My Cinderella Moment Came Without A Ball or A Gown

I’ve been thinking about Cinderella. According to a book I just read*, most women cite Cinderella as their favorite fairy tale. It’s not mine. I love her story** — undeserved riches to undeserved rags to riches she earns — but the message I got as a child has misled me more than once as an adult.

I’m not talking about being rescued from a life of drudgery by a loving prince. I’m not talking about staying positive in a negative situation. I’m not talking about my life being transformed by magic.

I’m talking about the promise of the ball. The ball and the gown.

gownCinderella casts off her rags, puts on her gown, and goes to the ball. Her transformation from servant to princess is so complete that no one, not even her own family, recognizes her.

The message I heard was: If you put on the right clothing, people will see the real you. The beautiful, wonderful, amazing adult you.

All my life I’ve been waiting for my ball, my Cinderella moment. In America, the big white wedding is the modern version of the ball. The bride puts on the dress and is the center of attention. If she’s lucky, she goes home with a prince.

At my wedding, I felt the power of being the bride, of being in the spotlight, but I didn’t feel like Cinderella. I wore the gown and my life changed. I crossed the threshold from maiden to wife. But I didn’t feel like I’d earned the attention. What they saw was The Bride and The Gown. Not me.

Years later, after my divorce, a better chance to be Cinderella came my way. The party was a big event, an office dinner and dance with over 100 attendees. It was a true ball.

Recently divorced and without a date, I prepared carefully. I put on an evening gown and put up my hair. Here was my chance to shine after failing at my marriage and struggling to find a life of my own. I walked into that party with my head held high and my hopes even higher.

Many of these people knew me from work, but I expected some of them to be astonished, to see me in a new way, to recognize all the changes I was feeling inside from the way I was dressed on the outside.

One or two women commented on my dress. And that was it.

No interest from any men, no sense that I was causing a sensation with the new me. No one even saw the new me. They saw a woman they worked with every day, who happened to be wearing a dress.

I was crushed. I went home feeling like a failure, because I couldn’t pull off the Cinderella transformation. Was I proper woman at all?

Changed My Clothes, collage by Kit Dunsmore
Changed Her Clothes, collage by Kit Dunsmore

The day my divorce was final, I felt rather strange having signed the papers and knowing that I was officially done with my marriage. I had crossed a threshold I’d never dreamt I’d see when I was a kid. There was no dress, no announcement, nothing to mark the event.

A handful of co-workers were going out for happy hour that evening, just to socialize, so I went with them. As I was sitting quietly with the group, feeling odd, one of my co-workers asked me what was up. I told him what had happened that day. He commiserated; he was on his second marriage so he’d been through it, too. A few minutes later, he took off the felt fedora he was wearing and put it on my head.

“You look good,” he said.

I was grateful. I needed a way to signal to the world the transition I was going through. The hat showed the change, and the change looked good on me.

That was my Cinderella moment.

*Spinning Straw Into Gold: What Fairy Tales Reveal About the Transformations in a Woman’s Life by Joan Gould

**Not the Disney version but earlier renditions, like the one told by the Grimm brothers.

2 thoughts on “My Cinderella Moment Came Without A Ball or A Gown”

  1. The honesty and openness of this post is to be applauded! To add my 2 cents… Like you, Cinderella is not my favorite fairytale character. That said, I like Grimm’s version because the “ugly” stepsisters of Disney/Perrault are actually gorgeous but have ugly hearts. That’s a nice complexity– unfortunately, not so popular as the other versions. Intrigued that you mentioned “research” for your Rapunzel novel in another post. Anne Sexton wrote an interesting poem riffing off of that story. One of my favorite poetry books is Disenchantments which collects poems written about various fairytales (including Rapunzel). Maybe that’s not the sort of research you meant. One of these days, I need to research hospital procedures for a scene in my novel-in-progress.

    1. I’m working on reading more modern takes on fairy tales. I just found out about Anne Sexton’s stuff, so it’s on my list. I’ve read The Bloody Chamber (Angela Carter), Mirror, Mirror (Gregory Maguire), Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister (Maguire), and other novelizations of various tales. Some I like, some I don’t. I’m enjoying the Lunar Chronicles as one of the most unusual uses of fairy tale material. Combining it with a sci-fi setting has allowed her to do some new things.

      My research for Rapunzel is mostly historical: my settings are pagan Anglo-Saxon England and Petra, Jordan in the 6th c AD. This is officially the Dark Ages, so it’s tough finding material, but I’ve scraped together enough to work with and learned some interesting things along the way. To me, the best thing about doing the research is my story always gets stronger: events and details spring from the setting and the storyline feels more real and less made up as a result.

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