Cinderella’s corset impaired her organ function: What ‘feminist twist’ will Disney bring this time?

Following in the footsteps of box-office smash, Maleficent, Disney has adapted yet another one of its animated classics with the soon to-be-released Cinderella. But just because it’s live-action, hasn’t stopped Disney from forcing actress Lily James’ body into a cartoonishly unrealistic feminine silhouette.

The creepy similarity of Cinderella’s physique to her CGI Princess counterparts caused rumors that her waist had been “digitally shrunk” in post-production, but in a recent interview with E!, James refuted the idea. The actress said her tiny waist was just the work of a damn-tight corset, as in organ-deforming tight. So tight that James had to eat a liquid diet on days she was filming in it, because her digestive organs were unable to function. She explains:

When [the corset] was on we would be on continuous days, so we wouldn’t stop for lunch or a lovely tea like this. You’d be sort of eating on the move. In that case, I couldn’t untie the corset. If you ate food it didn’t really digest properly, and I’d be burping all afternoon in [Richard Madden’s] face, and it was just really sort of unpleasant. I’d have soup so that I could still eat but it wouldn’t get stuck.

So, that’s that. It turns out it isn’t some insidious new photoshopping technology distorting our reality and creating an inhuman beauty ideal for little girls to aspire to in utter futility — it’s just an old insidious technology, accomplished at the expense of the actress’ bodily well being. How comforting.

The official US trailer of the film features Cinderella’s wicked stepmother saying, “Wouldn’t you prefer to eat when all the work is done, Ella?” Interestingly, that’s exactly what Disney did to the actress. Ensured she couldn’t eat until she finished her work filming… Disney is the wicked stepmother.

But seriously, this new Princess flick has me wondering: What “feminist subversion” of Disney fairytale conventions will they throw in this time? Will she be the one to save the prince somehow, instead of him saving her? Girl power!

Kenneth Branagh directed, so I’d have thought this version might be interesting, but based on the trailer, it just looks blaaaand — sanitized and boring. (Although it is hilarious to see Rob Stark, the blood-thirsty, battle-worn Game of Thrones character, all Disneyfied into a squeaky clean prince with glaringly white teeth. Also, is that the black guy from Qarth fencing with the prince in trailer number two? What? Xaro Xhoan Daxos is chilling with Rob Stark — Branagh obviously just wanted to make Game of Thrones fan-fiction.) Other than that, I’m yawwwning.

It almost looks like they’re just telling the same exact story as the 1950 animated version. But that can’t be right. Disney is all about snarkily showing how self-aware and smarter than itself it is, lately. It has to pull something “feminist.”

Frozen got feminist cred when the true love needed to break the spell wasn’t heterosexual love from a man, but love between sisters. Similarly, Maleficent broke Sleepy Beauty’s spell when the two women shared “true love’s kiss.” But no, not in an awesome lesbian way, just, again, a familial way in the form of Maleficent’s motherly love for Sleeping Beauty. But the story of Cinderella totally lacks the ability to perform even this tepid type of subversion. Why?

Because, truly, the most anti-feminist aspect of Cinderella isn’t the fact that a Prince sweeps her off her feet and marries her after meeting for five minutes and seeing how physically attractive she is. That’s pretty bad, yes, but the worst thing about Cinderella is that, at it’s heart, it is a tale of women-against-women.

Cinderella’s shitty predicament, toiling away in the home, isn’t attributed to the male-dominated world in which she can’t go out and get a job to make a better life for herself. It’s attributed to her bitch stepmother holding her down and going against the wishes of the patriarch of the family, Cinderella’s loving father. It’s a story of women competing with each other for a man’s sexual attention. The impact of Cinderella’s story arc doesn’t derive from the happiness of her marrying the man of her dreams; it comes from winning against her evil stepsisters. Cinderella overcomes her adversity not by getting just any old man to take her away, but by getting the man she was specifically competing for against her stepsisters. She won because she had cute, dainty feet that were smaller than her sisters’! In their faces!

While I look forward to finding out what this adaptation offers that makes it stand out from the original version, I don’t see how it can plot-twist its way out of the anti-feminist women-against-women message at its core.

Susan Cox An American expatriate who fled to the wonderland of Canada, Susan Cox spends most of her time writing, reading, and cooking. Follow her @BLASFEMMEY.

Susan Cox
Susan Cox

Susan Cox is a feminist writer and academic living in the United States. She teaches in Philosophy.

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