By: Lauren Mathues
I saw Snow White and the Huntsman for the second time this past weekend. If the first viewing sent a soft, summer wind of ideas blowing around in my mind, the second viewing brought on a tornado. So, I’ve decided to do three posts about Beauty as I see it in Snow White and the Huntsman. And just in case you’ve still not seen it, this series will contain spoilers.
The movie opens with the queen wishing for a daughter with lips as red as blood, hair as black as a raven and skin as white as snow. It’s a sort of blessing on the yet unborn child, and it’s sealed with three drops of the queen’s blood. Later, we flash back to another mother wishing something for her daughter, but it is definitely a curse. When Queen Ravenna was just Baby Ravenna, on the brink of her small town’s destruction by a neighboring kingdom, her mom casts a spell that would allow her to obtain eternal beauty, the pursuit of which would unnecessarily cost her life.
Many times throughout the movie, Ravenna’s desperation echoed what I see in the women and men in our society – from the Hollywood elite to us “regular” people. For Ravenna, the pursuit of physical beauty was her life’s one pursuit, and research confirms that we moderns are not too different than her. The Economist has some interesting things to say about how much we spend on being beautiful, and in the US, that’s a good indicator of what is most important to us.
I am not exempt from this assessment. I obsessed about acne and flat chestedness in my teens. I was sad to be dateless for extended times in college and blamed not being pretty enough. I have spent tens of thousands of dollars on hair styles and gym memberships in the pursuit of being beautiful. And I pretty much looked the same the whole time.
I wonder. Where do we learn that beauty is so important? Who teaches us to prize it as one of the highest achievements? And more importantly, who has the power to help us rightly prioritize physical beauty? I think the movie sheds some light on the answer.
Remember the blessing that opens the movie and its mirror image curse later on? Both spells were cast by mothers. Countless people have committed many years of their lives to research the influences on human development us, and family is always close to the top of the lists. It’s likely due to the timing of their influence – when so many aspects of our personalities and ideals are being formed.
Just like Ravenna’s mom ‘cursed’ her with a wrong, purely physical aesthetic, our moms and dads (and other family members and friends) often inadvertently provide this same kind of cursed aesthetic. Don’t believe me?
What’s the first thing you compliment the children in your life about? If you’re like me, it’s how cute, pretty, or handsome they are. My niece is ten months old, and she is quite possibly the most adorable child I have ever encountered. (I know…I know. It’s only because I have not encountered your niece/nephew/son/daughter/god-child/neighbor…) When I look at her chocolate brown eyes and perfect little curls, before I can stop myself, I’ve said, “Baby K, you are SO CUTE!”
And that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. We all need affirmation in our physical appearance. I think the harm comes when the most consistent affirmations are the physical ones.
But the point of this article is not to gather more evidence of the ways my parents screwed me up. Blaming them for what I do with my own aesthetic now is pointless and leaves me powerless. What can I do to right my own aesthetic? What can you do to turn your own curse into a blessing?
I don’t claim to know all the answers, but I do know where I am going to start. I want to affirm the people in my life for more than just their physical appearance. I am still going to compliment great shoes or a terrific lip gloss. But I’m also going to seek out opportunities to affirm people on their skills and character. I want to affirm kindness or a job well done in those I know and love. . . and I want to look for those good character qualities when I look for famous people to admire. Like Kim Clijsters. She is an amazing athlete, and she espouses family ideals I really respect.
It’s not everything, or even the best thing we can do, but it’s a start. It’s where I’m going to start.
What else can we do to be peers that affirm more than just physical beauty?