Obtaining Your Heart's Desire And Cinderella's Glass Slipper


In the movie “Cinderella” (2015, directed by Kenneth Branagh), women flocked from all over the country to try on the glass slipper. 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 her boyfriend. 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 her. 

I found myself talking about Cinderella and 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 or lead to real love, all because we want true love so desperately. 

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—in other words, authentic and clear in our walk. In this allegory, true love is searching for someone who is a good fit and someone who could comfortably walk in authenticity. 

This brings us to another question: What does authenticity have 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 to fit in—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 "perfect prince," for the story required someone who would fit the glass slipper. 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 try to think differently about the word “true” in true love—in that it refers not to the other, but to oneself. 

Too 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. But 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. For, to abandon our vulnerable, imperfect selves for our fantasy of the ideal self is a betrayal of true love.

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 utility. How often have we treated ourselves in this way? How often have we locked our authentic selves up in our own emotional and mental prisons?

The reason for this harsh imprisonment can be found at the end of the movie, as Cinderella walks down the staircase to meet the prince. Dressed in rags, her carriage long gone, she faces the possibility of scorn and rejection. Brené Brown describes braving the wilderness as the willingness to stand alone, in our authenticity, in order to find true belonging. A paradox, is it not?

When she puts on her glass slipper, she will be seen as she is and known as she is. She will have dared the wilderness. Will the prince meet her there? Our eyes well with tears as, of course, her prince rewards her courage with true love, and finally, fulfills her heart’s desire in one of the most beautiful and beloved of fairy tales—and in the tale, at the heart, of humanity.

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This article was originally published at https://www.holisticpsychiatrist.com/. Reprinted with permission from the author.