Giving the Cinderella story a facelift

| Senior Forum Editor

Just in time to correct the damage done by this week’s sorority formals comes the latest trend in kinesthetic fashion—toe-length-shortening procedures that will leave you with the perfect foot shape for those five-inch Louboutins you bought in red specifically so no one would notice the blood stains that resulted from wearing them.

Profiled on April 22 in The New York Times, the procedure, pithily deemed the “Cinderella surgery” (because bunionectomy just doesn’t have the same ring), has become the focus of much online discussion, with articles springing up on such sites as Time and Elle debating the merits of the fashion trend with a “cute name” but a “terrifying procedure.”

The Cinderella story, as we all know, goes like this: poor Cinderella receives the brunt of her family’s abuse but ends up with Prince Charming because when he shows up on her doorstep with the glass slipper she lost at the ball, she promptly panics, runs to the kitchen, grabs a cleaver, summarily butchers off an inch of each toe so that she knows her feet’ll be small enough to fit in the shoes, then comes hobbling back to the sitting room and presents Prince Charming with her mangled, bloody stumps. He sees her devotion to society’s high standards of beauty, and they get married and live happily ever after.

Wait a minute. According to the telling in the Brothers Grimm, it was Cinderella’s stepsisters who, upon seeing the tiny slipper the prince carried, rushed to carve up their feet so Cinderella’s petite glass slipper would fit. Both failed to get the prince to put a ring on it, but Cinderella came out, painlessly popped on the slipper, and bam, she became a princess and her evil stepsisters became invalids.

And this, my friends, is all that’s wrong with society—well, not all, maybe, but part. The point is we’ve created an infrastructure in which there’s only one ideal beauty, and that, for better or for worse, is Cinderella. She is the perfect essence of femininity—she’s small and barely nubile and she has miniature feet that evince her docile womanhood. We’re left wondering if the “evil” stepsisters are evil because of their horrendous treatment of Cinderella or if they’ve only become evil by virtue of their monstrous feet and the way they’ve been treated because of them.

The evil stepsisters’ feet may not be in-step with the perfectly arced toe lengths of the Egyptian foot and instead might have the second toe longer than the big toe or might have crooked toes or might have hammerhead toes or might have no toes a la Roald Dahl’s “The Witches,” which, side note, profiles women who had square feet but still squeezed into high heels when in public. When women are electing to go under the knife just to put their best foot forward, coming in to plastic surgeons’ offices and asking for toe liposuctions, as one patient with presumably “fat” toes did, according to The New York Times’ feature, it’s time to reevaluate how we as a society are creating standards of beauty.

For hundreds of years, Chinese mothers bound the feet of their young girls to ensure upward social mobility at the expense of physical mobility, and today, Westerners look at the practice as absurd and as oppressive of women. But because it’s happening close to home, some people, people like Annette Healey, who felt a cosmetic bunionectomy was a necessity because “sneakers never worked for [her] career,” fail to achieve critical distance.

In our own culture, women are sawing off parts of otherwise functional, healthy feet because, as the adage goes, if the shoe doesn’t fit, cut off a toe or two and then wear it. The hope of improving one’s lot in life, whether we’re talking about Cinderella’s stepsisters, Chinese lotus-feet girls, or those like the fittingly named Healey, seems to outweigh the complications of damaging perfectly healthy tissue, which is why the Cinderella beauty narrative needs revision.

What, after all, makes Cinderella so attractive is her trueness to herself, not her “perfect” feet. She doesn’t change herself for the social system. Her stepmother’s insistence that her daughters handicap themselves for society points to a problem that still plagues our culture: we’re more interested in adhering to what looks good on a few instead of what looks good on each individually. The Cinderella surgery, liposculpting for washboard abs (extreme cosmetic surgery isn’t limited to women) and countless other niche procedures are so problematic because they proliferate the notion that there is only one body ideal. Rather than establishing a one-size-fits-all sense of aesthetic, we should try to foster one that, like shoes themselves, comes in many different sizes.