I love fairytales and due to recent drawing projects I’ve had a chance to study them in greater depth. And their messaging.
Take The Princess and The Pea for example (1). The Prince has been finding it tricky to find a suitable Princess for a wife because – I quote – the ones he’s met to date have had bad table manners, or they are too fat, or too thin or just not ‘beautiful’. Because of these perceived imperfections, he can’t be certain that they are real Princesses and worthy of his hand in marriage.
To make things worse, his mum gets in on the act. When a young woman claiming to be a Princess seeks shelter in the castle, the Prince’s mum tests out the Princess’s royal stature. By placing a pea under TWENTY mattresses and TWENTY feather-beds. Because, obviously, only a Princess with an extremely sensitive posterior would be able to feel a pea beneath those mountains of wadding. Sure enough, the now confirmed Princess had a very sleepless night and allegedly suffered slight bruising. The Prince and his mum rejoiced, a wedding was quickly organised and, naturally, they all lived happily ever after.
How much of the true meaning has been dissolved over time, I’m not sure. But you can’t really miss the main point – worthy girls are delicate, well-mannered, beautiful and fit into a perfect clothing size. Does that define you? No, me neither.
So as part of the art project I’ve been adding twists on traditional fairytales. Not really to make any feminist point, but just for my amusement and to challenge my own perceived notion of the original stories. To imagine a different ending and to add a modern slant. Here are a couple of my twists…
There’s Sleeping Beauty on the left. She doesn’t wake for an unsolicited kiss from a stranger. Nope. She wakes for beer and pizza. And probably coffee. In fact, she really just wakes up when she feels good and ready. As for Cinderella – it seems domestic appliances may be just as wished for as a Prince. Ok, so neither of these modern fairytale femmes are making any profound statements, but they are doing things their own way and making their own choices.
Of course, I’m not suddenly going to start boycotting fairytales. As I mentioned at the start, I’m an avid fan and there’s no changing that. I just wonder how impressionable I was as a little girl, and how many of these messages of conformity and prince charmings seeped into my subconscious. Now I’m old enough to take the stories with a pinch of salt, I can enjoy the escapism. There does also seem to be a move to shake up fairytales from their patriarchal past – I love the strong female roles in Maleficent, Frozen and Brave – and I’m looking forward to seeing what Moana is all about.
How about you? Are there any fairytales that strike a chord with their outdated versions on how a woman should be? Or are there some that you know of that have interesting expectations on men? I guess it can’t be easy reading that you have to save the day, ALL the time – maybe the knight in shining armour just wants to chill with beer and netflix… ok, that’s a whole other chapter I won’t into today.
(1) The Princess and the Pea storyline reference