The central antagonist of Snow White and the Huntsman is not Snow White’s stepmother, the Dark Forest, the queen’s dark army, or the huntsman wielding an axe. It is the wrinkle, the threat of aging.
Indeed, this fairy tale has multiple points of resonance with our current, aggressive beauty culture. Revanna, Snow White’s stepmother, fears the wrinkle. Seen as the ultimate point of abjection, Revanna goes through extreme lengths to remain young (as a child her mother cast a spell on her to keep her beautiful, a spell of protection). When her youthful beauty wanes, Revanna drinks the life of younger women in her kingdom, essentially robbing them of their youth and beauty. Her desire to kill Snow White and eat her heart rests in Revanna’s desire for immortality: the constant presence of beauty.
Our current beauty culture casts a similar spell of desire on women. We are bombarded with advertisements of anti-aging products in magazines, on television, and on the internet. Promising to eradicate fine lines and wrinkles, wrinkles are posited as the antithesis to beauty, a creeping presence to fear wholeheartedly.
In the movie, Revanna is empowered by her beauty. This is not very different than the beliefs of dominant culture. The act of remaining young, engaging in cosmetic surgery and receiving Botox injections, increases one’s status. In a word, one’s power. Given this, the wrinkle and the act of aging function to undermine the social construction of beauty as power. Women (and more recently, men) must remain vigilant in their battle for taut skin.
Revanna’s battle is unrelenting and while I sat in the dark of the movie theater, my mind too became occupied with ways to eradicate the wrinkle. Even though I am a woman who does not cringe that the thought of getting creases and lines, I began asking myself: when is the appropriate age to start using wrinkle creams? Have I started getting wrinkles? Because of our current culture of photoshop, the desire to be as perfect as possible, I began connecting with a character I was supposed to despise.
I do not remember the hyper-focus on aging in the original Snow White fairy tale. Yes, the queen wanted to be the “fairest,” but I do not remember the added almost paranoid skin-gazing in the mirror, the pulling on her slightly loose skin, the thick baths of milk.
How perversely fitting that a 21st century rendition of the Snow White fairytale adopts a compulsive desire for bodily perfection.