Sleeping Beauty on Exhibition
by Jacqueline Lew (Winter 2000-2001)

Jacqueline Lew stresses the importance of ameliorating the ramifications the Grimm Brothers’ demeaning version produced, and suggests that authors do so via feminist retellings in order to remedy the tale’s two major problems: the problem of lost context, and the problem of sexist content.
She then explains how to go about so effectively:

  1. Addressed the issue of context
  2. Proceed to reject the legend’s inappropriate, chauvinistic content by revealing the detrimental impact of holding such archaic values, while providing new, appropriate alternative perspectives.

    According to Lew, Jane Yolen’s feminist retelling, “Sleeping Ugly” inadequately teaches contemporary values without sufficiently addressing the problems with the old values. Yolen deconstructs the traditional privilege associated with beauty by stressing that character, rather than physical attractiveness, is a person’s most valuable asset.

    Plain Jane derives her ultimate happiness from being surrounded by friends and a loving family, however just like the classic “Sleeping Beauty,” Yolen’s “Sleeping Ugly” places too much emphasis on the relevance of beauty to character.  Although, Yolen attempts to enumerate the association between good looks and good character, she only reverses the stereotype, to the detriment of attractive girls’ self-esteem.
    Furthermore, in Yolen’s tale, Prince Jojo only comes to “love” Plain Jane as the result of a spell cast upon her by an old fairy. For this reason,

    Yolen unintentionally implies that the likelihood of “ugly” girls being considered attractive is so low that they require the help of supernatural forces

    In addition, Yolen’s tale legitimizes superficial love at first sight and longing to be loved based on one kiss. Upon being kissed, the groggy Plain Jane desires that the prince love her, as if she has been waiting her entire life for a man — any man — to love her, therefore still deriving happiness from a man’s affection.
    Ultimately, Yolen’s attempt to revise the tale within its original framework, and focusing primarily on two main themes, unfortunately preserves the negative, gender expectations in regards to beauty, love and femininity.  For this reason, Yolen’s  it ends up preserving more chauvinistic messages than it deconstructs or replaces.