My Problem with Cinderella

I feel like I am getting old.

I suppose it is my own fault, largely, since I decided to work as a high school teacher, and I am barely out of college myself. Not to mention I look young and I act young on the outside (terribly hard to get a good job when that happens, by the way) but feel old on the inside.

Anyone who knows me well can tell you I had a hard time with high school. And the previous years in junior high and elementary school, largely.

In the close to ten years since I graduated from high school, I can confidently say my wish to be a source of comfort and insight into bullied teens, students with self-esteem issues, and confused Christians living in a fallen world has not extinguished. But purpose has its price, and my payment is getting to feel old every time I look at someone who shares in my high school pain and insecurities.

I look at the girl who is tormented by worry, whether it is over her looks, her weight, or the ever-pressing question of her worth. I see the sadness in the tired Christian, feeling isolated because his beliefs put him at an awkward odd with the secular perspective. I can feel the loneliness of the teen who looking for love and wondering what it will take for him or her to find it and keep it.

And close to ten years later, it is humbling to know I don’t have all the answers for them. It is just as humbling to know I have some answers, though. (I can’t imagine there are a lot of people who suddenly get validation for being that awkward, borderline-creepy religious kid in high school. But hey, I’m still a work in progress.)

And here is what I start off and let them know.

I have problems with the story of Cinderella.

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Now, it’s not the most focused, to-the-point remark, but it has its uses.

Here is my major problem with Cinderella. I do want to note that I am not just referring to the Disney version of Cinderella. Most versions of Cinderella start off with the same beginning, which is, of course:

Cinderella is a young girl when her mother dies. Her father remarries, and Cinderella gains a stepmother as well as stepsisters, who are sometimes directly referred to as ‘evil,’ while other times just indirectly seen as evil. Then Cinderella’s father dies. Her stepmother makes Cinderella become a maid. Ten years later, a prince needs to get married so the kingdom decides to hold a ball so the prince can find a bride.

And that’s where I’m going to stop. Did anyone notice a problem with the story at that point? Read it again.

My problem is with the big gap of time between ‘sudden household slave’ to ‘going to a ball, maybe.’ I know Alfred Hitchcock once said, “Drama is life with the dull bits cut out,” but ten years is a lot of time to gloss over. And I can’t say I think Cinderella wasbored all those years.

Ten years! I don’t know about you, but ten years seems like a long time. Especially when you look back on your childhood. Your childhood was more than just work. It was growing and learning and feeling and changing. And yes, it might have been boring or hard or awful, but it was not about what you did so much as it’s about who you were, and how it would set you up to become who you are.

In terms of psychology, ten years can definitely bring on several big changes. One of the things my pastor, Kevin Myers of 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville, GA taught me was about the importance of the childhood years in terms of family and identity. Who you are as a child is largely dependent on your family. Your family is the first place you receive your identity. Even your parents get to name you! It’s a powerful thing, a name. Do you realize your name is the only way to sum up all of who you are? (That’s probably why a lot of Hollywood stars change their names.)

No wonder so many problems that show up in adult life have their roots in childhood. Identity is a powerful thing. A unique thing. A precious thing.

And poor Cinderella (or “Cinderelly,” depending on how much you’ve seen the Disney version)! She has the majority of her fairy tale skipped over. Ten years is glossed over in favor of what? Like, two days? Three?

I’m going to digress here. Anyone watch American Idol? Do you remember Fantasia Barrino? Do you remember her Lifetime Original Biopic, “Life is Not a Fairy Tale”? I do. I do, because I remember getting quite mad at her for the title. She had a hard life before rising to stardom on the singing television show, and then she was offered a record contract. Hard work, emotional turmoil, and then, boom! A chance of a lifetime. Yeah, that doesn’t sound at all like a fairy tale.

Fairy tales as a rule tend to gloss over previous trials, including puberty. They focus on one big lesson, or even have a three-act set up, but they do not get too far into the gritty, grudgy, or the godforsaken. The scars of our heart, the growing pains, the formation of our identities are largely glossed over. And this is the reason I could understand Fantasia Barrino didn’t see her life as a fairy tale. It’s hard to gloss over pain when it’s yours.

It’s hard to gloss over pain when it’s yours. Tweet this.

Now, why do I have a problem with this?

So many girls (and boys, too!) see their lives in terms of the media. Their hopes and dreams are chiseled out of stories they read. How many of us have sighed dreamily as we looked out windows, and thought, “Someday my prince will come?” And it’s not abad thing to have hopes and dreams. But it’s important to supplement this with the idea of Cinderella growing up, working hard, keeping her optimism up on the days her stepsisters spit on her or her stepmother neglected her, and facing the hard truths of her life. I can’t say I wouldn’t have been shaking my fists up at heaven and demanding God answer for my pain.

I’m not dissing Cinderella. I’m trying to give readers a new perspective on her character. Because we are not the people who magically transform for a night, and our clothes and shoes do not give us exultation or worth. We are the people we choose to be from the options we’ve been given.

I think Cinderella has a lot of insight in making some of those choices.

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