In the original Grimms’ version of Cinderella the rotten step-sister can’t get her foot into the shoe and her mother hands her a knife and tells her to cut off her toes to make it fit. After all, once she’s queen she won’t need toes. That works fine until some little birds squeal on her as the Prince is taking her home. He takes her back, there’s a whole “OMG—what a silly mistake we made, here’s the right girl” scene where the second sister has to cut off her heel. Not surprisingly, given the chattiness of small birds, the Prince is back pretty quick and he’s getting annoyed. This is when Cinderella, who has been in the room the whole time, pulls the mate to the now gore encrusted shoe out of her pocket and says “Oh, yeah, it was me all along.”
I want you to think about this carefully, because I want you to forget that blond chick in the blue dress with all the singing mice. Cinderella was not meek and mild. Like a real girl, a much abused girl, she stood there with the other shoe in her pocket while her rivals stepped all over her with their mutilated feet. She waited for the right time to pull her golden ticket out of her pocket and she waltzed off to Princess-hood. Yeah, she took her sisters with her, but they get their eyes pecked out on the way to the wedding. This is a story that reassures me because Cinderella is nobody’s doormat. She isn’t perfect, she has a tiny taste for revenge and she can make a plan.
Why do I need this reassurance you ask? One word answer: Disney. Junior is hard into the Princess thing right now, happily abetted by her crazily indulgent family and friends. I had a hard time allowing the Barbie look-alike Princess Aurora for Christmas but I did, consoling myself that this is a phase that will pass, and she will still grow up to understand that she can have a meaningful life even if she isn’t pretty, rich, and sweet. However, she’s been begging for the Prince Philip doll (or should that be action toy?) because Aurora isn’t “complete” (her word) without him. Ye gads, what have I done?
Am I over thinking this? Maybe, but I’m not the only one and, much as I despise most Disney versions of my beloved fairy tales, I can’t really lay all the blame at the feet of the Mouse. Peggy Orenstein examines the “princess-ification” of our daughters in a funny, thought provoking and comforting way in her book Cinderella Ate My Daughter. At least, it’s comforting to me. Then again, I really like the Grimms’ Cinderella.
Try these as well, in case you want to get back to basics with fairy tales: