Ugly Stepsister Syndrome: Not Another Cinderella Story
Cinderella; We all know the story…
Once upon a time there was a beautiful girl who was tormented by a cruel step-mother and ugly step-sisters. On the very night the prince is in town, Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother appears and helps her win his heart. To find her, he travels the land with the glass slipper she left behind. Every woman in the kingdom tries the slipper on hoping to be queen. According to the Brother’s Grimm, the two ugly step-sisters go as far as cutting off parts of their feet so that the slipper will fit. The story ends when Cinderella is reunited with both her slipper and her prince. The lesson is simple: beauty is rewarded. But what about the ugly step-sisters? What about the ninety-nine percent?! My name is Léa Taranto and I am an ugly step-sister.
When I was little, I wanted to be Barbie. A decade later I was 5’8 and less than ninety pounds with a feeding tube. Don’t feel bad for me though, everyone everywhere at some point in their life has been an ugly step-sister or brother. There is always someone we find ourselves glaring at for no particular reason. This someone is: thinner, curvier, more muscular, more successful, more popular, more fashionable or possessing more than us of whatever personality trait it is we wish we had. All of us are ugly step-children. Growing up I was surrounded by beautiful women who felt ugly. Even my mom, a former Parisian model paid to be beautiful, suffers from Ugly Step-Sister Syndrome. She frowns at her small chest, applies creams to stave off wrinkles; wistfully recalling The Era of The Super-Model and her girl crush/object of envy Christy Turlington.
Things to think about
We are trained at a very young age to put beauty on a pedestal. Middle aged mothers live their Cinderella fantasies through their daughters on “Toddlers in Tiaras”. An all- consuming need for beauty, to feel attractive and therefore worthy, pervades all cultures, genders, civilizations and eras. The name of beauty was the impetus for things like foot-binding in China, the organ squishing “Wasp Waist” of the 19th century, South Africa’s Nuer Tribe’s scarification (scaring one’s body or face for aesthetic reasons) and wearing devices which lengthened the skulls of ancient Egyptian and Mayan royalty to all become common practices. Although the methods have changed (steroid and plastic surgery addiction) we are still slaves to beauty.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to feel beautiful. It’s human to bask in the self esteem high from compliments on a new hair style or work out plan. However, when this need becomes pathological, and eats into other aspects of life such as: mental and physical health, finding time to visit loved ones, the progress of school, career or self goals, then it is becoming cancerous. Meanwhile, it seems like society is setting everyone up to fail. Social media sites like Hot or Not exist where the sole purpose is for members to upload pictures of themselves and wait to see whether they are a one, an eight point five or a ten.
The Maybelline commercial says your lips should be dark and your eye liner winged while Urban Decay at Sephora promises a bold new edge and smokey eye with neutral eye shadows. Men must walk a tightrope of gendered social norms, muscular but hairless, fashionable but not too flamboyant which is a common stigma of homosexuality. Beauty demands that we always catch up, no matter how many miles on the treadmill we run. Hence, it acknowledges the problem it helped to create and provides band-aid solutions. Popular television series will dedicate a few episodes to mental health (Glee) or give one of their characters an eating disorder (Gossip Girl). In the music industry stars who grow thoughtful will write a song about the pressures of meeting certain beauty stereotypes like Beyonce Carter’s “Pretty Hurts” or Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful.”
Changing the Cinderella Story
Unfortunately, their own messages fall on deaf ears. The same gossip rags which brutally criticized Christina’s weight gain are lavishing her with praise for her breakthrough diet and Beyonce dolls are being sold next to good old Barbie. Several days ago I was browsing Facebook when I noticed my friend’s status update on leg gapage. This is the phenomenon of having space between one’s thighs, those who don’t are “fat”. Her remark was that not having any gapage makes you closer to being a mermaid and who doesn’t want to be a mermaid? A mutual acquaintance of ours posted back, mourning her “spindle legs” and wishing she could be a mermaid too. My immediate reaction was of the ugly step-sister mindset.
What does that girl have to complain about? She wouldn’t survive one day of being bigger when she discovered how little she would be hit on. As cliché as it sounds, the grass is always greener on the other side. A short person wants to be taller, a skinny girl wants bigger hips, and the boy with curly hair wishes nothing more than for his ‘fro to be straight. Pop Culture knows what it is doing and knows that such an unhealthy obsession.
As a girl who has been in both the spindly legs and thunder thighs camps I’ve struggled at the end of either extreme. I still struggle with associating myself with the adjective beautiful. Every time I went to the bathroom, I used to spend a moment looking for ribs that no longer emerged from the flesh of my reflection. As the bones faded through the years, I wondered how much time I had wasted on these moments. Now, there are other moments: moments where the sun kisses my back and evergreen branches caress my shoulders and face. My legs take me up, aching pleasantly as I rush to the top of a cliff on the Baden Powell Trail, rejoicing in the miracle of movement. I look down at the sea and slopes of endless green which stretch out before me; they are a part of me. I look inward, beyond the skin, fat and bones and I know that I am beautiful.
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