Cinderella Strong

Taken literally, one could argue—and numerous have—that Disney’s Cinderella is a passive woman who does nothing to improve her dismal situation. Rather than stand up to her evil step-family or step out on her own, she relies on others—singsong mice, her fairy godmother and a handsome prince. She makes wishes, and they do the dirty work. Her prize? A beauty makeover and happily ever after with Bachelor #1.

In the 1980s, psychologist Colette Dowling presented similar views ier best-selling book, Cinderella Complex: Woman’s Hidden Fear of Independence. (It’s a fascinating read, if you’re interested.)

But what if Cinderella is entirely metaphorical? Here’s what I see:

  • Cinderella’s mice represent her spirit, prodding her to believe in “the dreams [her] heart makes?” Our hearts recognize our dreams before we can pursue them.
  • The evil step-family illustrates the naysayers in life—people, including ourselves, who tell us to stop striving, that our goals and pursuits are foolish, that we’re destined to live out our lives doing undesirable work, caring for everyone but ourselves.
  • The fairy godmother is Cinderella’s muse—the inner voice that prompts us to step out of our comfort zones and toward our passion.
  • The glowing gown she wears reflects how she feels once she begins honing in on her dreams. Once we find the “shoe” (life path) that fits, we stands a bit taller, and our inner-beauty shines outward.
  • Reverting to her “raggedy” self at midnight represents the time, rest and self-care personal growth requires. There are no quick fixes. We all face risks and challenges along the way. If we embrace them, they can help make us strong.
  • And speaking of passion, the hunky prince represents the handsome life Cinderella eventually obtains, and the chivalry she finally shows herself. Once that happens, the world is her stage to dance on. Sure, we might get blisters now and then, and every step won’t be graceful, but we’re free to live happy, authentic lives.

Ever seen bits of Cinderella in yourself? I know I have. I wrote this song while enduring a tough time. By the time I made this video, those “dirty floors” were behind me. I’d also started writing my first novel. (Its pages have a special cameo. ;)) I first posted this video last fall. Since only a handful of you saw it, I’ve decided to share it again:

When have you felt Cinderella-like? What did the experience teach you? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Leave a comment

84 Comments

  1. This is a great post! I actually teach a unit on gender roles and fairy tales in one of my English composition courses, so I find your interpretation very interesting since I do tend to teach Cinderella and other fairy tales from that “passive woman” perspective that you mention in your opening paragraph. Thanks for opening me up to a new idea.

    Reply
  2. OMG, August! Powerful and beautiful, just like you! What a great message and amazing performance! Thanks for sharing this again!

    Reply
  3. Interesting thoughts, August.

    Reply
  4. Beautiful song and post! You go girl. There is nothing stopping you!

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  5. Whoa! Hold it! What a voice! LOVE IT. Good God, girl, why aren’t you on stage? On television?

    We’ve all had Cinderella moments and they tend to happen when we’re vulnerable – nothing like kicking a person when they’re down – and it sometimes comes from people close to us which makes it sting worse. In my case an extended family member by marriage, not my nearest and dearest. Of course, I have deep seated ‘attitude’ when people attempt to bully me, it just makes me stronger. Even though I felt bloodied and broken I carried on and emptied the feelings into my writing. Just as you did, kiddo. Wow, what a woman, you seriously rock, August.

    Great stuff and great post!

    Reply
    • I’m bookmarking your comment to re-read on rainy days. ;) Thanks so much, CC. Seriously touched.

      It can be particularly tough when family members cause the sting. I respect you even more for using that to fuel your writing. I can’t think of a worthier cause!

      Reply
  6. Beautiful. I love the way you took the fairy-tale apart and looked at it from a more analytical point of view. I think we all have a little bit of Cinderella inside of us. Fantastic post, as usual. Amazing song.

    Reply
  7. I adore this post! Your interpretation is wonderful, August.

    Enjoyed the video too. Such a gorgeous singing voice!

    Reply
  8. Dear August, I soooooo enjoyed listening to this song – it’s beautiful in every possible way!! Thank you for sharing!

    As for the Cinderella moments… You know, I’m not sure I ever had any. By thinking back, “using” your interpretation, I don’t see my personality as Cinderella-like… I more tend to be like Snowhite. She wasn’t “weak and suffering” – but she moved her butt to have her situation changed. She took off and tried to fine a way to survive. Even though she needed help. That’s more like me! (Uhm… I’m not sure I’d ever decide living in a teeny-tiny house with seven hard working Guys and no shower – but that’s only a detail. I’d fear for my reputation of course. *chuckle*)
    I think you get my point of view!
    Again: It’s a great post!! I love it.

    Reply
    • Ha! If you ever decide to give the septuple sweaty roommates a try, you’d better write about it! I want details—lots. ;)

      So glad you dug the post, Raani, and that you’ve stayed Snow White-strong. Working one’s butt off definitely paves the road to success—smelly dwarves or not.

      Reply
  9. Coleen Patrick

     /  April 16, 2012

    I finally got the chance to turn up the volume–I had your video on pause until I could! Worth the wait–the words, music and you and your voice are all beautiful!! :)

    Reply
  10. although i’ve written over 300 posts, this one post has had more hits than ALL of the others combined. and i didn’t even tag it with anything.

    http://brainsnorts.wordpress.com/2010/10/11/the-princesses/

    Reply
  11. It’s always to read an article by an optimist or one who looks for the best in any situation. I prefer your interpretation of those of the nay sayers.

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  12. That was amazing August, you are so multi-talented! Beautiful!

    Reply
  13. Stacy S. Jensen

     /  April 16, 2012

    Love your break down of Cinderlla and the song!

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  14. Yes, the naysayers abound, but I’ve never listened to them, and a few dreams have come true–even though I have big feet. :) Great post.

    Reply
  15. Reetta Raitanen

     /  April 16, 2012

    Beautiful video and I love your Cinderella metaphors. I’m uncovering my inner Cinderella as I write and pursue that passion as more than a hobby. I picked up the pen last year after years long break. Allowing myself to create again is making my life so much richer.

    Reply
  16. Wow. You have left me speechless. Have I ever felt like Cinderella? Oh, yes. Both the ugly side and, fortunately, the beautiful, strong side. I LOVE your interpretation of Cinderella as a metaphor. LOVE IT!

    I am so glad you decided to post your song again. What a wonderful video, song and message. August, you ROCK!

    Reply
  17. What a great perspective on a classic story. It’s nice to see people looking deeper than the surface. It’s much harder to judge anyone when you look beneath their superficial surface. More people should take the time to see what’s really there.

    Great video and song too.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

    Reply
    • So glad you enjoyed it, Patricia. I feel that digging deep is a writer’s responsibility. And I agree—the more we open our minds and hearts, the better.

      Reply
  18. Absolutely beautiful, August! Brava!!

    Reply
  19. August! I don’t even know where to start. I have taught Children’s Literature classes from a feminist perspective and Disney movies are particularly fun to deconstruct (especially since most mothers are killed within the first 3 minutes of every film)!

    I have definitely had my Cinderella moments. After I was raped, I was sure I would be cleaning floors forever. I felt ruined and alone. But that happened so long ago (1985), I feel like a differentbperson. It’s as if I rose from the filth and rescued myself.

    I love your video and your song. I am so crushing on you! Off to see if there is more of you! What a talent! So happy to know you.

    Reply
    • Wow, Renee. The feelings are mutual. And so is the speechlessness. Thank you for your bravery and poignance. I can only imagine how many people you inspire.

      (The moms are offed within 3 minutes—seriously?!? Man. I sense some potentially-depressing research coming on… ;))

      Reply
      • Definitely. Think about it. Bambi. Dead. Snow White’s REAL mother was dead, so she had to deal with her step-monster. Nemo, motherless. Cinderella: lived with evil step-sisters. No real mother. Tarzan? Raised by apes. Ariel (The Little Mermaid has no mother only a father; Beauty & The Beast (Belle has no mother – presumed dead. Prince has no parents!) Lilo & Stitch – Lilo raised by sister. Chicken Little? Dead mother. Mama Dumbo, put in a cage and taken away forever! The Rescuers? Absent mother. The Great Mouse Detective – no mother. Enchanted? Dead mom. Christopher from The Adventures of Winnie the Pooh? Motherless. James & the Giant Peach? Orphaned. I could go on.

      • Woah… A friend recently told me that the horror genre provides fairy tales for grown ups. Based on all that, no kidding! Makes the mysteries I read as a kid seem cartoon-ish. And hmm…inspires me to write all of those deceased mothers into a novel. (Has anyone done that???) If you ever teach a fairy tale course on-line, I’m in.

      • Not online. I’m the show, baby. Live from NY… Well, Western, New York…

  20. Karen McFarland

     /  April 16, 2012

    Bravo August! You’re just a beautiful person inside and out!

    Love your metaphors. I’ll never look at Cinderella the same again!

    I’m now crawling back into bed. Yep, still sick. But I just knew I couldn’t miss this post.:)

    Reply
  21. WOW! August, this is one of my favorite posts to date. I love the way you re-empowered the story for girls. I love your song and music video. You have a fantastic voice and the lyrics were so touching. :) Is the song available for download on itunes?

    Reply
    • Lovely of you to say, Kourtney! The song isn’t on iTunes, although I’ve meant to make that happen. Thanks for the reminder! :)

      Reply
      • I’ll keep my eye out for it. Would definitely download it. :) I loved fairytales growing up, but as I got older I started to dislike the wait for a man to rescue you message. Thanks for giving me a way to re-imagine the meaning and enjoy them again!

  22. Cinderella was my favorite Disney movie as a child. A child very often feels that she has no control of her life. The adult world tells her what to do, how to behave, places boundaries, destroys friendships, controls privacy, etc. For a child, magical beings and places are a way of escape from her real and sometimes sick world. This is why Cinderella is/was a popular movie with little girls (in my opinion).
    “I’m Just a Girl” :)

    Reply
  23. Hi August. I think you’re right in your interpretation of the elements of Cinderella. Fairy tales are allegorical that just straight 3 act protag vs antag. Probably why they’ve survived so long.

    I remember the video and song, and it’s still great :)

    Cheers!

    Reply
  24. August, I remember this video from last year. It’s still as beautiful now as the first time I heard it. And you, my dear, just keep getting more and more amazing. I think we all need to own a little bit of the Cinderella complex in order for us to dig deep and find the strength within. It’s this strength which makes us grow into the wonderful people we are today. :)

    Wow, girl, you always make me think!

    Reply
  25. I had always thought of Cinderlla as the weak woman you described in the beginning. But I love what you brought out in her! I had never thought of it like that before. Now I see that we all are like Cinderella in our own ways. Now that I have found my shoe, I do sit up taller and my sparkly dress feels even better! Thanks for the enlightening post!

    Reply
  26. I hate WP some days. Yet another comment bites the dust. So I’ll try again and say that I love your song and your post. You have a very beautiful voice, lady. I have a slightly different theory about the Cinderella story, but it’s not as good as yours. But I’ll keep it to myself in case this post winds up in the Twilight Zone, too. :)

    Reply
    • Thanks for being such a trooper in the face of the WP-bully, Kristy! I’m sure your theory rocks. I’d love to hear it!

      Reply
      • I’ll try responding from the notifications thing on WP and see if I can sneak in under the wire. :)

        My theory is that the wicked step-family is just a symbol for the families of hormonal, teenage drama queens. And let’s face it, pretty much every teenage girl goes through it. And I think many of us just wanted to be rescued by someone who could deliver us from boring classes, homework and household chores. Not to mention parents and siblings who had a knack for humiliating us by doing things like reading your diary…out loud…smack in the middle of your birthday party. Prince Charming….NOT Calgon…take me away! :)

      • Touching perspective, Kristy. I can definitely see teen hormones at play. :)

  27. I agree with most of the comments above. good job August!

    Reply
  28. You know I never looked at the Cinderella tale in that light before. That’s a great analysis! You put psychoanalysts to shame August!

    And of course, you probably have an idea already of what I think of your song. All I’ll say is that I feel pretty chuffed with myself for having been one of the first bloggers to hear that song!
    And I would seriously buy your CD if you ever released one…just saying. ;)

    Reply
    • Just call me Dr. M! (KIDDING!) I’m happy you were one of the first to hear the song, too. If that CD comes into fruition, you’re at the top of the list. ;)

      Reply
  29. Loved it – never thought about Cinders like that before – wnet out with a couple of Ugly Sisters in my time though and was home well beofre midnight!

    Reply
  30. I’ve always known there was more to Cinderella than most people think! I love your interpretation of her indomitable spirit.

    I remember your song from the previous post and think of it often, it was nice to see it again. Every time, though, I worry for that sweet girl! She gets home safe, right? And her mom starts to listen to her, right? I’m such a dork. Always need my happily ever after!

    Reply
    • Um, that depends. How do you define “safe”? ;) Ideally, yes—the girl follows her passion and lives out her dreams, with familial support. For the sake of your gigantic, loving heart, let’s just say that they all live happily ever after, starting pronto!

      Reply
  31. You probably could guess without me saying that I LOVED this post :) I’m going to think of it every time I hear about Cinderella now.

    Who hasn’t had a Cinderella moment? My problem usually comes most in the “evil step-family.” People in my family don’t do creative jobs becuse those aren’t considered practical, grown-up, and responsible. The only acceptable career comes with benefits and a regular paycheck. They also have a track record of giving up on what they really wanted to do for a variety of reasons. It’s made it…hard. I tend to be a people pleaser, so when family members disapprove so strongly, it brings up a lot of self-doubt, and at times, even self-hatred. But I have my “shoe” and I’m slowly learning to confidently walk in it. Fewer midnights all the time. Thanks for a great post :)

    Reply
    • Thanks for a great comment! If what you’ve accomplished so far is the beginning of your confident walk, look out, world. :) Knowing you’ve had such resistance makes me respect you even more.

      Reply
  32. Another wonderful post, August. I would add that midnight is our self doubts and personal fears that cause us to lose the faith and stumble on our way to our new life.

    Reply
  33. What a lovely post. Thanks for sharing!!

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  34. August this was an inquisitive and well thought-out analysis of the classic Cinderella story. Just wanted to drop a line and say I enjoyed it!

    Reply
  35. Beautiful song and imagery! Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  36. Shannon Esposito

     /  April 18, 2012

    First of all…girl, what are you doing? You are sooo talented, why aren’t you selling your music??? Holy smoly!!! And second, loved this post. I never thought of what each piece of the story could represent.

    Going to watch the video again…so touching.

    Reply
  37. Gorgeous! Your video was BREATHTAKING. Love love love your voice. And your interpretation of Cinderella was right on. Definitely seen all those parts in myself. :)

    Reply
  38. August, your post was so relevant for me on several levels. For starters, my WIP has a Cinderella sort of theme to it. I have been struggling with finishing it but your re-interpretation has given me new food for thought on my down-on-her-luck heroine. I am re-energized!
    Also, I have been caught up in some Cinderella moments of my own lately, unable to emerge from endless household tasks and seemingly fruitless chores. This…”The evil step-family illustrates the naysayers in life—people, including ourselves, who tell us to stop striving, that our goals and pursuits are foolish, that we’re destined to live out our lives doing undesirable work, caring for everyone but ourselves.” Just…YES!

    In my WIP I have given some thought to Prince Charming’s motivations too because his character arc isn’t as clear in the tradtional (Disney) story. I find him interesting in that he’s struggling against familial and societal expectations too, in a parallel course with Cinderella herself. And, in a way, because he wins Cinderella (almost through a lottery/luck of the draw situation), he is able to bring together his rebellious side and his traditional side. She does that for him. :)

    I also wanted to say that the moment in your video when you reach out a hand to the young girl touched me. So beautiful. Thank you.

    Reply
  39. You always bring something cool and intelligent to the table, August!

    Reply
  40. Yours is such a big talent, August; it makes me feel quite positive for the world and for women. So glad you re-posted the video and re-visited Cinderella, again we are the richer for it.

    Karen

    Reply
  41. Superb analysis of the story. I wonder what the pumpkin/carriage represents? Maybe the transformational potential within us all? Stu :)

    Reply
  42. Beautiful video, great post. I love fairy tales, myself, and have never been offended by the supposed anti-feminist message. I think you’re right about the symbolism and metaphorical connections in not only Cinderella, but in all of those princess fairy tales.

    For me, I see fairy tales proving the power of good overcoming evil–and we all need outside resources if only to fuel our inner strength and determination and self-confidence. No one can do everything by themselves. We all have to lean on a dream or a friend sometimes in order to plow through the tough stuff. I think that’s how we actually grow stronger and more capable of doing things ourselves.

    Thanks for this post.

    Reply
  43. this is a great post. it should be freshly pressed. i was sent over here by kourtney and i’m glad i came. thanks for the cool read. nice to meet another fellow writer. hugs, sweet mother

    Reply
  44. Gorgeous post and song, August.

    I’ve had a lot of times where I thought critically about the women of fairy tales (the above comment regarding how many fairy tale moms were dead is something I’ve thought about as well), and I love your interpretation of the Cinderella story. I’ve always thought she was strong as well, and she DOES begin to stand up to her stepmother toward the end. This makes me want to write a fairy tale. Maybe I will.

    One book I loved growing up was Dealing With Dragons, by Patricia Wrede. It’s a fantastic story about a strong-willed princess who doesn’t want to be a stereotype and defies the strictures of her social class to be her own person. We need more stories like that for young women.

    Reply
  45. lynnkelleyauthor

     /  April 27, 2012

    I don’t know how I missed this post, August, but I’m so glad Karen McFarland mentioned it in her post. Awesome and beautiful. I love the metaphorical meanings behind the story, and most of all, I love the song you wrote and sang. This is way better than any vlog! Thank you for sharing it with us!

    Reply
  46. Count me among the ones who missed the video when you posted it initially. Lovely. Magical, almost. Thanks for posting it again. You are an amazingly talented person! As for Cinderella, I’ve never identified with her very much, either — except for the “seeking rescue” part, which I’ve rarely experienced in life but would often love to!!

    Reply
  47. August, I’m with Ingrid that the video took my breath away – have you submitted that anywhere? I mean, you DO live in L.A…. :-) I’m just sayin…

    Reply
  48. Wow, August, another breathtaking video! Your voice is fabulous.
    Your Cinderella analysys is different and spot-on too.
    “Multi-talented artist” doesn’t begin to describe you… :-)

    Reply
  49. August, I almost don’t want to comment, as so many have commented before me it feels like a pointless exercise, yet I agree so much with the points you’ve made, the last two making the most impact.

    Raggedy self: we all backslide, our confidence slips, life throws a curveball or someone says something nasty and we let the snide comment take root.

    As for the last point, we attract good love when we love ourselves well. Prince Charming would not have fallen for a frump who was willing to passively sit around and stuff her face with Doritos. Cinderella took chances to get to that ball, overcame her lack of self confidence, risked the wrath of her step-mother.

    Thanks for a thoughtful, thought-provoking post, and thanks to Natalie Hartford for her pingback that brought me here.

    I recently read Eloisa James’ A Kiss At Midnight, and reviewed her twist on the Cinderella story here: http://bit.ly/IGx2ta

    Reply
  50. Lynnette

     /  June 19, 2012

    Beautiful! I love everything about this Cinderella story, especially at the end, the reaching out of a woman’s hand to help this young girl from her obvious despair & heartache! You have touched my heart with this–thank you:-)

    Reply
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