I have just finished painting a series inspired by the Brothers Grimm version of Cinderella, ASCHENPUTTEL. In this pre-Disney telling it is a wishing tree growing from the mother's grave, and not a 'Fairy Godmother' that provides Cinders with the requisite clothing to attract her prince. Cinder's wicked stepmother and sisters are not ugly; they are 'fair of face but black of heart'. In the final contest to win the prince's hand, one sister cuts off a toe, the other her heel as they try to squeeze into that fragile, transparent glass slipper. The fight to fit the shoe closely parallels our contemporary zeal for cutting and shrinking our bodies through diets, cosmetic procedures and other, darker compulsions. The correct size = happy ever after - doesn't it?
These tales we tell our daughters contain some monstrous female stereotypes. Good mothers are usually dead while stepmothers will stop at nothing to remove the competition of a stepdaughter. An early version of Snow White casts the murderous queen as the girl's actual mother, while in Charles Perrault's extra gory version, the queen salts, cooks and eats the wild boar's lungs and liver, she believes belonged to her stepchild. Women who are not compliant, young, virginal, beautiful and of the requisite size, appear as witches, harridans and crones. If motherhood hasn't killed them off it turns them to jealousy, dissatisfaction and wickedness; a metamorphosis that surely informs our modern infatuation with youth and the hiding of signs of aging on the body and childbirth on the body at all costs.
In Hans Christian Andersen's The Red Shoes, Karen is punished for her vanity in wearing red shoes to church. The shoes weld to her feet, dancing her through night and day into a graveyard where she sees an angel guarding the church doors. "Dance you shall!" he told her. "Dance in your red shoes until you are pale and cold, and your flesh shrivels down to the skeleton. Dance you shall from door to door, and wherever there are children proud and vain you must knock at the door till they hear you, and are afraid of you. Dance you shall. Dance always."
* See August Blog The Two Faces of Eve