I looked up the term ‘Cinderella syndrome’ and found a theory from a 1981 book that claims that the Cinderella complex is ‘a fear some women have of being independent that causes an unconscious desire to be taken care of by others.’
I sniff my nose at this idea being applied specifically to Cinderella: the theme of being cared for by someone else is a theme that runs through almost all fairy tales across the world that include a young woman and a wealthy man and a happily ever after.
Yet, of all the fairy tales, it’s Cinderella’s that raises the most questions for me, money-wise.*
She went from sitting in cinders, ashes and rags to the royal splendour of a palace and I can’t help but wonder – how did she cope?
Did she struggle when food went to waste or if she was served an overly large portion, guilt-stricken by the memories of her former poverty?
Did she miff off the maids when they caught her cleaning her own clothes?
Did she embarrass by insisting that every part of a pumpkin could be used, for curries, casseroles and coaches?
Defining Cinderella in money terms
If I were to be cheeky enough to create my own definition of Cinderella syndrome, it would be based on what happens after the happily ever after:
Cinderella Shock Syndrome: The emotions and mental state entered when someone has gone from a situation of poverty to one of wealth that far outstrips their previous experiences.
It goes without saying that Cinderella would have been incredibly frugal (mending her clothes, staying in instead of going out all the time, making her own food etc etc) but it’s easy to see that just being frugal was never going to help her get to a point with more freedom and choices.
She was frugal by having no other choice due to her enforced (systematic?) poverty and I don’t doubt that her lack of choice in the matter was causing her absolute misery.
I guess it doesn’t help that she was completely dependent on someone who did not have her best interests at heart for all her money options.
Wait, if she wasn’t paid, Cinderella was basically a slave, right? And her stepmother was totally committing financial abuse!
Almost any sort of financial control was far outside her reach in the beginning of her fairy tale.
She went from all that to a literal princess.
Real Life Cinderella(s)
Although Cinderella’s situation at first glance seems far removed from or too exaggerated for reality, I find that there are so many different things woven into the tale that relate to modern day life. Thanks to the ever increasing speed of technological development, we are becoming more and more aware of how other people live their lives.
Through ‘reality’ TV, we are given access to the (very often deeply) personal financial choices of the ridiculously wealthy and the opportunity to compare their lives to ours (I have a family member who started off deeply committed to watching the Kardashians and now religiously watches any Real Housewives series that pops up on the TV).
And even weirder, sometimes we might unwittingly find ourselves being the actual Cinderella in the situation – being invited to the house of a friend whose house is not what you are used to; being in a relationship or marrying someone who is wealthier than you; or even finding yourself making more money than your entire family had when you were a child.
Maybe the ‘coping’ depends on the suddenness of the situation; I’m know quite a few lovely people whose childhoods would, in today’s climates, be firmly in the ‘poverty’ category in the UK.
But they’ve had 30, 40 and 50 years to adjust to that change in their lifestyle [I don’t know if you’d label it ‘social mobility’ since they count as part of the Baby Boomer generation?] and so look upon their youth with a shrugging nonchalance: “It’s just the way it was.”
Anger in Abundance
One of the starkest examples I can think of going from extremely poor to extremely rich is yet another literary reference – Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games. After she is taken to the Capitol, she watches in disgust as the inhabitants of the main city gorge themselves on rich and expensive food, force themselves to vomit it all up, and then start again, knowing that such behaviour is in stark contrast to the starvation she grew up amongst in District 12.
She internally judges them harshly and, because we are led to understand there is a direct correlation between their opulent lifestyles and the deprivation prevalent in the other Districts, it feels fair for her to feel that way.
Did the Prince rule over a kingdom where such poverty might be a regular occurrence?
Did Cinderella get angry with an abundance mindset in the palace that she might have thought of as irresponsible?
If she did, what did she do about it?
Being Cinderella in real life
I have a deep love for posts that talk honestly about the difference between a couple’s incomes and the feelings this stirs up and one that really struck me this year was written by Frugal Asian Finance (back in 2017!) about her spousal envy and I loved reading the posts that followed about her career change options.
Not everybody finds it easy being in a situation where you feel or are made to feel that you are being looked after.
Perhaps, Cinderella ran more along FAF’s line, like Danielle from Ever After or even better, Ella from Ella Enchanted (the book, not the film. The film is….look, just read the book, trust me).
A young lady whose birth circumstances look to seriously hinder her future but who is strong, intelligent and determined to use what opportunities she does have (helloo, fairy godmother and supportive potential partners) to the best of her abilities.
Maybe sitting in the splendour that she did not feel she deserved grated on Cinderella and she decided to do something about it.
Maybe she used her influence as a princess to bring about change and implement new systems in the kingdom to alleviate the poverty of the people.
Maybe she brushed up on her education, started her own business(es) outside the influence of the royal family and streamlined the finances of the palace so they weren’t such a bloated burden on the pockets of the kingdom.
When I think of Cinderella, the scarcity mindset she might have had and the riches she married into, I think that her happily ever after doesn’t result in her putting her feet up and never doing anything ever again.
I like to think that it was finally having access to opportunities and options she’d not had before and using them to live a truly fulfilling life with someone who encouraged and supported her.
That sounds like a real happy ending to me.
*That and the wasted options available to the young woman in Rumpelstiltskin – you got a dude that can make gold out of dead grass and you don’t set up some sort of literal money-making operation?? Fam, I don’t know what say….
Image credit: Victor Hernandez at Unsplash