Not quite a Cinderella story

Last weekend I was supposed to go home and help my parents extract honey from my Dad’s many beehives. Unfortunately, the rainy weather prevented that from being a possibility, and then my Dad got sick, so I ended up sticking around the ol’ homestead. So of course I used all this extra time to do productive things like unpack and work on Book 2.

Ha!

Just kidding, I read three books. And it was glorious. It’s been so long since I’ve been able to sit down and just READ. And that’s such an integral part of being a writer. You can’t be a writer without also being a reader. It just doesn’t work.

But that’s not what this blog post is about. Psych!

One thing I noticed in some of my reading was what I call the “Cinderella complex.” You know the story. Blah blah girl puts on a gorgeous dress, gets her hairs did, paints her face all purty, and SUDDENLY TO AMAZEMENT OF EVERYONE she is able to completely captivate the prince.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I have always loved Cinderella stories. The falling in love with a handsome prince (or prince-like character), the happily ever after. I’m a total sucker.

But the more I think about it, especially the original Disney Cinderella, the more it bothers me. I don’t like how so many books and movies depict the moment the guy falls in “love” to be when the girl has dressed herself up to be something almost unattainable, someone who isn’t the real life, everyday, nitty gritty REAL GIRL.

Here’s my other disclaimer. I love getting dressed up, doing my nails, curling my hair, playing with makeup. It’s fun, and I don’t begrudge anyone that enjoyment.

My problem comes when it stops being enjoyment and starts being necessity. When we teach young girls that the only way to get a guy to fall in love with them is to reach this unattainable standard of beauty, when we tell them that just being who they are isn’t enough, at least not to garner the initial attention they seek. They grow up thinking they have to keep that perfect facade no matter what. A friend once told me that for the first year of her marriage she got up every morning before her husband woke to brush her teeth and put on makeup, so he wouldn’t see her without. That is a problem.

I struggle with this daily. With that feeling of being not enough. Society tells me that I’m not worth anything because I’m not thin enough, not beautiful enough, not ENOUGH. I’m told I won’t get a happily ever after, because I don’t deserve it. Because my accomplishments aren’t enough as long as my body doesn’t fit the current definition of beauty. And even if it did, I have no doubt I would continue to struggle. I don’t know a single woman, fat or thin, gorgeous or plain, married or single, who doesn’t struggle with body and attractiveness issues.

Here’s the thing though. If a guy ever falls in love with me, I want it to be for ME. Not for what I look like. For who I am, for what I stand for, for how I treat others, for how I choose to live my life. Those are the things I’m proud of. I want someone to see my sense of humor, my love for God and for people, my willingness to help those in need, my connection with my friends and family. But I fear that most are too distracted by what’s on the outside to even look past and see those things. (I wish body type didn’t even have to come into play, but I know there has to be a level of physical attraction, blah blah blah…I won’t get into that today other than to say that when the inside is reflected on the outside, it super changes how I view people, and I think it does for others too.)

Proverbs

I do see a push to help girls and women love themselves first. But I still see the message drowned out again and again. As writers, we have the opportunity to be a part of the love yourself movement. We can write strong heroines who aren’t also the most beautiful girl in the fictional universe. We can represent different body types, different abilities, all the different facets of what makes someone beautiful well beyond the physical appearance. We can depict love interests falling in love with the PERSON, not the fake painted on version we all tend to present to the world.

As I tend to do when I’m thinking deeply about a subject, I turned it into a writing exercise. I wrote the following excerpt about that moment when a guy’s feelings change mostly in my head over the last week, but just put it all down pretty quickly, so bear with me.

                My head bounced against the window as the van hit a particularly punishing pothold on the bumpy road we were traveling. I winced, giving up on my hopes of taking a nap and sitting up.

                I wasn’t the only bleary-eyed person in the vehicle. The entire group looked like zombies. Not particularly active zombies either. Even Maggie, my always-sparkly best friend, stared at the back of the seat in front of her as if it contained all the secrets of the universe.

                Only Jonathan, our peppy leader, had any energy at all. I suspected he was hoarding all the energy as I watched him behind the wheel, bouncing around to a Taylor Swift song, trying (and failing) to get the poor girl in the passenger seat to join him.

                This is what happened when you dragged sixteen high schoolers out of bed at 5am on a Saturday and threw them into two vans. We’d all wake up eventually. Hopefully before we had to do any work.

                Not that I regretted signing up to help build a school garden. My name had been first on the list. I couldn’t wait to share my gardening skills with kids and parents and create an amazing tool for a school in need.

                I just had a really hard time remembering how excited I was when the sun was barely awake.

                “We’re here!” Jonathan sang from the front seat as he parked our van next to the other one, and everyone shook themselves off, stretching and yawning before exiting the vehicle. The kids and families wouldn’t be here until a little later. We arrived early to get everything set up and ready while the temperature was still fairly cool.

                The raised beds were already built, and Maggie and I immediately grabbed soil out of the back of the van to start filling them.

                “Mind if I help with this one?” My stomach jumped at the sound of Kade’s voice. I turned to see him standing behind us, cradling another bag of soil, a hopeful smile on his face. He’d ridden in the other van, much to my disappointment. I didn’t think I’d see much of him today.

                “Sure,” I said, forcing my voice to sound normal. “The more the merrier.” I waited to make a face until I turned back to the bed and resumed pouring in the soil. The more the merrier? Who even says that?

                As Kade walked to the other side of the bed and opened his own bag of soil, I started to regret my choice of wardrobe and lack of makeup. Of course, I knew he was coming, but I also wanted to be comfortable, so my loose workout pants and an old ratty t-shirt won out over more flattering, but probably super restricting choices.

                Soon all thoughts of my attire fled as we got to work. In fact, it was easier than I expected to be around Kade, especially with Maggie by my side. We shared a few classes, and had a lot more in common than I would have thought, since we traveled in different circles. Of course, I’d noticed Kade. Oh boy had I noticed him. But our few interactions had never seemed to add up to much, so I did my best to keep those feelings at bay.

                The sun rose higher in the sky and I paused to throw my long hair into what was probably an extremely attractive bun right at the top of my head. Kade eyed it, a small smirk on his lips, but said nothing. The families started arriving, and Jonathan ran all over the place, trying to keep the kids in check and stay as organized as possible.

                I helped a few of the kids plant some seeds, and then put them in charge of watering our newly planted bed. The water turned out to be too much of a temptation, however, and soon I was soaked through. Not that I minded. It at least kept me cool.

                We were almost ready to wrap up the day when one of my new little friends, a second grader named Frankie, came running toward me.

                “Mira! Mira! Look what I found!” His arms outstretched, he opened his hands to reveal a tiny frog.

                Which promptly jumped right at my face.

                Shrieking, I took a step back and tripped over the edge of the garden bed and then I was weightless as I fell backwards. It all seemed to happen in slow motion, and the picture of the frog leaping toward me played over and over as my body headed toward the freshly planted soil.

                SQUISH

                I wasn’t the only thing that was a little over-watered. The spot I landed on was moist and muddy, and little bits of wet dirt flew around me, decorating my clothes and face. At least it was a soft landing. And that little frog landed squarely on my chest, staring at me.

                Everyone who witnessed my dirt dive was silent, waiting. I stared back at the frog, considering, before reaching up and scooping him up.

                “I think we should name him Boo,” I said. “Since he’s so good at startling people.”

                A collective sigh of relief went around the garden as everyone returned to their work. Frankie giggled. “I like that name. Can I take him home?”

                “Hm,” I said, feeling the mud seeping into places mud had no business being. “I think Boo would be much happier living here in the brand new garden. Maybe he has a family he wants to stay by too.”

                “Aw. I suppose,” Frankie stepped over and rescued Boo from me. “I think he’ll like that one over there better though,” he said, and took off running once again.

                Someone snorted behind me, and I looked back to glare in mock outrage at Maggie. “Shut up.”

                “I’m just really excited to see you try to get out of there.”

                “Thanks, buddy. You’re so helpful,” I said. Maggie just crossed her arms and raised her eyebrows, ready for a show.

                 Wiggling around, I tried to figure out how to stand up and do the least damage to the rest of the bed. Strong hands reached out to grip mine and pulled me up. Kade didn’t release me as I looked back at the large butt print in the soil that would now need to be replanted. I laughed. “Well, I did say I wanted to get my hands dirty. This is just the extreme version, I guess!” I looked back at Kade and sobered instantly.

                I’d never seen him look at me with that intensity before. No one had ever looked at me like that. His eyes sparked as they roved over my face, as if he was seeing me for the first time, mud splattered and all. My heart sped up in response.

                Kade cleared his throat. “Uh, I guess we’ve got a little more work to do,” he said, his voice just slightly raspy.

                “Yeah.” I laughed. “Although I think we should still name this bed “Boo’s Crib.”

                A giant grin broke out across Kade’s face, and his eyes shone as he continued gazing at me. “I like it.” He looked at the bed again, shaking his head in amusement. “I’ll get some more soil.” He squeezed my hands before releasing them and heading back to the supplies.

                I glanced back at Maggie, who had watched the entire exchange. Her eyes sparkled. “I’m going to go help that group over there,” she said, pointing across the garden. I nodded before turning back, automatically searching for Kade. When I spotted him, it was to find that he was already watching me.

               Even as Kade dropped his gaze grin still playing on his lips, I had the sense that, somehow, everything between us had just shifted. And I couldn’t wait to see what happened next.

“Try”

Put your make up on
Get your nails done
Curl your hair
Run the extra mile
Keep it slim
So they like you. Do they like you?Get your sexy on
Don’t be shy, girl
Take it off
This is what you want, to belong
So they like you. Do you like you?

You don’t have to try so hard
You don’t have to give it all away
You just have to get up, get up, get up, get up
You don’t have to change a single thing

You don’t have to try, try, try, try-i-i
You don’t have to try, try, try, try-i-i
You don’t have to try, try, try, try-i-i
You don’t have to try
Yoooou don’t have to try

Ooooo, oooooo, oooooo…

Get your shopping on,
At the mall,
Max your credit cards
You don’t have to choose,
Buy it all
So they like you. Do they like you?

Wait a second,
Why should you care, what they think of you
When you’re all alone, by yourself
Do you like you? Do you like you?

You don’t have to try so hard
You don’t have to give it all away
You just have to get up, get up, get up, get up
You don’t have to change a single thing

You don’t have to try so hard
You don’t have to bend until you break
You just have to get up, get up, get up, get up
You don’t have to change a single thing

You don’t have to try, try, try, try-i-i
You don’t have to try, try, try, try-i-i
You don’t have to try, try, try, try-i-i
You don’t have to try

You don’t have to try, try, try, try-i-i
You don’t have to try, try, try, try-i-i
You don’t have to try, try, try, try-i-i
You don’t have to try
Yoooou don’t have to try

Oooooo, oooooo
Oooooo, oooooo

You don’t have to try so hard
You don’t have to give it all away
You just have to get up, get up, get up, get up
You don’t have to change a single thing

You don’t have to try, try, try, try-i-i
You don’t have to try, try, try, try-i-i
You don’t have to try
You don’t have to try

Take your make up off
Let your hair down
Take a breath
Look into the mirror, at yourself
Don’t you like you?
Cause I like you

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4 Responses to Not quite a Cinderella story

  1. mmgage says:

    I love this! It reminds me of advice my mother gave me when I was finishing college and sure I’d be alone for my whole life. You’ll find someone when you’re not looking for him, when you’re out doing the things you enjoy. She didn’t say it (because she never wore make-up) but genuine enjoyment brings out far more beauty in a person than any make-up product ever could.

    • Rena says:

      I definitely agree. And I’d rather be out enjoying my life alone than trying to maintain an impossible image. I’m just me. And I like it that way 🙂

  2. Definitely a relatable struggle. I really appreciated your emotional honesty in this post. And I agree that too many stories focus on physical beauty, and I like your point about how writers have a unique ability to help the movement by representing different kinds of people in our work. Right on 🙂

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