Saturday, April 2, 2016

B is for Beauty, Body, and Ideals

Welcome to the A to Z Challenge! My theme this year is Representation and Diversity in Traditional Stories. I am looking for rare and interesting motifs in folktales, fairy tales, and legends that add variety to the well-known canon.


Beauty is a very tricky subject when it comes to traditional stories. In most cases, it is symbolic - a character being "beautiful" is not as much a physical description as a general, personal, inner beauty. And even when there is physical description, it corresponds to their personalities. Therefore, looking for variety in beauty ideals and body images in tradition does not even make sense in most cases. Whatever culture is telling the story imagines their princes and princesses according to the ideals of their own era and culture.

BUT!

I did rustle up a few interesting examples. Because I am dedicated that way.

The Son of the Hunter
Okay, so this is a folktale about a hero going out with his companions who all have superpowers, fulfilling tasks given by the king, and eventually winning a princess who has dragon brothers. In one version of the story, the princess is called Dartane, the Fair One of the World. The collector notes that Dartane means "a woman of slow movements and plump." She is quite a capable lady, too.
(You can find a version of this story - and sources - in my own book, Tales of Superhuman Powers)

The girl who turned into a man
I will talk more about this folktale type (ATU 514) later in the Challenge, but I wanted to note that there is a Hungarian version where the hero(ine) is - appreciatively and repeatedly - described as "having good meat," meaning that s/he is definitely on the heavy side.
(I don't have a translation for this specific version, but I posted another Hungarian version in English here)

Three Strong Women
A Japanese folktale much loved by storytellers. It is about a sumo wrestler who is trained by three generations of exceptionally strong (and "round") women in the art of wrestling. He eventually falls in love with and marries the youngest one.
(Read a retelling of this story here)

Queen Virginal
I wrote about the epic of Dietrich in detail last year, but I want to mention it again because it is the only traditional story cycle I know where humans and Dwarves (who are described as extremely beautiful short humans) intermarry without it being deemed unusual.
(You can read about the legend here)

The secret of the fairy lake
In this Hungarian tale a girl attempts to bathe in a magical fairy lake in order to turn beautiful (because she is mocked by the other girls, and she never had a suitor). She almost drowns, but in the last moment she is rescued by a boy who tells her she doesn't need the fairy lake's magic because she is beautiful as it is.
(You can find the Hungarian text here, and if you are interested, I can help you with an English translation)

I am intentionally not mentioning stories where the hero/heroine starts out "ugly" and then magically turns beautiful. Also, body imagery is sometimes tied into the topic of disability, which will come up later in the Challenge.

Also, here is a statue of Aphrodite with glorious rolls, just because.

Can you think of any other tales that I didn't mention? Let me know in the comments!

52 comments:

  1. I missed my century. I need to go back in time a few hundred years and my plumpness would be glorified.

    The Really Real Housewives

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  2. So glad I found you via the A to Z challenge. I love mythology & old tales. I can learn a lot from your blog. It is visually VERY appealing as well. I'm # 1637 http://paperandpigment.blogspot.com/

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    1. Aww, thank you! I am glad you found me! :)

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  3. Interesting to know there are many other stories beside the classical ones we were told as children. Another great post! The Truck Traveller

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  4. This is very interesting! Beauty ideals tend to vary from culture to culture and change through time periods, so it's good to see a large sample of that!

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  5. Very interesting topic and theme! Good luck with the challenge!

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  6. Your Hungarian-themed stories are interesting and can form the basis for other stories. I find folklore quite fascinating.

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  7. I doubt very much I know any tales you don't, having seen how wonderfully extensive your knowledge is :). Some great examples - love the first one.
    Tasha
    Tasha's Thinkings (72) | Wittegen Press (74) | FB3X (AC) (75)

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  8. I love this! I love anything that promotes positive body image. And I love that statue of Aphrodite.
    @DoreeWeller from
    Doree Weller’s Blog

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  9. I love the message in these tales, especially in the last one, that beauty is there it just takes someone to see it. And yay for the chunky girls!
    Sophie
    Sophie's Thoughts & Fumbles | Wittegen Press | FB3X

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  10. I'm going to use some of these in my class with my students. Thanks!

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  11. I think in today world we have a hard time understanding what is symbolic in fairy tales. I have kind of a feeling that a lot of people tend to take things literary... thus missing the point most of the time.

    But I'm also happy to see that sometimes beauty doens't even need to be symbolic and that there are different kinds of beautiy after all (I liked the last story in particular) :-)

    @JazzFeathers
    The Old Shelter - Jazz Age Jazz

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  12. Beauty is in the eye of the beerholder, or something like that. I think that everyone has their own personal perception as to what true beauty is.

    Mary
    Twitter: @KnottyMarie
    Literary Gold
    Jingle Jangle Jungle

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  13. Beauty is a mixture of a number of things including physical features, character, personality, kindness etc.

    Open Minded Mormon A-Z

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  14. Those sound some great stories. I'm going to have to hunt some of them down. I love this description: "having good meat,".
    Discarded Darlings

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  15. I am not very well versed with history but I know that beauty has changing definitions all over the world. But I do feel physical one is valued more by most people. May be cos that most visible.

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  16. Interesting stories! A treasure of stories lie beneath the popular stories we have grown up on.

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  17. Interesting stories. I look forward to reading more.

    Visiting from the A-Z Challenge

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  18. You got my attention girl, I love your stories so I purchased your book. I also printed for MIL the Hungarian text of 'The secret of the fairy lake' and you should see smile on her face. My MIL has Alzheimer's but she still can read and speak Hungarian. (She was born in Hungry and came to Canada in 1946 as a sixteen year old girl.)
    Evalina, This and that...

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    1. Aww! That is so nice to hear! I hope you'll enjoy the book! :) It has some Hungarian stories in it too.

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  19. The idea of beauty is certainly subjective to personal tastes and cultural ideals. It's too bad we can't all just get over it.
    Susan Says

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  20. This is good. I'm more familiar with the traditional fairy tales like the evil queen in Snow White and her obsession with the mirror.

    Pioneer Women in Aviation A-Z

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  21. Thank you for your dedication. I'm enjoying the fruits of your labour:) The list of tales to read when the A to Z challenge is over is becoming long and lush.

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  22. Great examples. It's nice to hear that not all fairytales and fables are about Disney-type princesses.

    Have you seen that article about how Disney has "remade" its princesses over the years? So sad.

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    1. The one that talks about how they have less lines now in the movies? :D

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  23. Great post, good examples! I love the fairy lake one, so sweet. Reminds me of the story 'In the Jaws of the Merman' in Schönwerth's collection The Turnip Princess (Penguin 2015 edition). There's a village where the girls are beautiful because they swim in the lake, and all the men favour them. They all get married, and then the girls turn into fish-creatures and are collected by a merman (I say 'merman,' but the actual description is more like a whale mouth). After that, no more girls swim in the lake. So beauty is favoured, until it causes harm and them everyone realises it's not that important after all.

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    1. I remember that! It is a very strange tale...

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  24. Great stories. I so love your blog :)
    Have a great AtoZ
    love
    Jemima

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  25. The Secret of the Fairy Lake sounds wonderful!

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  26. The concept of beauty is so bound in our cultures and in our times, isn't it? I'm very pleased that we don't have a Twiggy in this era. That was a scary time for feminine self-image.

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  27. These all sound beautiful! After the challenge I will have to come back and follow some of your links.

    Finding Eliza

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  28. I like the secret of the fairy lake best, where the boy finds beauty in her that she herself doesn't see. Everyone is beautiful to someone.

    The AtoZ of EOS
    #TeamDamyanti

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  29. I'm glad to hear there were some precursors to the story of Shrek and Princess Fiona!

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    1. The best one is probably Dame Ragnell (which is what Shrek is based on), but I didn't include it because she turns pretty in the end...

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  30. Hi there!

    I’m stopping by from the #AtoZChallenge. I have two blogs in this challenge…my author blog at THE STORY CATCHER (www.donnalmartin.com) and my KICKS Kids Club blog (www.kickskidsclub.blogspot.com) .

    If you get a chance, check them out and good luck with the challenge!

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  31. Beauty is certainly in the eye of the beholder. Beauty standards certainly change with the times. The biggest one I have seen since my youth of the early 70's is the big rump. No one wanted a big rump back then. lol The times be a changing.

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  32. I am loving these! Especially Queen Virginal. Dwarves are not respected enough by literature. That's why I'm so glad that Disney's upcoming Rose Red movie has Rose Red and the dwarves taking center stage in a journey to save Snow White. Keep the stories coming!

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    1. I am curious how well they will do with that. Snow White and the Huntsman did not treat them very well...

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  33. Beauty sure depends on the way one looks at it. Infact it is what you have in your heart.

    http://meotherwise.com/2016/04/02/beaches-and-taste-buds-atozchallenge/

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  34. Great stories that I haven't heard of. Thanks for your dedication!

    I've added your book to my wish list. (Sadly, medical bills come first. And eating. Girl's gotta eat.)

    @dSavannahCreate from
    dSavannahRambles
    #AtoZChallenge2016 theme: dSavannah Defects

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    1. Definitely eat first! My book is kinda hard to chew... :D

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  35. Ideals of beauty are completely subjective and vary depending on period, culture and person. It is definitely a combo of inner and outer traits. Draupadi in the Indian epic Mahabharata is dark-skinned and beautiful (India favours fair skin as an ideal of feminine beauty), she is supposed to be naturally 'lotus-perfumed' too.

    Thanks for your dedication - my TBR list benefits immensely.

    Best wishes,
    Nilanjana.
    Madly-in-Verse

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  36. That's an impressive list of tales. Back here, people do seem to obsessed with beauty and body type esp. if it is a woman. I guess we have the tales that glorify beauty to blame, and with these changing stories, perhaps the mindset will someday change too.

    Shubhangi @ The Little Princess

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  37. I am enjoying your theme. Beauty is relative and everyone is beautiful. This so needs to be said and loudly in this age of fairness creams, botox and what not.
    @freya3377 from Life as Freya - http://blog.fatema.in/

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  38. Great theme! Can't wait to see more...

    www.ericageraldmason.com

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  39. Great!
    @CazsBooks
    http://cazgreenham.blogspot.com

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  40. Great stories. It's always fun to discover "new" folktales. Good luck with the rest of the challenge.

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  41. Love that you featured body image and beauty here. I like when stories present "real" women (curvy women/plus-size women) as heroines and glorify them. I think it makes the characters so much more relatable.

    Love that you included the statue of Aphrodite in all her glorious rolls! You rock!

    Michele at Angels Bark

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  42. I like finding stories where the characters aren't conventionally beautiful by the standards of their respective culture. It's easy to make your heroes beautiful or handsome, but a little more challenging to craft characters who fall into a different standard.

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