Grimm facts about Snow White.

What is the deal with all the Snow White adaptations in 2012?  This year has seen the release of two big screen versions of the fairy tale – Snow White and the Huntsman and Mirror, Mirror – and one television show, Once Upon A Time.

This year has also seen the release of possibly the worst Snow White adaptations of all time, Grimm’s Snow White, a direct-to-DVD affair that substitutes elves for dwarves, adds dragons, a magical falling star from outer space, and a bunch of CG dogs that look a lot like the beast from The Brotherhood of the Wolves.

Everybody’s a critic.

This, of course, is the Snow White version that my husband and I decided to Netflix last night.

I found it ironic that the filmmakers decided to differentiate their Snow White from the other two by titling it Grimm’s Snow White, because I don’t remember elves, dragons, comets or secret societies of back-flipping ninja elves in the version set down by the Brothers Grimm.

This upside down thing is supposed to be a “dark elf.” It’s not. It’s in the middle of a flip, it’s wearing black and you can’t see it clearly. That makes it a ninja.

Just to be sure that I didn’t miss anything the first time I read it, I downloaded the Grimms’ 1819 version of Household Tales onto my Kindle last night and re-read it.

Now, as a feminist, Snow White is hardly my favorite fairy tale. The story contains so many elements that I hate, I hardly know where to begin.

This woman doesn’t need to be the fairest. She needs to operate a charity or go back to school or something.

Let’s start with the queen, a woman so consumed by her own looks that she’s willing to kill her own stepdaughter in order to avoid being overshadowed in the beauty department.

This is a woman who has an awful lot of talents that are being misdirected. She has a magical mirror, she’s able to whip up poison like nobody’s business and she’s a master of disguise. She’s like the Real Housewives version of MacGuyver. But does she direct these talents toward useful things? No. The only thing she uses her mirror for is to find out how hot she is (Pro tip: normal mirrors work just fine for that) and to Google directions to the dwarves’ cottage so that she can pose as a sort of medieval Avon lady.

The evil queen has recently been recast into a cougar mold, and is often represented as being after the prince, which irritates me because once again, we have a clever woman whose ambitions are based on competition for a man.

Allow me to move on to Snow White, a young woman with absolutely no intelligence, who is – three times –  brought low by shopping. The dwarves keep telling her not to open the door to strangers, because her stepmother is trying to kill her. But every time a saleswoman comes to the door, Snow White parades right out to buy whatever is being peddled, and it’s always made of poison.
The only thing keeping this kid from certain death is the fact that her looks charm various people into taking care of her. The huntsman lets her run away into the forest. The dwarves allow her to invade the man-cave and although she doesn’t take their advice (three times) they save her twice.

What look is the prince going for? Mr. Darcy imitation? Team Edward? You decide.

The prince, who likely has a necrophilia problem, takes her coffin from the dwarves and carries it around with him until a servant accidentally Heimlichs the apple out of her mouth. He decides to marry her as soon as she comes out of her coma and she accepts instantly. Maybe out of love. Maybe out of hormones. Maybe out of realizing that if she marries this guy, she can get out of the forest and back into royal life.

But the most disturbing thing about Snow White is the entertainment she arranges for her wedding. She invites her stepmother, heats up some iron shoes until they are red hot and forces her stepmother to put them on and dance for the guests until she falls down dead.

Up until this point, she’s been pure and innocent, but now she’s enjoying a display of torture at her wedding reception. Most people would probably go for a deejay or jugglers or something, but not our girl Snow White, who’s turning out to be no better than her stepmother, which makes me think that these two women have quite a bit in common. They’re beautiful, ambitious and cruel…. they could almost be related.

That’s because they are.  If you read the 1812 version of the Grimm’s fairy tale, you realize that they are about as closely related as you can get.

In the earliest version of the Grimms’ story, the antagonist of Snow White was the princess’s own mother. The same queen who wished for a child with white skin, red lips and ebony hair grew to hate her own daughter when Snow White surpassed her in beauty at seven years of age.The Grimms changed this for the 1819 version. Maybe because mothers were reading this story to their daughters.

Actually, the resemblance is striking in at least one adaptation:

Snow White’s age is another point of interest for me. The tale doesn’t tell us how old Snow White is, exactly, but if the action starts when she’s seven, and the story refers to her as “Little Snow White” and all the other characters call her “child,” I’m going to go out on a limb and say that she’s probably 12 or 13 when she ends up with the prince. Maybe 15 or 16, since she’s in that coma for a long time (although the story says she doesn’t change, so we can’t be sure.)

But if you think about lifespans a long time ago, 12 was a pretty normal age for a girl to be eligible for marriage. Maybe her mother was a teenager when she wished for a beautiful daughter. And maybe Snow White does the same after the story ends and then becomes jealous of her own daughter.

It’s the circle of life, kids.

More Grimm tidbits:

* The huntsman falls in love with a pretty seven year-old. That’s why he doesn’t kill her.

* In the 1812 story, the prince’s servants get so upset about lugging a corpse around all day that one of them opens the casket and hits Snow White, dislodging the apple.

* The queen thinks that she’s eaten the child’s heart and liver.

* There are a bunch of Snow White-like stories. They are classified as type 709 by the Aarne–Thompson tale type index.

How a men’s magazine gave me confidence that Elle could not.

I am a huge fan of the anti-plastic surgery, no-makeup, aging-naturally, don’t-retouch-my-photos movement that’s been taking hold among a small but significant number of celebrities. 

In 2003, Kate Winslet was up in arms about this retouched photo on the cover of GQ.

Kate Winslet, whom I thought was so beautiful when I first saw her in movies in the ’90s, is now 20 percent more awesome to me because she refuses to starve herself and won’t get plastic surgery. I love that she takes a stand against retouching. I love that a growing number of ladies’ magazines are open to publishing unretouched photos and make-up-less shoots and photos of “plus-size girls” and using women over the age of 35 as cover girls.

This is a fabulous trend. If only it were the norm instead of the exception.

I wish Winslet or any of the natural beauty activists were on the covers of any of the ladies’ magazines that have arrived at my house since the fall.* But the vast majority of the cover girls,  actresses, models and fashions in those magazines have catered to an imaginary world full of wrinkle-free women whose dress sizes top out at 8. An extremely unscientific survey of the cover girls in my magazine rack currently includes several young starlets, the super-slender Cameron Diaz and Demi Moore, who has been criticized for being too skinny as she ages.

Sophia Loren has said that young actresses need to "mangia!" I'm paraphrasing here.

I realize some women have trouble putting on weight, but most people I know struggle with the opposite problem, as do I.

“Too skinny” is not a problem I will ever have unless, god forbid, I end up in a survival situation. Even then, the chances of me getting “too skinny” are pretty slim because before starving to death I would

1) eat songbirds, squirrels, bugs, bark and weeds, probably poisoning myself in the process, or

2) be killed and eaten by my friends and relatives for the fat reserves I carry with me at all times.

I digress.

Witness Marilyn Monroe eating dessert.

Moving along, I’m tired of reading women’s magazines and feeling overweight. So the other day I went to the website of a men’s magazine instead.

Normally I try to stay clear of men’s magazines, particularly the articles that focus on women’s bodies, but I was sick of reading Elle and wondering what it would be like to fit into a size 0 pair of skinny jeans. (I’d have to shave several inches of bone off my hips to make that happen.) One Google search later, I’d found this gem: Men’s Health’s 100 hottest women of all time.

Now before I get into the list, I’m not saying that women should start adhering to standards set for them by men’s magazines. I am saying that while women’s magazines display a certain kind of figure as ideal, not everyone sees it that way.

Jayne Mansfield is smart enough to know that she can eat AND be attractive.

Look at this list. Some of the ladies are listed with their measurements. One of them (Jayne Mansfield) is listed with both her measurements and her IQ (163). These women are all shapes and sizes. Sure, there are a lot of skinny gals from the ’70s and today, but many of them look as though they’d never dream of starving themselves. Look at Ann-Margaret. There’s a lady who looks like she eats food. Number one is Jennifer Aniston, who might be skinny, but I’m glad she’s number one, because she seems genuinely nice.**

The point I’m trying to make here is not new. It’s trumpeted all the time. It’s just that the message – that there is no real standard of beauty – doesn’t always hit home. There are days when I just don’t feel attractive, or when I pine for my twenties or even my teens. And even though I know that’s a fool’s gambit and that in 10 years I’ll be pining for my 30s, I do it anyhow.

It’s normal for individual people to be insecure every once in a while. We all have bad days. What’s destructive is when a whole culture of people (American women, for example) are insecure all the time. In a time when the decent women’s magazines show me slimming clothing and size 2 dresses and the trashy ones publish articles focusing on diets, gossip, and sex tips, it was refreshing to see a list, created by guys who find smart, talented, funny and kind women attractive and who define 100 different body shapes as “hot.” The only thing that could make the list better would be more women of different ethnicities.***

After looking at this list, I got up and looked in the mirror. I felt beautiful. I logged onto Facebook, and congratulated myself on being friends with so many other beautiful women. I looked at a family picture and what do you know? My family is just rank with lookers. I told my husband all of this, and he agreed. And then we went out and had pizza for dinner.

* Thanks to a few shopping trips to Lohmann’s this fall, I am now the recipient of a lot of women’s magazines. Elle, Harper’s Bazaar, InStyle and Marie Claire all visit my house monthly. So does Food and Wine.

**  Sesame Street pro tip: Being nice trumps being curvy or skinny or what-have-you any day of week.

*** I counted about 10 women of color on this list. But that’s still a really small percentage when you’re talking about a list of 100.