Why do so many heroines in romance novels have a female friend who is better dressed or has stand-out style? These supportive fashionista friends push the heroine’s boundaries, provide encouragement, polish her beauty, and gift her with clothing—serving as archetypal fairy godmothers.
As an extension of the fairy tale, the friends/fairy godmothers not only help the heroine to transform and win the prince, they are examples of “better” women, as idealized by society. While they seem inhuman or magical because of their near-perfect femininity, they live alongside the heroine, instead of popping in and out. As the heroine achieves her happily ever after, the friend/fairy godmother’s fortunes may fall or her shortcomings become apparent. As a result, the heroine’s happiness is made brighter by comparison. Since the friend/fairy godmother represents society’s ideal woman, the heroine’s success and superiority over her may either debunk or criticize cultural perceptions of femininity.
Examples in Modern Romance Novels
- The roommate who lets the tomboy/bookworm/shy heroine borrow a shorter skirt, tighter dress, low-cut top, high heels, etc.
- The oftentimes superficial or flighty long-time friend (who the heroine reflects is an unlikely but surprisingly good friend) gives the heroine a make-over, typically when she is at a low point in her life or is desperate.
- The unique new acquaintance with glaring or outlandish personal style, vibrant personality, and take-it-or-leave it attitude typically provides more emotional support and personal advice and at least acts as a model for the heroine to “be herself.”
A new incarnation of the fairy godmother figure is the gay best friend, who can be more literal representations of a fairy godmother than other women.
The heroine’s make-over and ultimate success over the fairy godmother friend is even more powerful if the friend is her sister. Sisters are inherently compared. How many times are these friends described by the heroine to be “like a sister” anyway?
Furthering the Plot as “Fairy Godmother”
Getting Ready for the Ball
The stylish friend literally dresses Cinderella for the ball (party/bar outing), ensuring that the hero notices her, or provides feedback on an outfit when she goes on a date, helping to “seal the deal.”
The Stroke of Midnight
At some point or another, the heroine may be accused of abandoning or neglecting her friend—while she had gotten caught up in her relationship with the hero. This is the heroine’s come back to earth moment and the limit of the fairy godmother’s “magical” generosity. Incidentally the timing of such an argument between the heroine and her friend occurs right before the climax of the plot, when the real trouble begins.
New Responsibilities of the Fairy Godmother Archetype
- Making the Heroine More Beautiful
- Emphasizing Happily Ever After
- Exemplifying Societal Norms
Female Ideals and Stereotypes
These friends-slash-fairy godmothers tend to be traditionally beautiful, gregarious, never short of dates or male admirers, financially stable at the very least but more often successful particularly coming from family money. With conventional ideals come stereotypically female flaws such as flightiness, shallowness, poor judgement, jealousy, and weakness in the face of danger. The heroine does not exhibit these flaws, but the friend and “fairy godmother” usually does.
Sometimes they’re collateral damage in the heroine’s drama: kidnapped by the heroine’s enemies, attacked by the heroine’s stalker, even killed. They become an extension of the heroine’s own suffering. Any violence inflicted against her is an addition to the obstacles of the love story and belongs to the hero and heroine rather than the secondary character. The friend is often left damaged or traumatized, decreasing her social value and personal happiness, and in turn increasing the heroine’s.
If the heroine’s friend gets into trouble by association, the hero’s rescue/aid/compassion provided to the friend emphasizes how great he is. He is a knight-in-shining armor, a great-catch, and the friend may even feel jealous of how awesome the heroine’s guy is.
The hero will think that the friend is “nice, but…” while acknowledging how attractive the heroine’s friend is—particularly how stylish, flirty, or “traditionally beautiful”—the hero will not be attracted to her. His disinterest is a testament to his devotion and proof that he isn’t an Average Joe because he’s not into Average Jane.
Reversal of Fortune
Often times they hit a low point during the heroine’s rise to happiness: cheated on, hit a dry spell, spend too much money, family trouble, etc. If the friend is the average or ideal woman, then her difficulty resets the bell curve and makes the heroine’s success seem even greater. Just as the heroine is looking at a bright future, the friend mourns her own outlook and needs to make some changes. Meaning that the priorities and ideals for women set by culture and society aren’t good enough and need to change.
“If you hurt my friend”
When the hero hurts the heroine’s feelings, particularly if they break up briefly, then the friend will be the heroine’s shoulder to cry on and will threaten the hero when he returns to win her back. On the one hand, it may seem that the friend/fairy godmother makes and aggressive stand so the heroine won’t have to, preserving the heroine’s demure and defenseless damsel status. On the other, the bold threat made by an “idealized female” may defy feminine standards of amicability and benevolence or emphasize the woman’s vulnerability when it comes to matters of the heart.
Happily Ever After
These gal-pal fairy godmothers often struggle with their own romantic life and look on as the heroine finds true love (granted sometimes they get a sequel in which they themselves find love). Why is their reward for assisting the heroine’s transformation to be left in the dust?
The friend’s romantic failure contrasts the heroine’s romantic success. If the friend’s relationship problems are of her own design, because she dates too much or picked the wrong guy, she has lost an unofficial competition or race for true love and happiness while the heroine has won.
A Few of My Favorite “Fairy Godmothers”
Christian in Breaking the Silence by Katie Allen
Kathleen in Awakened by Brenda K. Davies
Livia in Giving Chase by Lauren Dane
Mandy in Dare to Believe by Dana Marie Bell
Tabby in Mr. Dark by Lauren Landish
Image Source: (Public Domain) William Henry Margetson/File:Cinderella and the Fairy Godmother.jpg/Wikimedia Commons