Every woman knows that sooner or later the mirror will tell her she is no longer the fairest in the land. When that day comes, a piece of poisoned fruit is a handy thing to have around. (Stewart, Cathy’s Ring 16)
Years ago, reading a book that had nothing to do with fairy tales, I came across the above quote. It is striking how hugely fairy tales have been incorporated into the everyday dialogue of 21st century society. Even more so, it is intriguing that very often it is incorporated with an eye towards the ideals of beauty espoused in the genre, and the desperation of women to maintain the appearance of beauty at any cost. The presence of a multi-million dollar industry devoted strictly to cosmetics and the maintenance of a beautiful and youthful appearance in today’s society points to an unease regarding aging and ugliness in the female body that, although problematic when represented in the fairy tale, is very much a part of society even today. This thesis has worked to explore the ways in which the written tales have established a specific method for depicting female relationships and the presence of the beauty ideal, and then attempted to show that the films of the 21st century have sought to challenge and change that ideal. Although a genre that is often explored for its influence on children and their development, the fairy tale can also be an indicator of society at large and the superficial values it places on women and the female body, as well as a method of challenging those entrenched values. Franz Kafka once wrote, “there are no fairy tales without bloodshed” (Bridgewater 82), highlighting the very basic fact that violence is a key element of this genre. It is with this violent aspect of the fairy tale that female characters have always attempted to challenge the limits placed on them and their bodies, in order to create a new dynamic in which ugliness and the stretching of the body’s limits can become a position of liberation and power, rather than a source of fear and control.
Leah’s thesis, “Who’s the Fairest of Them All? Defining and Subverting the Female Beauty Ideal in Fairy Tale Narratives and Films through Grotesque Aesthetics”, is available for viewing and download at Scholarship@Western. The recommended citation for her thesis is as follows:
Persaud, Leah, “Who’s the Fairest of Them All? Defining and Subverting the Female Beauty Ideal in Fairy Tale Narratives and Films through Grotesque Aesthetics” (2015). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. Paper 3244. http://ir.lib.uwo.ca/etd/3244