One of the greatest tragedies for me as a mother has been discovering that I hate Snow White. I’m no fan of most Disney princesses, but I can usually draw my two-year-old daughter's interest to something in the origin story other than a beautiful girl or a handsome prince.
Snow White…I’ve got nothing.
There’s a queen obsessed with her looks (not with leading the kingdom to prosperity or even conducting ribbon cuttings at the opening of new Far, Far Away businesses) and a magic mirror that’s the equivalent of a “hot or not?” machine. The queen persecutes Snow White because of her beauty (riiiiight), and then Snow White, banished to the forest, cooks and cleans for hard-working little dudes, falls for the dumbest disguise ever, and has to be saved by a prince. The story has nothing for Snow White. She’s Rose-Nyland-naïve. She has no apparent wit, resourcefulness, or perception…nothing that I can offer my daughter, Jane, as an aspirational or even redeeming trait. Snow White is just pretty.
Well-intended people give Jane copies of Snow White and princess costumes and Barbies. They compliment her blonde hair, her cute shoes, and her pretty smile. These are people who love Jane very much, and they value her intelligence and curiosity. But their communication probably leaves her with the impression that, like Snow White, she’s just pretty.
“Pretty” worries me. Pretty soon becomes thin. Pretty becomes “my nose is too big,” “I wish I was shorter than the boys in my class,” and “I hate my skin.” Then Pretty can become eating disorder, self-loathing, plastic surgery. As a mother, Snow White and Pretty are my enemies; more than any other big-scary-world-monster they threaten Jane’s health and well-being.
It’s hard to talk with a two-year-old about the Pretty slippery slope. It’s also hard to talk with her about body image and self-respect. In this moment, I’m not sure how to tell her that being healthy and being skinny are different. That being Pretty is fine, but being smart is great. That Mommy’s “after” is still the neighbor’s “before” and that it’s taken Mommy lots of years to be ok with that. That Mommy and Daddy are still trying to lose weight but only enough to be really healthy and active and energetic.
So, I’m turning to the only tool I know that combines all of these messages in a toddler-friendly package: yoga.
At first, I started doing yoga with Jane because she, like many two-year-olds, is an investigative journalist about my whereabouts. “Mommy, you go yoga class? What do-ning at yoga class? Mommy, show me! Mommy, I do yoga, too?” And so I talked to Jane about being a mountain and taking big mountain breaths. And she LOVED it.
And the light bulb switched on. Yoga is about making yourself bigger. Through yoga poses, Jane learns to take up space, to grow taller (gasp), to stretch out wide (gasp), even to expand her belly (gasp gasp gasp). With every pose, she learns that her body is a strong work of art. She has learned to be a tree (balance bonus!). She loves to be a cat and a cow and a dog and a snake (animal sounds double bonus). And she has learned that she can always come back to her big mountain breath to calm down (triple composure bonus). Yoga is fun and productive and subtle but powerful and the perfect foundation for future discussions about health and body and even about Pretty. It's easy and free and a bonding experience. It's the only way I have to show Jane my own healthy respect for my body.
And that will have to do until Jane can handle my re-write of Snow White:
Once upon a time, there lived a young woman named Snow White. Her evil step-mother, the Queen, was seriously jealous of Snow White's expansive vocabulary and physical prowess, so she made Snow White clean all the time. The Queen's insecurity led her to consult with a magic mirror. One day, when the Queen asked, "Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the strongest of them all?" the mirror responded "Snow White! She's poised and tenacious." The Queen flew into a jealous rage and banished Snow White to the forest. The Queen's huntsman approached Snow White about a possible modeling contract, but Snow White turned him down, saying "you think I scrubbed floors all these years to be a human clothes-hanger?"). In the forest, Snow White happened upon a charming ranch belonging to seven coal-mining dwarfs. Snow White admired the house and sensed development potential in the area. She could market a residential subdivision here as "rustic with a touch of luxury." But, she had no capital, so she gathered wood and brush and built herself a cottage that Jeff Probst would admire. She befriended the dwarfs, who helped her secure employment at the coal mine. Snow White's work ethic fast-tracked her climbing the ladder at the mine. She shattered the glass ceiling and became the first female CEO. In her new position, Snow White converted the mine to a laboratory for exploring alternative energy sources, and she promoted all of the dwarfs to key leadership positions. The Queen, upon hearing of Snow White's success, grew more jealous and disguised herself as an apple seller, hoping to poison Snow White. Snow White immediately saw through the ruse and offered to pay for the Queen's psychotherapy. Snow White could have succeeded the suddenly incapacitated monarch. Instead, she gathered the townspeople and orchestrated a democratic election. Grumpy, using the skills he acquired from negotiating with a diverse population of dwarfs, won in a landslide, and he and Snow White, as a representative of the business community, maintained a friendly but arms-length relationship. They all lived mostly happily ever after.
Beth is a mom, wife, sister, friend, and HR executive. She's also on a journey to become a yoga teacher. She likes watermelon, reality television, and politics.