“Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?”. Most of us who had fairy tales read to us as children will recognise these words, uttered by Snow White’s evil stepmother. But what, exactly, was she asking? In the Grimm Brothers’ German original, she asks who’s the most beautiful in the land. We now know that she may have meant “who is the whitest” rather than the most beautiful, since white skin was associated with the aristocracy and middle classes who didn’t work outside in the sun, but were rich enough to stay inside and have servants to work for them. However, that is a debate for another day because I want to look at how much these stories affect all of us on a subconscious level.
Since the stories were published in 1812, generations of girls and boys listened to them and there have been many debates about how much fairy tales like this (think Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty…..) influence us and what messages we carry on into adulthood. In most fairy stories, if the woman is beautiful, somehow she will ‘win’ her prince. Yes, Snow White, Cinderella and other heroines are kind as well as beautiful, but there is an underlying understanding that probably they wouldn’t have ended up ‘happy ever after’ if they hadn’t been beautiful as well.
In the same way, the prince in these stories was always ‘handsome’, which can lead young men to think that they have to be good-looking to get anywhere with women.
Nowadays, this message seems to have become ever more distorted so that a lot of young women feel that they’re not really worthwhile unless they’re pretty/attractive/desirable. Likewise with young men who often spend a lot of time worrying about whether they’re handsome enough and are wearing the ‘right’ clothes. Some of this is natural and has been going on since time began, but taken to extreme levels, it can also be dangerous. So much emphasis is now put on appearance with special apps to enhance Instagram photos and put a soft blur on them and photoshop manipulating images to improve their appearance. But life isn’t about blurring the edges and constant enhancement all the time – it’s also about people, including you, seeing things in a real way and being able to deal with imperfections. If what we see in the mirror is reflected back in a negative way, it can be very damaging. Depression is a big worry amongst teenagers and young people who often report feeling anxious and isolated.
Yes, we all want to look as good as we can, but there needs to be a limit on this so that we can enjoy each day, even if our hair needs a wash or we have a spot on our chin. Boring though it might sound, sometimes it’s better to work on your self-esteem because that will see you through, even if your appearance sometimes lets you down. So, give self-esteem a go, work on feeling better about yourself and factor in hobbies that don’t rely on your appearance but instead provide interesting and fun times with like-minded people.