Myth and the Modern Woman: Why We Need Fairy Tales to Survive

“I too am not a bit tamed…I too, am untranslatable/I sound my barbaric yawp over the roof of the worlds” – Walt Whitman

When I was a child, I wouldn’t only read stories, I would become them. I would wear ball gowns of every color and insist that you call me Cinderella, Belle, or Snow White for weeks on end. It was not until I was twelve when I read The Power of Myth that I understood what had been happening to me.  Joseph Campbell dedicated his life to tell us that myths and stories are essential to our survival: “Myths are clues to the spiritual potentialities of the human life…Myth helps you to put your mind in touch with this experience of being alive.” All that time I had been playing dress up was really a way for me to live deeply and fully.

51z5OALg1fL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_But, as it happens, I stopped reading fairy tales and I started chasing a Happily Ever After that I thought would please and impress everyone around me. I found myself at an Ivy League institution, interning at one of the top magazines in the country, and owning a demanding start-up business. Sooner than later, my belief in magic was buried under some very convincing “Should’s” and “Have to’s.” Oh, and let’s not forget some other ones we often hear: “Listen to the experts before you listen to yourself!” and “You have to kill yourself with hard work if you ever want to ‘make it.’”  Well, all of this snowballed into some very convincing whispers in my brain that were getting louder and louder, screaming, “You’re not good enough, you’re not good enough” around the clock.

Smash cut to an anxiety disorder and insomnia among other lovely medical diagnoses — not to mention a Nyquil addiction and my hair falling out in clumps. But what was the most disconcerting was my heart: shaking and screaming inside of my chest like a bird in a cage that knew it was about to die.

What was going wrong? I was doing everything so “right!” On paper my life looked like a dream!

But it wasn’t my dream.

The challenge of listening to my own heart — of shedding the socially acceptable notions of “perfection” — has been its own beautiful, complex story with many, many components. However, following the urge to re-discover some of my favorite fairy tales has been more healing than I could ever even imagine. Beauty and the Beast had always been my favorite, but re-reading it as grown woman unlocked something unexpectedly gorgeous inside of me.

Now, I understand that Beauty’s love for the wildness within the Beast was what saved both the Beast and herself. In loving something untamed, she too learned to love, accept and adore the untamable inside of her own being. And that is what made Beauty beautiful, and what allowed her Happily Ever After to occur. So, what if we could be a little more like Beauty?  What if we could wrap our arms around the feral thing peering out of souls and whisper, “Yes, yes, you are wonderful”?

via giphy.com

Often times, we find ourselves afraid of our wild natures. Most modern notions of “success” are based on very masculine ideals of “keeping at it” and tearing down others to get to the “top.” The power of the Wild Woman is not something often lauded. Many of us don’t even know what She looks like. I would love to share what She means to me, but I also must ask you to please, please, please discover Her for yourself. For that is the only way to free Her. For me, my Wild Woman works like the turn of a wheel: Her energy is formed by the natural cycles of Her body, the moon, the sun, and the seasons. She eats when She is hungry and runs and dances when She feels compelled to move; She sleeps when the midnight sings Her its lullabies and She awakens with a jolt of ecstasy for the promise of the day ahead of Her. She travels over the mountains and the valleys of Her life with equal effortlessness. She is fiercely loyal to those She loves but She can stand alone unflinchingly any time She is required to do so. She is both the dark and the light, and She is unafraid to explore both energies inside of Her. She is brave and She is strong in a way where She inspires everyone around Her to be just that much better. She makes art in every way and form because that is the agreement She made before She was born into this world: She promised that She would live as an Artist. She rarely thinks — She just is. Her being is more than enough.

We spend so much time chasing our Happily Ever Afters that we rarely pay attention to the story that we are even writing — to “the experience of being alive!” When we read fairy tales and myths, we give ourselves permission to unleash what we are! Myths have the power to realign us with our authentic natures. They give us the yearn to live freely according to what we know as truly right and wrong according to the coding inside of our souls. They remind us that it is in fact essential to our survival be the Wild Woman singing deep inside of our hearts.

I know now that I will never be good enough for anyone else’s version of Happily Ever After. But I am the perfect heroine in the story of my own life. All this time I thought I was seeking perfection: I was trying to force Beauty to mollify the savageness inside of the cursed prince.

But now I know that all I’ve ever wanted is the Beast snarling inside of my own heart.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

izzy-howell-headshotAfter graduating from Columbia University and living in New York City, Izzy Howell is dedicating her life to redefining the kind of success that twenty-somethings are expected to embody. As both a painter and writer, she strives to create work that inspires others to live the life they’ve always dreamed of. You can reach Izzy on Instagram @izzyhowell.

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