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  • Writer's pictureElizabeth Nugent

The Ugly Sisters' Feet

By Dr Libby Nugent, First Published May 25 2021 02:29PM

In Cinderella there is an important symbol of feet (and shoes). It is Cinderella’s uniquely shaped, small feet that make her a perfect fit for the glass or golden slippers. In the original Grimm brother’s version, by instruction from the mother, the ugly sisters' feet are cut up to fit Cinderella's shoes. The first sister has her big toe cut off, the second sister has her heel removed. They are told to hide their pain and that it will be worth it, because if they marry the prince, they won’t need to walk, they can just be carried everywhere. It is all rather gruesome and disturbing. However, despite the gruesomeness, I am cuirous about feet as a symbol or metaphor - what associations might people have with feet … Direct contact with the earth. Being grounded. Standing on your own two feet. Is phallic with the shoe as the vulva and the foot itself as a euphemism for genitals. Can connote dying, passing on as well as slow wandering. Bare feet are a sign of mourning and respect. Fairies have no footprints. Can also bring luck and prosperity. Footprints and worn-out shoes can provide evidence of someone's presence. Global footprint Reflexology Foot is the furthest part of the body from the head/mind/thought/intellectualisation. Get your feet wet Take a load off your feet. Dead on my feet Cold feet Find your feet Have itchy feet Sweep someone off their feet Thinking on your feet Having feet of clay Binding of Feet Voting with your Feet How we shape our feet can be for some a symbol of social oppression - foot binding, high heels etc For others it can represent something powerful about femininity. The foot was a unit of measurement throughout Europe. It often differed in length not only from country to country but from city to city. Because the length of a foot changed between person to person, measurements were not even consistent between two people, often requiring an average. Henry I of England was attributed to passing the law that the foot was to be as long as a person's own foot. This was one of the first times a standard unit of measurement was put into place. Feet as a symbol clearly has some fascinatting narratives attached. If we refer back to the Cinderella stroy, in both Group and Jungian interpretation each aspect of a story is thought to represent a part of the self. With this in mind, in the fairy tale and therapy reflective practice space I hold, the Ugly Sisters' Feet have been the source of much discussion. When do wesubmit to our feet being cut - maybe from the instruction of an authority who promises we wont need them, and encourages us to hide our pain? Surely we need our toes and heels for balance and/ or independence in our life. Or are we told our reward will mean we wont need that in the same way? Just as long as we have others to carry us? It makes me wonder about the mother/authority structures in our lives/ communites/institutions? Do we embody the stepmother and command ourselves to cut off part of our feet with the hope of a reward? What does it mean to have feet that are too big for the shoes we feel entitled to wear? What do we need our feet for - what would living with a severed big toe or heel be like? I imagine there would be daily reminders but maybe also adaptations, whilst a feeling of being different that might often be able to be hidden from view? What is lost in trying to make our feet smaller than they are? How do we embrace a small footed life - without cutting off parts of ourselves? There are many more questions and paths of thought this symbol inspires. I would be curious to hear others thoughts and associatons.

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