When we were little, we used to be all about fairy tales. There was something about the magic, the beautiful places and objects, and the almost fantastic personality of the characters that made us wish to grow up faster to either be “like” one of these characters or find a person in life who is like one of these characters.
Fairy tales are, in many ways, one of the sources from which we get lots of information, as kids. Here is where we learned that evil people don’t do good, don’t trust strangers, and don’t accept food from mysterious people at the forest.
For many generations, Cinderella’s fairy tale has been a topic of multiple conversations. Many kids grow up with the idea of becoming her or finding love the way she found it in the story.
As we’ve become more curious about the real meaning of our fairy tales, kids grow up and face the huge difference between fairy tales and reality.
These kids grow up to write about broken hearts and ended relationships and question our idealization of love starting with kids’ stories.
The conversation is truly political because it has to do with gender roles. Cinderella found love mainly because of her beauty and the size and shape of her feet. Cinderella was “saved” by the prince, and it seemed like if it weren’t for him, she would have stayed trapped at her stepmother’s house, being lonely and being in charge of cleaning the house for the rest of her life.
Cinderella’s life in the story seems relatively easy as she finds love at a very young age, and without the need for a full-time job, a mortgage to pay, or outstanding student loan debt, she lives calmly and happily ever after with her husband.
So it is safe to say that Cinderella’s story has been a permanent controversy in our society for a long time. One that inspires some and discourages others.
In fairy tales and in politics, we can agree to disagree because there may be some aspects that we accept and encourage while there are others that we cannot tolerate.
Cinderella has become the source of inspiration for good and for bad, for multiple fashion designers and artists throughout the years. Let’s take a look at some of these interpretations. What are they trying to communicate with their work? How do they interpret the fairy tale? And most importantly, with this interpretation and inspiration, how do they want their customers and viewers to feel about themselves and about the fairy tales that we have been consuming for a very long time?
It’s so transcendental the legacy of Cinderella’, that shoe designer Manolo Blahnik used the fairy tale as a source of inspiration for creating the custom-made pair of shoes that Carrie Bradshaw wore for the first Sex and the City movie. Remember how Bradshaw talked about sealing the deal with Mr. Big in an official manner and then used the pair of shoes for the official proposal? Many fairy tales evolve, and many others get lost and forgotten somewhere in history. But with Cinderella, the message and the hope to find love quickly and magically prevails, and the stories that we tell each other and watch in recent films, are some iterations of this narrative.
Some love stories aren't epic novels. Some are short stories, but that doesn't make them any less filled with love. - Carrie Bradshaw
Manolo Blahnik’s team worked very closely with the Sex and the City production to make sure the shoe was special enough and represented Carrie’s spirit while being modernized after a few years of having Carrie off-air.
“Fetishism, mutilation, and pain”
Fashion and art intersect in multiple areas. The work behind some fashion pieces is so carefully crafted that museums and art curators celebrate their talent in exhibits and galleries. It’s also safe to say that fashion and art cause different reactions in people, and those reactions keep fashion and art interesting and relevant throughout the years. Why would they matter if there isn’t some controversy or political message every now and then?
For artist Camille Norment, Cinderella’s story serves as a source of inspiration, not one that is particularly motivating or optimistic about love and independence. Quite the opposite. Her Glass Slippers sculpture from 1992 is made of broken glass with red stains that suggest blood and pain. This encourages a whole conversation about the pain a “Cinderella” has to go through to fit into that widely mentioned glass slipper. In the modern world, a glass slipper may be the size of a dress, the shape of the body, the length of the hair, or the width of the lips. If a glass slipper is a mold where Cinderella's need to fit in, in order to be accepted and loved, then we should also mention the pain and struggle to make that happen, and most importantly, ask ourselves if the pain is really worth it.
“Perhaps the greatest risk any of us will ever take is to be seen as we really are.”
If you think about it, the whole story of acceptance, love, and happiness focuses on one specific object: the shoe. It is that glass slipper that becomes critical between Cinderella and the prince. It is the glass slipper the ultimate proof that they were meant to be with each other because apparently, no one in town wore the same shoe size as Cinderella. So if the shoe becomes a crucial object to find love in the fairy tale, it makes sense that unconsciously, or maybe even very consciously, we focus so much on shoes when it comes to dating. Modern fairy tales like Gossip Girl and Sex and the City use designer footwear as the ultimate status to look beautiful and represent themselves as ready to go on this date to meet this interesting person.
Several design elements in Cinderella’s dress have inspired hundreds of fashion pieces and collections throughout the years. And as new generations come and fashion changes, we start to wonder what would a Cinderella from the 21st-century wear.
Fashion designer Zac Posen is very well known for his exquisite tailoring and construction details that create sculptural pieces for red carpet moments. In 2016, when the Costume Institute celebrated Manus X Machina: Fashion in the age of technology, Zac Posen created one of the most memorable pieces of his entire career for Claire Danes. The silhouette is both romantic and dramatic, with a pale blue color and a silhouette that reminds of princesses in a castle. However, the moment that enchanted everybody was when the dress started illuminating thanks to optic fiber technology, which Posen and Posen’s team worked very hard to develop months before this event.
For the Met Gala 2019, Zendaya arrived with a heavily Cinderella-influenced blue gown designed by Tommy Hilfiger. The bag had the shape of the carriage and the puffed sleeves and the hairstyle made the whole look a real live fairy tale moment.
Re-imagining a Classic
The original Cinderella Disney movie premiered in 1950. This means that literally, dozens of wars and international conflicts have happened ever since. The Berlin wall was built and overthrown. Cities have changed, technologies have been invented, and we are essentially a very different society than that who saw the premiere of the movie over 70 years ago.
Real life changed so much that for many people, the classic movie got to the point of being offensive, promoting unhealthy gendered stereotypes of what women should look like, be, and behave. But how do you change that mentality for new generations when the same story has been told for over 70 years?
This was, in many ways, the inspiration for the latest version of Cinderella’s fairy tale starred by Camila Cabello. A movie where a black LGBTQ+ person can be a fairy godmother, the princess can be in love while still being rational about her professional journey, and where love is about respect, consent, and knowing each other well enough to make the decision of spending their lives together. We don’t have to take away fairy tales from kids, we just need to change the narrative of these fairy tales so that the expectations that they start to create at a very young age don’t get overthrown with Tinder, ghosting, friends with benefits, or any person with lack of affective responsibility.
We watch these movies over and over. We read the illustrated books night after night before going to sleep. We remember the story, and it becomes part of our wishes and dreams. So many conversations have been happening about whether we should keep telling these stories to each other and to the kids or if we should start to be more realistic. Because we can be realistic while still dreaming and being hopeful about the future. We can still be realistic while valuing our worth and what we want to see in a partner and a relationship. Dreaming doesn’t have to be about having fantastic wishes that, objectively, are very hard, if not impossible, to achieve. We can rephrase the narrative of dreaming of fairy tales so that we can dream big and feel optimistic about the future without having to put our self-worth at risk.
Cinderella’s love found her because of a glass slipper, and as exciting as that story may sound for many people who have heard the story over and over, we will need to push a little harder to find our happiness. The prince is not knocking on every door in your city to find you unless he is canvassing for a political party. So if there’s one big lesson that we need to unlearn from fairy tales, it is that in real life, the magic that makes things happen is the effort that you take to make them happen. We are our own fairy godmothers, and that makes things more interesting because that means that we are in control of our own magic, and we know what clothes are worth wearing and what princes are worth saving.
“Where this is kindness, there is goodness. And where this goodness, there is magic.”