Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Cinderella's Glass Arm Is More Magical Than Her Glass Slipper! (+ Discussion On Disability In Fairy Tales)

You want magic? This is magic.

Professional costume designer and one-armed cosplayer, Mandy Pursley, has become the Cinderella so many people need.

Asked by the mother of a girl born with one arm, for some princess-costume inspiration for her daughter, Pursley went above and beyond and created something beautiful, extraordinary and very inspiring.
She said: ‘When my daughter was studying Cinderella stories at school last year, I realized that even though there were so many beautiful tales from around the world, there were still no princesses who looked like me. ‘When I was growing up with a physical difference, I never saw girls like myself represented in the media, so it took me a long time to realize that what makes us different can also be the thing that makes us strong, beautiful, and unapologetically unique." (
She added this information when talking to
"I remember being enthralled watching Jim Abbott play baseball, because he was the only amputee I had ever seen on television," she told Insider in an email. "But I still never saw amputee women being portrayed as normal, beautiful, or strong, so it took me a long time to realize that being different and unique can actually be a positive trait."
"Representation is so powerful," Pursley said. "It is so much easier to believe in yourself when you are able to see people who look like you achieving the same dreams that you have. People who have differences really just want to feel included and accepted without feeling the need to hide what makes them unique."
With the request for this other little girl, who was having the same issues growing up, Pursley decided it was high time to change that. A graphic designer by trade, she created her own version of fairy tale princess. Pursley designed her costume, as well as her husband's (who plays Prince Charming in these shots), then with the assistance of artist Gilbert Lozano (and other specialists*), she commissioned this phenomenal prosthetic: a "glass" arm, for a different take on Cinderella.

When she tried on her custom-made and fitted resin arm for the first time, Mandy said she cried with happiness. "It really felt like a dream was coming true... it was so beautiful and amazing to see this be a reality.”
Initially, the cosplay was supposed to be for Comicon but Pursley ended up being ill and couldn't attend. Once she received the request from the little girl's mother, Pursley and her husband decided that, rather than wait until next year's Comicon, they would go ahead and create a photoshoot now, to post the images online. They enlisted Pursley's friend, Kelly Anderson, to take the photos which became an instant social media hit on September 19 (2019).
“I think it sends a really great message to little girls, especially,” Anderson said. “You can be creative. You can be beautiful. You can be the main character in your own story.”
Not all the images are not shown on all the sites sharing this story but Pursley and her husband did not shy away from the iconic scene of the story in which Cinderella loses her glass slipper  - in this case her glass arm - either, and we were thrilled to see it! (see he two-shot below) Possibly anticipating the inevitable trolls of the internet making horrible references to losing an arm (and all the ugly arm and hand references you can imagine), they didn't ignore or avoid this part of the story. Instead, here you have representation, without any glove or glass-glamor, of a one-armed princess, being pursued by the prince who wants her. It's the Cinderella story with a unique, personal and memorable twist.
Accompanying the lovely shots posted on her Facebook page, Pursley wrote:

This costume is dedicated to all the little girls learning to navigate the world with their "lucky fins" or other challenges. I hope you know you are beautiful, and that you are UNSTOPPABLE!!! Write your own story, and be your own kind of princess.

Mandy Pursley's whole story on Facebook can be read HERE, and we recommend you do. This wonderful act of creativity and courage is changing the landscape for the better.

Note: If you, like us, are not only enchanted but getting Cinder vibes (thanks to Marissa Meyer's wonderful sci-fi retelling of Cinderella) you're not alone. (And we do recommend picking up Meyer's retelling in which Cinder loses her cyborg leg, if you haven't read it.) You'll see some of the same issues being explored and it's an empowering read.

As For Disability In Fairy Tales...
Pursley's "glass arm" also brings to mind The Maid Without Hands and the plight of many (too many!) wronged women; some having permanent scarring and some, even today, having lost hands or arms despite a changing world that no longer sees this as acceptable 'punishment'. Unlike the fairy tale, in which the girl is given silver hands for a while, and then, eventually has her natural hands magically restored (or re-grown!), such an event isn't possible in real life. Though the happy end of the tale could have occurred when the girl, now queen, was given silver hands by a king who loved her, and had a son of her own that she loved and cared for, this fairy tale isn't done until she has her original human hands back. With even such a dark tale insisting that happiness isn't complete until this happens, is it any wonder it's difficult for differently-abled people to see themselves as the heroes, princes and princesses of fairy tales?

Whether born differently physically or mentally, or changed to be different due to trauma or accident, disability has so many forms. Some are obvious by being visible. Some are not, either because they can be hidden under clothes, or they are internal/mental. All those who live with these differences, however, have the "princess problem" in common: most don't see themselves represented in a positive light. They see themselves as incomplete, and many tales we tell reinforce this. Too often in fairy tales, disabilities are things that need to be overcome or transformed to able-bodiedness, or, just as problematically, be revealed as a "superpower" to make up for having the disability in the first place, in order for the hero or heroine to have a happy ending. The state of 'princess' is not possible until she is "fixed", but that is largely because we tend to equate disability with disadvantage. People like Pursley (who designed the concept, the costumes, sewed them, collaborated on her prosthetic and cosplayed it) show us disability shouldn't be synonymous with disadvantage. If you ask people what the qualities of a 'true fairy tale princess' are, disabilities can still exist within that definition, so why are we restricting this idea of what a princess is?

This beautiful creation of a "glass arm" by Pursley is in direct contrast to another thing that happens in older, more infamous versions of the Cinderella tale - that in which the step-sisters, (attempting to secure a happy ending for themselves), cut off part of their heel or a toe, so they can cram their own foot into the delicate glass slipper. In this horrible reversal, the stepsisters (and their mother!) decide they need to mutilate their bodies to fit the princess mold. (And these are - supposedly - able-bodied women feeling the unrealistic princess-pressure!) The truth is that so many more people (girls especially) choose this route, to the point of harming themselves - from fad diets and restrictive 'make-overs' to plastic surgery - while chasing the happy ending. If able-bodied people feel this, how much more so must differently-abled people? Sadly, many assume the role of hero or princess is impossible for their personal narratives, and relegate themselves to minor or supporting roles instead of seeing that their story is just as important as anyone else's. But it shouldn't be that way. Diversity and representation matter, and we, especially those of us who tell fairy tales, need to be conscious of this and tell more inclusive stories.

In the true-life story of Mandy Pursley using her difference as an opportunity for beauty and magic, instead of harm, or trying to mask or change her disability, we see a celebration of self and happiness. Instead of being "less-than" her actions make her "more" and a role model. Here is representation, and inspiration. Just like Cinderella, who was not who she was because of the glass slipper, Pursley is not a princess because she now has a glass arm either. The glass slipper and arm, were, are, tools. The difference is that we now see Pursley for who she is, and has been all along: a fairy tale princess. 

Pursley's sentiment that you don't have to be the princess others are expecting you to be is a powerful and empowering one. Be yourself and create your own version of a princess. There is real magic in that.

*Here is the list of heartfelt thanks from Mandy to all those key people who, in addition to her photographer friend Kelly Anderson, helped make her vision a reality. We thought we'd include it to show you, you don't have to create a fairy tale all by yourself - sometimes - often - friends and partners are part of the recipe:
Many, MANY thanks to all the people who helped turned this dream into reality! My real-life Prince Charming, Ryan Pursley, who didn't think I was crazy while I kept sewing for MONTHS. Gilbert, the brilliant artist who didn't even know me but believed in my dream and is now a cherished friend. Eric Morris and Nick Ibarra at Cemrock who generously offered their equipment and assistance to create the glass arm. Jennifer Woodard at Hanger Clinic in Vista, CA for helping me figure out how to attach the prosthetic, and of course the amazing Kelly Anderson for taking such beautiful photographs!! Wig is by On The Wall Wigs. Who needs magic when you are surrounded by such talented and generous people!

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