What Big…Shoulders You Have?

What big eyes you have, grandma!

The better to see you with, my dear.

What big ears you have! 

The better to hear you with.

What big teeth you have…

And you should know that this is the part where things start to go downhill. The Grimm Brothers are not known for their sensitivity, and Little Red Riding Hood does not disappoint in this category. After the last line (above), the little girl is chased around the room by the wolf who has eaten her grandmother only moments before. That is, until the friendly axeman arrives to stop the fray by chopping the wolf up and saving the little old lady from imminent digestion.

You are probably familiar with some version of this tale, but I bet you didn’t realize that within this gruesome scene, there is a rather positive message.

Even though Red Riding Hood knows something is up because she keeps pointing out the unusual features that her “grandmother” has suddenly assumed, the wolf is still able to spin the negatives into positives (as surely as Rumpelstiltskin spins straw into gold) by telling Little Red Riding Hood what his charming characteristics are good for.

Forgive me if I am reading too much into this child’s story, (I’m an English major after all) but it seems that the wolf has rehearsed these lines when he delivers them to Little Red. In fact, I would daresay that the wolf has been defending his anatomy his entire life due to the ease with which he speaks to the girl.

You see, the wolf is personified in this fairy tale. That means he possesses qualities that humans have: speech, emotions, the ability to dress up like little old women, you know. So, if he’s only “human,” why wouldn’t he have insecurities about his big ears, eyes, and teeth?

After all, I’m sure you have insecurities. Actually, I can rest assured that you have something that you would like to change about yourself. (I am as sure about this as I am about the fact that Little Red Riding Hood should not actually be read to children.)

Of course, everyone wants a tummy tuck and a little fat sucked away here and there. But if there is one thing that I fixate upon every time I look at the mirror, mirror on the wall, it would be my shoulders.

My shoulders are one of the biggest things that stand between me and the feeling that I look like a sweet, slight, feminine princess. My shoulders are huge. I once measured them and found that they are exactly the size of a clothes hanger, which does not lend itself to the whole “dainty damsel” image favored by society.

But the funny thing is, my grandfather used to compliment me on my shoulders all of the time when he was alive. He would tell me that I have strong shoulders and that I should be a swimmer. And wouldn’t you know, I started to see my shoulders differently. I saw my them as an extension of my ability to bear weight without collapsing. (We’re talking about emotional weight, here. Not physical weight. My arms are puny, let’s so stick with the metaphor.) I suddenly saw myself as strong and present in the world, instead of cowering and afraid. My shoulders became a point of pride instead of contention because I began to see them as a symbol of my ability instead of my appearance. Suddenly, it was not, my! what big shoulders you have. It became my! what big shoulders you have! All the better to raise the glass ceiling on your expectations of my capabilities as a strong woman, my dear.

Now, I’m not saying that you should wait for someone to come along and write a love poem about your insecurities, suddenly casting them in a favorable spotlight, like my grandfather sort of did for me. I’m saying that you should be more like the wolf. Not in the way that he eats grandmothers or preys on little children, but in the way that he champions the parts of himself that he literally cannot hide. The way that he is unapologetic for who he is, even when he is pretending to be someone else entirely.

We all know that fairy tales have wonderful lessons for children. It is time we reconsidered them as adults. We need to see that we are not a wolf in our grandmother’s clothing, trying to be someone else, but ourselves, as we were meant to be seen.

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