“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?” The familiar question is found in the Snow White fairy tale published by the Brothers Grimm in 1812. What does the sentence tell children about life and their aspirations?
Of course, it says that beauty is the be-all and end-all of our lives, and we should be rocketing toward that goal our entire life. Forget about education or career plans because beauty takes care of everything. How wrong can a tale be? Some research indicates that taller, more attractive people have advantages in career achievement.
What of those who aren’t beautiful as their culture demands of them? They are sentenced to life as vengeful witches or evil women with nothing but mean intentions and wickedness in their lives. Old crones are anathema to us, and that’s where the old, the “ugly,” and the wrinkled belong. What should we do since that wrecks our self-esteem and career goals?
When the women’s movement began in the 60s with the publication of books like Betty Friedan’s “Feminine Mystique,” the question of moralizing children’s stories, books, and the all-important bedtime fairy tale came under a new microscope. Most parents never suspected that the tales were derived from ancient rape, kidnapping, and child sacrifice stories. These were supposed to be tales of good-over-evil and a pleasant means to instill moral standards in children.
Bruno Bettelheim explained it in his allegedly plagiarized book, The Uses of Enchantment. He outlined that Sleeping Beauty had been a prostitute in the original Italian tale, and Little Red Riding Hood was murdered for her naivete.
But the “mirror” sentence stands out because none of the other tales have such a memorable line. I wonder what standard the new children’s books and bedtime stories convey. Marlo Thomas sang “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught,” and the question of beauty remains as kids learn to accept each other.
Should the old, the wrinkled, and the misshapen be banished? TV ads keep hammering away at the battle for “beauty” against wrinkles, so the unconscious message is that being old and wrinkled is unacceptable. We need to fight to plump up our skin, laser off those age spots, and build that core. The only good advice is related to keeping our core muscles in shape for better health and maintaining our ability to pursue our lives actively.
And, in the beauty biz, men are now one of the last areas of marketing pursuit with skin lotions, body washes, laser hair removal (chest, of course), and even subtle makeup to achieve that glow of the great outdoors. They are being pursued to use facial fillers and wrinkle-removing products to retain a youthful appearance and advance their careers. Think about the Neil Young lyrics for “Old Man.”
One of the best things I saw coming out of Tinseltown lately was that women and producers seek meaningful roles for women over 45. Yeah, that’s a female actor’s sell-by date for getting roles. After that, she can head for the food pantries and forget her health benefits. I believe Angela Lansbury helped with the latter by employing older actors on her TV show, Murder, She Wrote.
Is beauty always skin without wrinkles, or is it so much more?