When Did an 8 Ever Hurt Anyone?
Pick an insecurity, a physical one. Now imagine obsessing over the insecurity every day for about six years. Imagine thinking about it the moment you wake up, every time you see a mirror, every time you eat a meal, every time you see a beautiful person, every time you hang out with your best friend, every time you fear someone looks at you, every time you fear someone looks at someone besides you, every time you have sports practice, every time your sister walks in the room, every time your father tells you to exercise more, every time you hug your obese mother, every time you open social media, every time you try to fall asleep at night, for 2,190 days—roughly. Now imagine that insecurity doesn’t exist, you just think it does.
That is what body dysmorphia feels like.
I would know.
When the Prince travelled to find the woman the glass slipper belonged to, Cinderella’s stepsister cut off her big toe to fit the shoe. The Prince was dim, and birds had to tell him she cut off her toe. The second stepsister cut off her heel, and like the first time, the birds told the Prince she was not his princess. Eventually, he found Cinderella, and the stepsisters had their eyes plucked out by birds as punishment—at least, that’s what happened in the 1812 version.
Why? Why cut off a big toe or a heel to fit into a shoe? The Prince only saw the woman he loved for her foot size because that’s all he knew about her. Cinderella evidently had small feet, and the Prince assumed her stepsisters were his bride based on their foot size. If a prince is attracted to women with small feet, then other men have learned beauty in a woman is based on the size of their foot. Would that not make a woman with large feet be considerably self-conscious and make her obsess over her feet?
Today, we consider what the stepsisters did to be an extreme. No one would ever do that. No one would cut off their toe to fit a shoe. No one would eat tissues to keep their job as a model. No one would starve themselves to look like those models. No one would force themselves to vomit what they ate. No one would cake their face to have flawless skin. No one would exercise countless times a day, every day to have toned biceps. No one would run until they passed out to lose weight. No one would get surgery to add fat to their breasts. That’s silly.
The word “dysmorphia” first appeared in 430 B.C. when Herodotus was referring to the ugliest woman in Sparta. Enrico Morselli coined the term dysmorphophobia in 1891 which he described as “the individual fears that he has become deformed or might become deformed, and experiences at this thought a feeling of an inexpressible disaster.” He says the person appears mentally stable. He also says the person is exceedingly unhappy.
A case study published in 2016 was done on a young man after he had attempted suicide. His saw flaw in his face. He developed acne at 17 years old, and after that, spent hours looking at his face and washing it several times a day. The study said “his facial skin appeared normal in color, texture, and elasticity. He looked handsome and wore clean clothes.”
The original fairytales were oral traditions among the lower class. They were often changed by the teller to make the tale fulfill their desires. They then became stagnant because people like Charles Perrault and Giambattista Basile and Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm wrote them down. The tales no longer changed to fit lower class desires but rather upper class desires, but more importantly, the desires of men.
Walt Disney merely took it a step further. He changed the tales to have happy endings (they didn’t always), but he also animated them. What’s more, he geared them toward women, particularly young girls. Think about the name Snow White, how tiny Aurora’s waist is, how big Rapunzel’s eyes are, how Ariel changes her entire identity to appease a man. What do the men look like? Tall and strong, royal most likely, but think of one prince with blonde hair.
Aside from Disney films, there are other societal influences tempting us to change appearances, just like how the stepmother told her daughters to cut off—change—their feet to fit the shoe, then backed her argument saying they wouldn’t need to walk if they married the Prince.
My body-dysmorphic flaw is the size of my legs. For a long time, I didn’t know I had body dysmorphia, but I hate that my flaw deals with weight. If I ever told someone I felt my legs were too big, I got a “You’re still eating, right?” or a “You’re not fat!” (as if it were correct to assume I saw myself as fat). I didn’t have an eating disorder, and I knew that. I wasn’t starving myself or avoiding certain foods or counting my calories or taking laxatives. And I didn’t—and still don’t—consider myself fat, (or the politically correct term, overweight) even if the BMI index says otherwise. I never cared about the number printed on the tag of my jeans (when did an 8 ever hurt anyone?) though my mother was convinced that was the problem.
So, are the sisters crazy, or is the stepmother crazy?