Lessons from Snow White

snowwhite_slideChildishness, optimism, and naivety pepper the character of Princess Snow White. Her voice is high-pitched; she faces crises “with a smile and a song,” and repeatedly trusts the intentions of strangers. She also enforces unrealistic ideals of beauty with her pore-less skin, unnaturally red lips, and perfectly coifed raven hair. On the surface, Snow White seems hard to embrace as an empowering role-model or representation of women. However, a closer look at the film and this particular princess proves just the opposite. Not only is she a strong figure for women to uniquely emulate, but she’s a role-model for men and women alike.

Let’s consider the opening scene. We peer through the trees at an expansive castle perched on a cliff and as we come nearer, we meet the first character of the story. The Queen appears in the dark confines of the castle. We don’t see her face until it is reflected in the magic mirror. She is introduced within a literal frame of self-consciousness. When the mirror declares that Snow White has surpassed her as “the fairest one of all” a flame of jealousy illumines the severe features of the Queen. Her eyes widen and burn with fear. It isn’t so much that she despises Snow White but that she has failed to achieve and maintain her measure of self-worth. How often have we allowed a mirror, a scale, a test score, or even another person to dictate our own self-worth? The Queen is one villain who deserves our pity rather than our scorn. She’s imprisoned in her own limited perspective of beauty and purpose.

Meanwhile, in the sunny castle courtyard, Snow White hums and smiles as she scrubs a set of steps dressed in rags. She’s surrounded by liberally growing blossoms and fluttering doves—symbols of gentility, peace, and freedom. Except for a brief moment of straightening her rags in the presence of a prince, not once does she exhibit a sense of self-consciousness. In fact, she displays complete confidence in herself and situation. Does this confidence come from her rose-petal skin or ruby lips? Surely not. As the Queen demonstrates, a person cannot maintain a permanent sense of value and confidence on a self-conscious level.

Snow White has a deeper sense of identity. She finds lasting satisfaction in helping others, working hard, and learning from every experience, good or bad. Her self-worth is measured by her ability to do good. It is not defined by a mirror, or a number on a scale, tag, or test. As influential author, teacher, and religious leader Mary Baker Eddy wrote, “Your influence for good depends on the weight you throw into the right scale. The good you do and embody gives you the only power obtainable.”* With this in mind, it seems implausible that Snow White is childish, optimistic, or naïve. Rather, she symbolizes an unshakable understanding that goodness is power.

Even when we find Snow White in a heap of helplessness on the forest floor, she quickly turns the situation around. She realizes she never had anything to be afraid of and that she’s surrounded by love. She embraces her new forest friends and trusts that her needs will be met. The woodland critters lead her to the dwarfs’ cottage where she immediately begins to work hard and inspire everyone around her to join in her efforts. She doesn’t expect to receive without giving. What’s more, she knows that simply holding the title of “Princess” doesn’t entitle her to receive everything on a silver platter. She knows that to be a true princess you must care for others more than yourself and work to earn respect.

Finally, despite facing near murder and a potential lifetime secluded in the woods with the dwarfs, Snow White never doubts her “happily ever after.” She embraces her situation and recognizes with gratitude those in her immediate situation that care about her. She lives fearlessly in the moment.

So, as we continue to enjoy the timeless Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, let’s remember that it’s more than a cute classic; it’s a reminder to reject self-consciousness and to measure our worth by the good we do for others; to live in the moment and be grateful to be who you are, where you are! This is true prince and princess-hood.

*Eddy, Mary. Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. Boston: The First Church of Christ, Scientist, 1875. Print.

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5 thoughts on “Lessons from Snow White

  1. Another interesting aspect of “beauty and goodness” that plays out in traditional fairy tales, is the idea that your goodness will show through and make you beautiful. Evil/bad thoughts will show on your face as well (Dorian Gray). As you can see in the Queen, whenever her jealousy and fear rise up her features (basically beautiful) become twisted. In the end her jealousy actually leads her to turn herself into an ugly crone. For very young children especially (pre-Ugly Duckling understanding), beauty is a signifier of goodness. Unfortunately however, grownups don’t always appreciate this stage of childish interpretation and tend to come down hard on the beautiful heroines as too superficial.

    Thanks for your post, very thoughtful and interesting. I’d add that, as a parent, I particularly like Snow White (and the other early Disney princesses), because she wasn’t drawn as curvaceous and sexy (and scantily clad) as the later gals.

    1. Thank you, Kim, for your comments– all so true! It’s interesting how changes in societal values and ideals of beauty are reflected in the animation of the Disney Princesses. Your observation of the increased sexiness of later Princesses is something I will be sure to address in future writings. Thanks again for sharing!

  2. I recently got this link courtesy of Ms. Margaret Perry above and I LOVE your project. I too am doing a Disney-esque review series and have taken a women in film class recently. My conflicts with Disney mimic yours and it’s great to see a new take on Snow White. I cite her as one of the blander princesses, it’s great to get a fresh new perspective. I’m interested to see the rest of these as the princesses “diversify” in the later movies.

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