But is she beautiful because she is good, or is she good because she is beautiful? Cinderella is a tale all about being worthy. Cinderella deserves her happy ending because she has endured the terrible abuse of her stepfamily with grace. She gets her happy ending; her handsome prince comes and whisks her away. However, one must ask, would he really do so if she weren’t so breathtakingly gorgeous?
When I saw the new “Cinderella” movie, my first impressions were colored by pleasant memories from the 1950 Disney version, but they also had a darker undertone. I had read recently that there was speculation that the size of Lily James’ (the actress portraying Cinderella) minuscule waist had been reduced via CGI technology to look better in her dress. I don’t know if it was true or not. But before the movie even started, I came in feeling that, even though she was stunning, society did not consider Lily James to be “good enough.” Even she wasn’t worthy to play Cinderella.
As I watched the movie, it began to resemble more and more the story of a girl struggling with an eating disorder.
I’ve got an eating disorder. My eating disorder tells me that I am not good enough. I am not beautiful. If I was thinner, I would be safe. If I was thinner I would also be kinder, and people would like me, love me.
Cinderella starts off with parents who love her. However, her mother falls ill and dies. Just before her death, Cinderella’s mother tells her to always, “Have courage and be kind.” In other words, Cinderella has lost control and is then told to always be good. Feeling a lack of control and wanting to please everyone are hallmark characteristics of eating disorders.
As the story goes, Cinderella’s father soon remarries and dies. This is where the symbolism grows stronger. The voices of love and goodness in her life are gone, and all that is left is a cruel and wicked one, that of her stepmother. Many people liken their eating disorder to a cruel voice in their heads, commanding and controlling them.
Cinderella desires above all to be good, to be worthy. However, her stepmother forces her into a role of servitude. Cinderella must complete arduous rituals in service of her stepmother. She is isolated from others, banished to the attic. She becomes dirty and haggard. All the while, her stepmother mocks and insults her and tells her that she is worthless. Cinderella strives to please, hoping each day that the service that she renders will be enough. But as with an eating disorder, nothing Cinderella ever does will be good enough. Eating disorders isolate and change and reduce you, often making you a shell of who you once were.
Her stepmother even restricts Cinderella’s eating, making her give up food until the chores are done. But much as with an eating disorder, this is only a trick. Nothing will ever be done to satisfaction; Cinderella will never deserve anything in her stepmother’s eyes.
When the time comes for the ball, Cinderella again experiences a brief burst of happiness as she is temporarily transformed into a beautiful princess. But again, she is aesthetically beautiful. The little girl inside me watched with awe the swirling dress, the sparkling hair, and most of all, the entranced eyes of the prince. The little girl inside wondered: If I can do that, if I can be so beautiful like her, will I be good? Will I be enough? And I felt a bit of pain as I thought of all the other little girls watching, both young and old, who are undoubtedly asking themselves the same question.
Intellectually, I can answer them: Yes, of course you are enough. You have inherent dignity and worth and beauty, both inside and out. But can I really believe it about myself? Can they believe it about themselves?
There is a scene in the movie when Cinderella finally defies her stepmother, and she reacts with rage and destruction. Her stepmother wants to destroy all that Cinderella holds dear. Cinderella confronts her, and asks why she’s been treated this way, when she always strove to be kind and good to her stepmother. Her stepmother sputters, and says that it is because she is kind, and beautiful, and good.
That is the crux of it. We are all, each one of us, kind and beautiful and good in our hearts. But an eating disorder knows this, and doesn’t want this sort of force out in the world. It wants to lie to us, and slowly destroy us so we won’t see the truth.
To whoever is reading this — and for whatever you struggle with, whether an eating disorder or another insecurity — you are already good enough.
I won’t get over my eating disorder any time soon. Thinking positive isn’t a magic bullet. But I do know in some part of me that I am more than just my looks. I am more than striving to be nice and to please those around me. It is a struggle, and I don’t know how it will end. But I know that the struggle is worth it, because deep down some part of me knows I am worthy of love. And so are you.
The author is a college senior who loves her family and friends. She also loves social justice, movies and being silly. She struggles with an eating disorder, but it doesn’t define her. If you struggle with an eating disorder, please reach out to your support system; you are worth it. This website has great resources on eating disorders and a helpline if you just need a listening ear.