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Fairy Tales: Should We Be Reading Them to Our Children?

Posted in: Blog | February 25, 2021

Recently, Kiera Knightly claimed she wouldn’t read fairy tales to her daughter because, in her opinion, they reinforce inappropriate gender stereotyping. That girls will grow up believing they have to be thin, have long, glossy hair, and not only be beautiful, but subservient too, are just some of the reasons Knightly, and others, are all for banning these stories. Indeed, The Daily Telegraph’s Sarah Womack, published a piece as far back as 2003, claiming that tales such as ‘Cinderella’ and ‘Sleeping Beauty,’ reinforces the ‘it pays to be pretty’ idea.
The original story of ‘Cinderella ‘describes the, now called, ‘ugly sisters,’ as, ‘…two daughters who were beautiful and fair of face, but vile and black of heart.’ This suggests beauty is, indeed, only skin deep.

Feminist argument holds that these sorts of stories promote outdated ideologies. They may do, but they also provide fantastic opportunities to teach our children that it is how we behave toward others, that defines true beauty. Princess Fiona, in ‘Shrek’, found happiness through kindness and compassion, bravery and self-confidence, not good looks. Cinderella shows how, despite wearing rags, and having a dirty face, her beauty comes from kindness, not what she wears.

Rasha Rushdy wrote a wonderful open letter to her small, princess obsessed daughter. In it, she acknowledged that she too had been the same as a child, but she wanted to explain to her that, ’golden hair, dainty feet or skin as white as snow’ is not what makes you beautiful. Modern fairy story princess, such as ‘Moana’ show real beauty through courage and determination. ‘Tiana’s’ beauty comes from her confidence and perseverance, and ‘Princess Elsa’ is loyal, and eventually accepts herself as she really is. Rushdy writes, (sic) ‘I want you to enjoy fairy tales, I love watching you dance and twirl in your dress-up clothes, but when you ask why the characters behaved as they did, I’m going to answer you with a big dose of reality!’

So, should we be reading fairy stories to our children? Personally, I think we are richer for having access to these stories, that our children can, as generations before them, benefit from having these stories read to them. Just as we explain to them that PJ Masks characters are not real, and that when they hit each other, they don’t get hurt, so we can show them, especially our girls, that whilst hair, clothes and a ‘pretty’ face can show surface beauty, it is our behaviour that wins out in the end.

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