Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is fairest of them all?
I have always been a bit of a believer in fairy tales. I know it’s hard to take a girl seriously when her head is lost in the clouds or more literally, in a book of white horses and knights in shining armour, but I feel there’s more to these stories than just meeting the man of your dreams. It was never about being rescued by Prince Charming; the heroes of my fiction were always the women. Cinderella’s positive attitude while at the bottom of the economic ladder spoke of a work ethic that paid off in the end with the ultimate promotion.
Remember, she didn’t go to the ball to find herself a rich husband; she just wanted to get dressed up and go dancing and what hard working woman doesn’t deserve a night off (or a great pair of shoes)?
Belle, a loving and responsible daughter, stepped up to protect her family and honoured her agreements without sacrificing her morals. She was able to apply the age old lesson of never judging a book by its cover, to discover a diamond in the rough and find a person worth saving. The fact that the person happened to come with a castle is a happy coincidence and a testament that success can still be achieved by staying true to yourself and not judging others.
If you still believe fairy tales only promote using beauty to improve your station in life, remember the littlest Mermaid was already royalty and could easily have sat back to enjoy a trophy husband and the perks of fortune. Instead, she braved a new culture and immersed herself in all that it had to offer. Ariel wasn’t deterred by ethnic prejudices; she sacrificed and took great risks but the payoff proved worth it.
For centuries the exciting finale of these stories centered around the man rushing in to slay the beast but I think we’re forgetting that at no point did the princess ask for such violence. She just wanted the opportunity to make her own choices and live her own life.
These are not examples of damsels in distress but dynamos taking control of their destinies. Proof, that perspective can be the difference between tragedy and happy ever afters.
This is never more evident than with the female protagonists of the story. From Evil queens to wicked stepmothers, women can be their own worst enemies. Jealousy combined with low self esteem is destructive and no fairy tale demonstrates this better than Snow White. At the start of our story, the Magic Mirror finds the Queen as the fairest of them all, but things deteriorate quickly when she starts to compare herself to someone else. No wonder things go awry. Who on earth gets to decide on a definitive definition of such an ambiguous term? Beauty, after all, is in the eye of the beholder.
Today there are still magic mirrors that use lighting and angles to convince potential consumers to buy into believing they are the fairest of them all. Filters and photo shopping take the place of fairy god mothers and the Evil Queen still lurks in the shadows of social media, the halls of our high schools and amongst the lunch rooms of our work places. In the face of devastating statistics regarding eating disorders, plastic surgery and spiralling self-esteem, we as women continue to use slut shaming, and gossiping to attack when we are most vulnerable. We have brainwashed our girls into such an oppressive narrative that less than 5 percent of women around the world consider themselves beautiful. We can try and blame the media for turning us against each other but it takes two to tango. Magic doesn’t have power if you don’t believe.
With the increasing sexualisation of our girls, some feel our daughters should no longer be told that they are beautiful, instead, complimented only on less superficial characteristics. They should be reminded that they are powerful and smart…And they should…Because they are! But why must we sacrifice one for the other? Appearances are always going to be the first thing a person sees and whether we want to admit it or not, “In every (man’s) heart there is a secret nerve that answers to the vibrations of beauty.”* We strive to create it in our art, in our homes and in our gardens. It would be foolish to deny ourselves that which we so admire elsewhere. There will always be the conflict of trying to separate beauty and sexuality but that war should be fought on the battlefield of actions, not feelings.
Just among us women, I don’t believe the problem is in the quest for beauty/sexuality but how we seem to be making it so very unattainable. Not only have we narrowed the goal markers, we’ve increased the defense. How quick women are to point out the flaws of others. The extra weight, or the lack of curves; too much makeup or too little. Women are either trying too hard, or not trying enough. Whatever happened to the old adage, “if you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all”? I don’t understand why we feel the need to join the battle of the sexes only to thwart our own side.
There is evidence that favors the view that women have worked to stifle each other’s sexuality because sex is a limited resource that women use to negotiate with men, and scarcity gives women an advantage. So potentially the very act of the feminist that tries to stamp out beauty in order to be taken seriously is falling right in line with an archaic concept which at its very core insinuates that all we have to offer is a pretty face. Don’t get me wrong, if you don’t feel comfortable in a short skirt then by all means, rock a pant suit, but if stiletto’s make you feel powerful then strut your stuff like it’s nobody’s business, because guess what….it isn’t. And yet, time and time again, we feel the need to knock our gender down a few pegs and call it realism. The Mirror might not lie, but why do we need to keep asking it the same question? Instead of “who is the fairest of all” let’s start asking, what is the fairest feature of mine?
Do you have great hair? Then whip it! Long lashes? Bat them! Luscious lips, well lick them! We have to stop being afraid to own our beauty due to the fear of being told we are wrong. We shouldn’t be eliminating the word beautiful from our daughters’ vocabulary, but improving it to include all body types and fashion choices and every possible variation of the theme. There is something so sublimely sexy about confidence that can’t be achieved if we keep criticising ourselves. We have to stop fighting amongst our ranks and show a united front. I challenge you to not only stop complaining about yourself and others, but to take it a step further and start celebrating the beauty that is all around us. How do we expect men to stop judging us on our appearances if we cannot stop judging ourselves.
You can groan at the syrupy sweetness of the message but the poison at the heart of this apple is a fact. Women will never be able to achieve their happy ever afters if we continue to choose to emulate the Evil Queens and the Wicked Stepmothers who spend their stories plotting against the other leading ladies. Worry less about how other women live their lives and more about how you are going to live yours. It’s up to us to decide whether we are the hero or the villain.
Or just a girl doing her best to get to the end of her story with her self-esteem intact.
* quote by Christopher Morle