My favorite childhood memory was when my grandmother would open up her book of Andrew Lang’s fairytales, and read me those magic tales. “Grandmommy, can you read me Snow White again!” It was one of my favorites. I loved clasping onto the blankets with anticipation as Snow White fled from her step-mother. “Grandmommy why did she want to eat Snow White’s heart?” I whispered. 

“Hmm, well, she was jealous of Snow White’s beauty, and whatever we covet and can’t possess, we end up resenting,” said my grandmother, pausing here before continuing. “Maybe she thought that eating Snow White’s heart would make her the most beautiful.” 

While I understand that the step-mother was so jealous of Snow White’s fair looks, it strikes me as odd that beauty was her true desire. There is always an urge beneath the urge, a desire enveloping a deeper desire.  

The reason why the step-mother married the king in the first place was because she was beautiful. Her worth was in her beauty — and if she were not attractive, she would not have experienced intimacy or connection. The message that was relayed to the witch was, “You’re only worthy of intimacy insofar as your physical appearance is pleasing.” The only way she knew how to meet her own intimacy-needs was through the cold gaze of a mirror that provided validation of her aesthetic appeal. 

Let this be a lesson to all of us — we have all been that witch. All of us have stood in front of our proverbial mirrors and wept for true intimacy and connection.

I write this now, as a person who craves being known and seen. I long for connections that are both safe and terrifyingly sincere. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has scrolled through my phone, desperate for validation from my cold screen. 

But we cannot be known by a piece of glass. 

There is also a deeper lesson here that I feel has not ever been explored in this fairytale. Beauty doesn’t do anything for us. There’s no true utility in it. But beauty is still a powerful ideal that can entice other people towards close proximity to us. People love beautiful things; people lavish attention on beautiful things. Maybe the evil step-mother in Snow White was just an attention-starved woman who never experienced true intimacy or vulnerability or connection with another person. 

The step-mother-witch turned herself into a hideous hag so that she could kill the beautiful Snow White, remember? Beauty clearly was not the most important thing, because she gave it up freely. It follows that Beauty was not her true desire. In her attempt to carve out intimacy, she was willing to give up her own beauty. And when she was unable to maintain her own youth and good looks, she instead tried to carve out Snow White’s heart. 

We are no different from her. In our attempts to carve out morsels of love and attention for ourselves, we — out of desperation—  carve out other people’s hearts. She knew herself not as someone worthy of love and being loved, but as someone who, in order to get her needs met, needed to be the most beautiful. 

Are there people in your life that you have tried to sabotage out of fear that there would be no love or affection leftover for you?  Perhaps you see classmates succeeding in assignments where you struggle. Maybe you’re experiencing panic attacks for your upcoming exam, not because you need an A+, but because you crave the acceptance of a community, your peers and your professors. Perhaps you’ve internalized this dark spell: if I do not prove my excellence through my achievements, I will not be worthy of love. 

This kind of love-scarcity is a lie, there is enough love to go around for us all. Do not give into the myth that there is not enough affection for you. You are inherently lovable and loved, not for any reason other than the fact that you simply exist. 

Look at your reflection in the mirror. Who gazes back at you? Look into your eyes and utter this magical spell: 

“I am inherently loved and worthy of love. I claim gentleness and tenderness as my birthright. My beauty lies in my agency to be a gentle person, full of gentle thoughts.”

Let this essay be a magic mirror for you, whereby you are reminded of your inherent goodness and worth. And if ever you ask a mirror who is the fairest of them all, I hope you know the answer is — your very own heart. 

MIA TABIB DIV ’20 is a recent Yale graduate and now works as a social worker and therapist in the New Haven area. Contact her at