In the classic fairy tale, after her father’s death, beautiful Cinderella is cast into a different role – exchanging her cherished identity for that of a servant routinely dismissed and abused by her stepfamily. What she holds of greatest value is something external – a dream of a changed life dependent upon an outside force. Dr. Kevin Solomons points out that the fairy tale seduces us into believing that we acquire value (the handsome prince) by being beautiful, kind, and adept at pleasing others. For too many of us, this becomes the illusive path to self-esteem and our happily ever afters – a path on which external sources dictate our internal worth. Lacking helpful woodland creatures and a fairy godmother with a magic wand, we must work harder to find our self-esteem. And once we find our handsome prince, there’s no guarantee that he can or will stick around. In such a scenario, our self-esteem will likely crash. So what’s a 21st century girl to do?
Instead of looking for external sources to prop up our self-esteem, what if we begin by examining the process through which our concept of self-esteem develops? Once upon a time, we entered this world young and vulnerable, and we relied upon our caregivers to provide our needs and to teach us about our identity because we were clueless. If our caregivers had been more like Cinderella’s father, maybe we would have learned that we were beautiful, loved and valued simply because we existed. If our caregivers were more like Cinderella’s stepmother, years of negative conditioning may have convinced us that we had nothing of value inside or outside. We would have lost touch with our authentic self – or possibly never even discovered it – because our experiences never pointed us to our inherent value.
Maybe we’ll find our self-esteem when we embark on a journey to identify our authentic self – not the self others say we are, but the self we know we are. Maybe the process has been our problem: we’ve been looking for outside evidence of a treasure that has resided inside all along. We don’t need the glass slippers, the sparkly dress, diamond tiara, coach, and handsome prince. We need to recognize the conditioning process and set out to discover who we really are.
What might happen when we learn to separate our truth from someone else’s fiction?