woman is a princess."


The great fashion designer and incurable romantic Christian Dior loved women, and he understood them. After the horrors and rationing of World War II, he sought to reintroduce fantasy and romanticism to women’s imaginations and wardrobes. His ‘New Look’ collection, with its regal, classically beautiful styles, brought fairy tales back to a broken Europe and revolutionized haute couture.


Dior was not the only one, then or now, to promote the idea of a prêt-à-porter fairy tale accessible to all. Thanks to the Brothers Grimm and Walt Disney, Grace Kelly and Diana Spencer, Cartier tiaras and Tiffany’s engagement rings, popular culture abounds with the dream, and often the promise, that every little girl is and should be treated like a princess.


Today, heavy campaigning by the luxury goods industry has made it clear to gentlemen young and old that it takes more than kindness and respect to make a girl feel like a princess: it takes chocolates, flowers, and diamonds. And of these products, none has more successfully associated itself with the envisioned fairy tale ending than the diamond.


Diamonds became synonymous with eternal romantic love in the 1940s when De Beers, the powerhouse that today owns over 60% of the entire industry, ran what would become a legendary marketing campaign: ‘A diamond is forever.’ Instant success: the image stuck. Today the diamond industry is worth more than $72 billion a year, and it employs approximately 10 million people around the world from mining to retail. Marilyn Monroe called diamonds her best friends; Shirley Bassey needed only them to please her. And every love story, on or off screen, must end with a solitaire tucked inside an intricately crafted little box.


But this is a story we all already know, so allow me tonight to share a somewhat different, sadder one. The story of the real life tragedies that beget our fairy tale endings.


An estimated $13 billion worth of rough diamonds are produced each year, of which 65% come from Africa alone. Some of the biggest African diamond mines are found in Sierra Leone, Angola, Liberia, the Ivory Coast, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Of these countries, all except Sierra Leone (where the civil war ended in 2002) are still experiencing some of the most brutal conflicts of the century. The logic is simple: you need guns to fight a war, you need money to buy guns, and diamonds are worth a lot of money. How fortunate that there is such a demand for them.


It took a Leonardo DiCaprio movie, ‘Blood Diamond,’ to shed the light on the corrupt and illegal diamond trade that was funding these bloody civil wars. The footage, released in 2006, showed slavery and mass executions, mutilations and amputations, and children firing AK-47s. It stirred up a debate that cost the World Diamond Council a $15 million public relations campaign to diffuse. And yet, in spite of all the noise, diamond sales were not affected at all that year, or the year after that, or after that. Viewers were furious at the diamond industry, the weapons industry, the warlords, the contrabandists, the governments, the UN, God. But they were out the movie theater doors before they got around to being furious at themselves.


Dissociative Disorder is a condition that involves a disruption or breakdown of memory, consciousness, awareness, identity, and/or perception. It is a mental illness in which the patient seeks to escape reality in ways that are involuntary and unhealthy. Like an ostrich with its head in the sand.


Or a princess with her bejeweled head in the clouds.


Knowledge implies responsibility, and responsibility is inconvenient. It is no wonder ignorance is bliss. Perhaps it is easier to develop a dissociative disorder than realize your fairy tale ending cost someone a limb or a life, far far away on the other side of your television screen.


When I think of what it means to be a princess, I think of the times in my life when I was fortunate enough to have been loved by good men: my father, grandfather, brothers, and the love of my life. The men who made me feel safe and wanted, who treated me like a princess at times when I felt like anything but. Then I think of all the little girls out there who have never felt that way.


The ending to this story need not be so tragic. Today there are two certification systems in place to ensure that diamonds are conflict-free. The first, the Kimberly Process, is a voluntary agreement initiated by the United Nations that requires that rough diamonds be government-certified as conflict-free before leaving the country of origin. As of 2013, 81 countries comply with its clauses. The second certification system, the System of Warranties, builds on the Kimberly Process to extend the regulation to polished diamonds. Many jewelry houses now provide an official stamped certificate guaranteeing a diamond’s conflict-free status upon purchase. Now if only consumers would pull their heads out of the clouds long enough to ask for it...


One particularly famous fictional little girl once said:


I am a princess. All girls are. Even if they live in tiny old attics. Even if they dress in rags, even if they aren’t pretty, or smart, or young. They’re still princesses. 
― Frances Hodgson Burnett, A Little Princess


Every girl is a princess. And everyone deserves a fairy tale ending.


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