This spring/summer has seen two back to back movies assail theaters as well as a show premiere on TV all centering around the girl who ate an apple. No, not Eve. I’m talking about Snow White, whose recent movie Snow White and the Huntsman I went to see last night. Hint: May contain Spoilers. I’ve been following with vague interest the conversations about Snow White’s possible anti-feminist message, considering the original Snow White kept house for seven mini men and then fell into a coma until her rescue by a man’s kiss I’d say sure, she wasn’t all that empowered. In the words of Sara Bareilles in her song Fairytale, “…Snow White has been drinking again, cause, what else could you do with seven itty bitty men…?” That’s pretty much how I feel about Snow White. If she wasn’t dumb as a doornail she would probably be drinking. However, I hadn’t formed much of an opinion since I’d seen neither of the recent Snow White movies (until yesterday) nor the singular TV show, Once Upon A Time (which I hear is pretty good too).
The recent re-imagining as Snow White, battle-ready warrior, is trying a little too hard to wiggle around the 1950’s timid little girl image but this doesn’t seem to deter those up in arms over the perceived message of anti-feminism. Apparently it’s the plot of two women feuding, the idea of pitting two women against each other and promoting the stereotypes of ugly evil hag against innocent youth is not a good message for women.
I disagree. Of course, stereotypes can be degrading and distasteful, but if it was a man and a woman fighting instead people would still be upset. Let’s look instead at how the concept of beauty is dealt with and portrayed in the Snow White saga. This is what I find most offensive, and yes, anti-feminist. But no one really talks about that part. I oppose the idea that beauty is a standard, a specific end to which without it one of these women will be nothing. She has her pretty face or she holds no power, no influence over her peers, no means to win back or keep a kingdom. Snow White is “blessed” by beauty and seems to keep it effortlessly, a completely unrealistic and unreachable ideal that is not a healthy message, but is completely consistent with today’s expectations in the media. The evil queen must try desperately to be beautiful only by taking what others have naturally, and of course she does not succeed. Does this mean that if you aren’t already beautiful then sorry, girls, you’re just going to die trying and accomplish nothing?
Forget the vacuous and superficial nature of the characters or the way they perceive beauty, the real problem is the impossible standards of beauty being pedaled as wares. We have somehow narrowed the formerly broad definition of beautiful and forgotten that nature creates an array of silhouettes in varying combinations, and that such diversity in itself is beauty personified. If you aren’t so beautiful that you can innocently stare down a Troll ten times your size as Snow White does then, well you’ll fail at life obviously. As an aside, notice how the movie’s creators chose to re-interpret the classic fairytale scenario of answering a riddle to cross the stone bridge to safety, which is usually guarded by a witty little demon asking about sparrows or some such thing (cue the Monty Python imagery). You’re supposed to stare at the pile of bones below and lose your head, usually literally, when you fail to outsmart the troll and lose the privilege to cross the bridge. Well Snow White is so pretty she can get around answering questions just by looking at you, but to be fair I guess conveniently the troll forgot to ask questions before attempting to kill them.
People always refer to the Middle Ages and the reverence of well-fed women as the prime example of our society’s evolving cultural expectations. And it is true that these kinds of fads change over time, even if we can’t envision them changing any time soon. The point is to weather them. It’s easy to just stick a finger at the media and say they are the sole problem for propagating the ideas, and hand them all the blame for how bad we feel about ourselves or how impossible it is for us to look like celebrities. Somehow we have to find our own beauty and remind ourselves that we are important and meaningful just as we are, all the while surrounding ourselves with people who love us and cherish us. Those are the people that matter anyhow. I have a feeling if the evil queen could do that (her greed notwithstanding) things would have been a lot sunnier in her little kingdom.