“Mirror, Mirror” and The Lonely Quest For Beauty

In my last post I ranted about a fairy tale movie I disliked, “Into the Woods,” so now I’ll tell you about one I enjoyed a lot. “You’ll like it so much, Mummy,” said my oldest who had watched it before with Daddy, “It was, like, made for you!” The movie is called Mirror, Mirror and stars Julia Roberts as Snow White’s wicked step-mother. But rather than being just another evil old lady movie, Mirror, Mirror takes quite an interesting and humourus look at the problem of beauty. 

 

The story is told from the perspective of the step-mother, an aging queen who is trying to hang on to the beauty of her youth with all her might. Her most intimate and honest relationship is with her magic mirror; it is the only one permitted to see her vulnerability and insecurity. Time is taking its toll and threatening to snatch away her claim to being “the fairest of them all.” As she has always used her beauty as a source of power, this loss has not only personal but political ramifications, and makes her fearful of losing her crown. 

  
When a handsome (but this time not sleezy like the one in Into the Woods) young prince arrives at the castle, she sees in him an opportunity to solve her financial problems and gain security. The pre-ball ‘beauty treatments’ she undergoes are a painfully funny commentary on woman’s willingness to suffer for her appearance. She uses a a bird-dropping face mask, bee stings on her lips as an instant volumizer, and a horrific harness-like undergarment to squeeze her into her old dress size, to name a few. 

 Yet despite her physical appeal, the queen lacks warmth; she is always determined to feel superior to those she is with, even the prince whose affections she is trying to gain. While she dresses as a magnificent peacock for the costume ball, the outfit she chooses him is that of a rabbit, with silly huge ears sticking out of his hat. It is very clear who is in charge. 

  
 All her efforts at impressing him are trumped by the simple elegance of Snow White, who arrives dressed as a swan, and captivates the prince. The most charming part about her though, rather than her appearance, is how little she thinks of herself. Her defining traits are to be found in her care for others, from the palace servants to the people of her late father’s kingdom. She shines in relationship, rather than in isolation. Integrity and finding the courage to fight for the good are what make this girl attractive. Her Audrey Hepburn-like beauty is something that simply fits with the goodness that exudes from within. 
   
She proves herself a lot more capable than even she expected she was, and finds, with the amusing help of her friends the dwarves, the strength to fight to reclaim the throne of her father from the abusive queen who is taxing the people to death to support her lavish lifestyle. While the young Snow White’s life expands as she gains in her sense of purpose and in serving others, the older queen’s life, built on manipulation and control, collapses inwards as her isolating self-admiration becomes insufficient to ensure her own happiness.   

I highly recommend this movie, for being both humourus and thoughtfully done, and touching on interesting themes of youth, age, beauty, generosity and selfishness. The themes of using beauty as a source of power, and basing one’s self-worth on externals, are certainly important issues facing women in our society today, and worth discussing with our daughters and friends. 

Finally, Mirror, Mirror also ends with an unexpected Bollywood style song and dance number by Snow and the dwarves which is sure to make you laugh! 😄 I sure did!

Why Adults Can’t Handle Fairy Tales

There are many adults who are afraid that kids can’t handle traditional fairy tales, because they are too scary, too gruesome, too awful. I think it’s actually because on a certain level, they are too real. And many of us adults can’t handle real life.

I used to wonder why fairy tales so often were about orphans, or kids whose one parent had died, leaving them in the hands of someone who despised them. Think Hansel and Gretel, Snow White or Rapunzel. Or why they had to fight evil beasts and monsters, like the dragon in Sleeping Beauty. But now I think I understand better why.

Fairy tales can help children realize that life is going to be full of challenges, that it will contain suffering, that sometimes they will feel rejected and alone. But it is also about the triumph of the little guy, the unexpected hero, like in Jack and the Beanstalk. It is about perseverance, guts and hope.

How necessary it is for us to have hope! To believe in the triumph of good over evil, and the certainly of justice, even if that justice is very long in coming.

But now we often prefer to sugar-coat these dramatic tales. We try to cover up the bad bits. “They will be too scary,” we think. Will they be any scarier than real life? How will our kids cope with that?

Our modern western world is so poorly equipped to deal with suffering, because we so seldom have to deal with it in a really dramatic way. We are generally comfortable, have food, shelter, clothes, etc. Not that many people we know are eaten by dragons. Not that many people we know die. So when they do it’s a shock.

It didn’t use to be this way. Not that long ago people knew that things like infant death were a common part of life. They accepted that they needed to work from dawn till dusk, and often be away from their families. They knew that an illness could steal away a loved one like a thief in the night. Now we like to pretend this can’t happen, at least not to us. “La, la, la, la, it’s not real,” we sing and cover our eyes to the possibility of such a loss.

But it’s a delusion. Life is very fragile. It is very precious. It is a gift that can be revoked at any time. Losing a baby in labour taught me this. And as crushing as this loss is, my little one also teaches me—shouts loudly in her silence—that it is of utmost importance to hope. To have faith in something greater than these struggles here below. To know that love is stronger than death. To know that happiness here is complicated, and that our true happiness is yet to come.

So when you feel overwhelmed, remember the fairy tales. Put on your knight’s costume, mount your steed, and ride off into the sunset to face your dragons. Even if they consume you, you will triumph, if you don’t lose hope. It’s that golden thread that connects us to Heaven. It’s our strength in weakness and pain.

And if you meet a weary traveller along the way, someone who is laden down with suffering, help them carry their burden. Offer your heart to help carry some of that weight oppressing theirs. Reach out and cheer them on. In your mercy, in your tenderness, in your affection, you will bring them hope. And the quest to bring more hope to a struggling world is surely an ideal noble enough for all of us.

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PS These gorgeous swords were lovingly handmade by my talented step-dad Rob Koenig!