Women flocked from all over the country to try on the glass slipper, in the movie, “Cinderella” (2015, directed by Kenneth Branagh). It would seem to be such an easy task, to fit a shoe… But, the shoe didn’t fit anyone. During the movie, I wondered, “Why did all the women line up to try on someone else’s shoe? Why didn’t someone say, ‘That is not my shoe. Even if it fits, it doesn’t belong to me.’?” And why, I wondered, didn’t the shoe fit? I mean, we all know that the size of a shoe isn’t unique to each human foot. The answers to these questions seemed trivial, until the day I found myself comforting a friend.
She was feeling very sad and foolish, right after ending a relationship with a man. She thought their love was the real thing, since he had all the qualities of a prince charming: brilliant, handsome, accomplished, and ardent. In her desire for the relationship to flourish, she ignored some precautionary advice about his character. My mind dug deeply for some comforting words for this dear friend. I found myself talking about all the women who had lined up to try on the glass slipper, and I said, “I think the glass slipper symbolizes the way to true love. Everyone wants true love and wants to fit whatever or whoever will make it happen, regardless.” We talked about how human it was to ignore the red flags that tell us when a relationship wouldn’t be a good fit and wouldn’t lead to real love, because we desire true love so very deeply.
Beyond this insight, however, we may wonder, “Why a glass slipper?” Can we learn something from this chosen symbol? What we know is that glass is transparent, and a slipper is for walking. Perhaps these two qualities point to, not only the need for a good fit, but also the importance of being transparent in one’s footsteps, or in other words, authentic and clear in one’s walk. In this allegory, true love is searching for someone who is a good fit, and someone who could comfortably walk in authenticity.
It brings us to the next question: What has authenticity to do with anything, much less true love? Isn’t true love all about being dressed in beautiful clothes, being chauffeured in a splendid carriage, and dancing with a rich and handsome prince? Where is the authenticity in that? You’re right, there wasn’t much in that. It was all a short-lived illusion. For a while, Cinderella lost herself in that illusion, becoming what she believed she must be—the perfect ideal of what was expected—in order to deserve true love. And perhaps, that is why Cinderella lost her glass slipper and why that lovely fantasy was so short-lived. Cinderella, in losing her authenticity, had to wait for its return, before she could reunite with her prince.
The importance of the glass slipper suggests that true love may require more than a prince, for he wanted to find the maiden who would fit the glass slipper, and none else. The glass slipper was the essential test for recognizing her and for eliminating other enthusiastic imposters. What could this teach us, on a deeper level? Perhaps, it suggests that we think a little differently about the word “true” in true love—that, it refers not about the other, but about ourselves. So often, we believe that if the circumstances and the person were perfect, true love would occur. But if that were the case, the story of Cinderella would have ended at the perfectly wonderful ball. It would not make sense for her to abandon the prince, or lose her slipper. She would have married the prince after that dance and lived happily ever after. No, true love is harder to obtain than that. True love begins when we have the courage to remain authentic to who we truly are.
In the climax of the story, the wicked stepmother locked Cinderella in the attic and prevented her from trying on her glass slipper when the opportunity arrived. Who, or what, was the wicked stepmother? Perhaps she represented the part of us that rejected and denigrated our authenticity and locked it away, despite our desire to be freely and openly authentic. The stepmother had impossibly high expectations, drove Cinderella to work relentlessly, and valued her only for her usefulness. How often have we treated ourselves in this way? How often have we denied our creative longings and created, instead, our own emotional and mental prisons?
The reason for this harsh imprisonment can be found in the end of the movie, as Cinderella walked down the staircase to meet the prince. She is dressed in rags. Her carriage, long gone. She is afraid that she will be scorned and rejected. Will the prince accept her as she is? What courage it takes to face the answer to that profound question! When she puts her glass slipper on, she will be seen as she is and known as she is. Will she be loved as she is? Our eyes well with tears as, of course, her prince rewards her courage with true love, and finally, her heart’s desire is fulfilled, in one of the most beautiful and beloved of fairy tales—and in the tale, at the heart, of all humanity.
For further reading
An interesting book that explores the deeper meaning of fairy tales is:
The Uses of Enchantment, The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales, by Bruno Bettelheim, 1975