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« Magic mirror on the wall… »

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Have you ever read the Brothers’ Grimm version of fairy tales?

They are a far cry from the Disney re-imagination. The Grimm version is gritty, often violent and exponentially more honest (well, as honest as a fairy tale can be). Let’s take Cinderella as an example. In the Grimm version, the step sisters each cut off a portion of their foot to make the shoe fit; which if you’re a human woman, is the only plausible way to make a size 6 shoe fit a size 9 foot. In The Little Mermaid, the prince marries someone else (spoiler alert: Turning into a voiceless human to get the guy is definitely not the best strategy) and the little mermaid dies. But even with such gory details, the Grimm version provides this glimpse of vulnerability and raw desperation for love or beauty that draws me to the characters. The « evil » characters have depth and contrast the « one-dimensional chess piece » role that Disney’s version paints. Their sole purpose isn’t to be an antagonist. Cinderella was just as much the step sisters’ story as it was Cinderella’s (However we can all agree that in all versions, the prince is a dud who has little to offer and can’t remember someone with whom he waltzed for hours. Come on [fictional] dude!).

So if these characters aren’t merely props in someone else’s story, why are they « evil »? After all, people don’t exist in a vacuum. For better and for worse, we are all a product of our societies. Our stories are woven by our experiences and perceptions of life.

With that understanding, I’ve recently been fascinated by the Little Snow White (also known as Snow White and the Seven Dwarves) story. Not because the story itself is that great. Frankly I’m not really keen on the highest standard of beauty being alabaster skin, ebony hair and rose-colored lips! No, I’m fascinated by this beautiful and vain queen who spent her days asking a mirror if she was the fairest in the land. I’m intrigued by this woman who seems desperate for validation, and seeks it through any means necessary.

Her character is largely a mystery; one of the shortcomings of the Grimm stories (I didn’t say they were perfect). She is stripped of her back story and is only introduced as this evil step-mother. Why did she marry the king? Why was she jealous of Snow White’s beauty? And in my curiosity, and perhaps naiveté, I decided that I would rewrite her story.

In my version, she’d ask: “Magic mirror on the wall. Who’s the fairest of them all? » Not because she’s vain but rather because she feels inadequate. Because, she spent her adolescent years highlighting every perceived imperfection. She would ask because she spent hours repeating her shortcomings like a mantra until they created a cloak perceived mediocrity. She would ask because she’d conflated an impossible standard of perfection and beauty with worthiness. She would ask because she needed external reassurance, not because of vanity, but as validation of her existence.

And in my version the mirror would respond: « Though you doubt it, your beauty is incomparable. The ideal of beauty that you seek walks in your midst.  Your eyes, the color of roasted chestnuts, hide a mischievous gleam. Your hair, wild and unruly, is a crown that defies the laws of gravity (because the Queen is obviously Black in my version). Your skin is as decadent as chocolate (or cafe con [lots of] leche! We’re inclusive of all pigments of Brown skin in this version). Your smile rivals the Mona Lisa.

Now you may be thinking, « hum…that’s cool I guess, but definitely a little weird. I’m not sure where you’re going with this. Also, woah, use metaphors much?! » Here’s where I’m going with this:

1) I re-read those stories and had no business reading these « fairy tales » as a child. That explains a lot.

But more importantly:

2) The truest mirrors aren’t the reflective glass ones that adorn our walls. No, the truest mirrors are the eyes of those who see our deepest selves. For years I thought that my eyes were the wrong shade of Brown, that my ears were too small… [And the list goes on]. Until, I realized that my eyes were the same shade as those of the woman whose eyes beamed with pride at my graduation. The curve of my smile was the same as hers; a smile that seemed to hint that she knew the secrets of the Universe, but was keeping them to herself. My ears heard her voice and « very off-key » singing. My lips were shaped like hers, those that kissed my forehead to comfort me.

So the next time you have the audacity to doubt your own beauty, remember that your features are etched from those of the exquisite creature who brought you into this world. Her face is the blueprint, passed down from Amina to Cleopatra to Nefertiti, from which you are molded. Each curve is carved precisely to create a harmonious dance between biology and indescribable love. And because of that, your mirror should only respond, “My dear, you are breathtaking!”

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Nedghie Adrien
I'm a wanderer, who roams from city to city, trying to find pieces of herself. I can be found staring into a cup of black coffee, tucked in the quiet corner of coffee shop or being awkward in the streets of LA and documenting my awkward journey on my blog!

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