I was participating in a chat with a group of ladies the other day. We were discussing hair colour. Every single one of us has hair that is either highlighted, coloured or streaked. I must say that I think it is fabulous that women have so much choice now about hair colours and styles and I go to the hairdresser regularly for cuts, treatments and highlights but I did start me down the path of wondering why it is that women are never satisfied with the way they look. Everyone of this group of women is also very weight conscious and most of them are forever on some or other calorie counting weight-reduction diet or another. I am precluded from these conversations now as a latent allergy to wheat has severely reduced my intake of cake, pizza, pies and other luscious food of a refined wheat based nature.
The lemon and lime fruit drop fairy that features in Sir Chocolate and the sugar dough bees story and cookbook (available at the end of March 2017) has multi-coloured hair. This idea was inspired by the recent modern trend of two and three toned hair.
From a very young age, weight watching and the need to be slim becomes a topic of great importance for many girls. Women feel compelled to try and keep their weight down. Of course, there are health benefits to keeping an eye on your weight and not becoming significantly overweight but there are also health threats to being very thin. These threats never seem to really make it to the front page in the same way as the negative coverage of obesity. I have known a number of women over my life time who have struggled with the debilitating effects of anorexia, bulimia, abuse of laxatives and obsessive exercise routines. These disorders have a devastating impact on the life of the sufferer and also on the lives of the people who love them.
When I was a young teenager at school, I was very fashionable to have big, curly hair. Those of us with straight hair resolved the problem by having perms. I recall the nights of misery trying to get my ramrod straight and very fine hair to curl. The perm would drop out within a week leaving my hair looking just like rats tails. My Mom tried to help by teaching me how to pin curl my hair but this resulted in a million pins poking into my head all night. My hair does not curl. It required very tight twirling, a vicious pinch and then a criss-cross of hair pins to get my hair to retain any sort of curl. I spent my days feeling exhausted with heavy eyes and an aching head from lack of sleep [and probably a lack of oxygen as I lay on my face all night to avoid the poky hair pins].
The media bears a lot of the blame for our culture of obsessing with “thinness” and our looks. I wonder, however, if our traditional fairy tales don’t also contribute.
Think of these famous fairy tales:
- Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs written by the Brothers Grimm. This story depicts a young and willowy girl who is “the most beautiful in the land”. The fact that her jealous stepmother tries to murder her and she ends up living with the seven dwarves in a cottage in the woods is quite beside the point. Snow White is so beautiful that her dead body, enshrined in a glass case, causes a passing price to dismount from his horse and open the coffin to kiss her, dislodging the poisonous apple piece that has resulted in her untimely [coma? – can’t be death as she comes back to life]. What did I learn? Her great beauty results in her happily ever after;
- Cinderella, another tale by the Brother’s Grimm. This story details the life of another spectacularly beautiful young woman who, subsequent to her father’s remarriage, becomes the family servant. Cinderella’s Step-Mother and two “ugly” sisters are very spiteful towards her because of her unparalleled beauty. All the ladies of the land are invited to a ball at the palace so that the young and handsome Price can choose a bride. Naturally, Cinderella is precluded from attending by her Step-Mother’s nasty wiles but Cinderella’s fairy Godmother comes to her aid. Cinderella attends the ball and her beauty turns the Prince’s head to such an extent that when she disappears unexpectedly at 12am, he scours the land with her glass slipper, in order to find her and make her his bride. This is another tale about great beauty triumphing over all.
- Beauty and the Beast is a traditionally fairy tale written by French Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve. This is the story of a selfish and unrepentant young Prince who is turned into a beast as a punishment for his selfish ways. The spell can only be broken if the bad tempered and ill-mannered beast can win the love of a beautiful maiden. Enter Beauty whose father has been taken captive by the Beast and locked up in his dungeon. Beauty agrees to take his place but is allowed to live in the enchanted castle and roam freely. Naturally, Beauty’s incredible good looks enchant the Beast to such an extent that he undergoes and entire personality change and falls in love with Beauty. This tale also has a happily ever after ending with our handsome couple falling deeply in love.
Generally speaking in these delightful fairy tales about ever-lasting love the hero’s choice of lady is purely looks based and he has either, not met her at all or met her very briefly. This certainly lends itself to a belief by young girls that good looks are the deciding factor and that personality and other achievements don’t matter.
Then there are the stories that depict beautiful and very powerful ladies, as follows:
- Think of the story of The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Anderson. The Snow Queen is depicted as an extremely beautiful woman in a white fur coat. She is also a very powerful witch who is able to bewitch Kaye and make him forget all about his special friend, Gerda, and his home and loved ones;
- The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis is another series that features a very powerful witch. The White Witch is also described as a very beautiful woman. She comes across Edmund, one of the four main characters in the book, and enchants him with her magic Turkish delight. She persuades Edmund to betray his siblings and come to her magic castle.
These are but five of a complete plethora of fairy and other tales for young girls that could have the undesirable side-effect of making them feel that good looks and a slim body are essentials to find love and happiness in life or to attain success and power.
Before we point fingers at the media for our looks obsessed society, I suggest that we look at our bookshelves and consider the impact of the messages we are passing on to our daughters in our favourite fairy tales. I am not suggesting for one minutes that we do not read these tales to our children but it is always a good idea to put ideas and viewpoints into perspective so as to pass on a balanced message.
Robbie Cheadle is the author of the Sir Chocolate book series.
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