Mrs Tiggy-Winkle

by Beatrix Potter

As I got dressed yesterday, hiking my skirt up to the only point at which it will still fit around my torso, I realized that I have entered the Mrs Tiggy-Winkle stage of couture.

Then I thought, I could do a lot worse. And that started me wondering about the image of stout folks in fantasy, which I think, for all the princess cult, is more positive than negative. The fairy godmothers in Disney’s Cinderella are stout, as is the cook in Castle Waiting. Baloo is stout. Cogsworth and Mrs. Potts, Belle’s father, Shrek, Vladimir and Sophie in Anastasia — stout folks seem to be on the side of good more often than the side of evil, Ursula notwithstanding, and they seem to be accepted just as they are. They’re not often given a romance, but sometimes…

Making life better, one cup at a time

More usually, they are supporting characters who make life better for everyone around them. Their skills, if not explicitly magical, are effectively magical; what they do, they do without effort, and it can generally be relied upon.

This is what I wanted to be as a girl

I think a lot of the angst about fairy tales assumes that viewers are trying to identify with the princesses. Certainly Disney is trying to make money off their identification with the princesses and princes, but even as a 3-year-old I knew princesses were a bore. I wanted to be the fairy godmother or one of the animal companions – the ones who had fun, and power! And a large number of them, it seems to me, are stout. Bulky. Unapologetic. If you mentioned their weight, they would look at you with complete incomprehension. (I think complete incomprehension is vastly under-rated as a strategy for coping with society’s demands, and more of us should adopt it. But that’s another post.)

Better living through complete incomprehension

Not to say that I’ve been untouched by fairy-tale propaganda in my life. Many years ago, when I was wondering why I just couldn’t drum up any interest in losing weight, I realized that my image of the skinny person is negative – superior, judgmental, snooty – and since I don’t know any actual skinny people like that, I’m wondering if it came from fairy tales.

Who knows?

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