She danced, and was obliged to go on dancing through the dark night. The shoes bore her away over thorns and stumps till she was all torn and bleeding; she danced away over the heath to a lonely little house. Here, she knew, lived the executioner; and she tapped with her finger at the window and said:
‘Come out, come out! I cannot come in, for I must dance.’
And the executioner said: ‘I don’t suppose you know who I am. I strike off the heads of the wicked, and I notice that my axe is tingling to do so. “Don’t cut off my head!’ said Karen, ‘for then I could not repent of my sin. But cut off my feet with the red shoes.’
Excerpt from ” The Red Shoes” by Hans Christian Anderson
An enchanting woman whose feet have been hacked to bloody stumps is an image of humanity that comforts me.
Let me explain.
We are all complex mixtures of beauty and horror, pain and delight, greed and charity. But there is such a cry for dichotomies in western culture, that we tend to ignore this. It’s simple!! Pretty is pretty, and Yucky is yucky, now let’s all get ice cream sandwiches!!
But there is no pretending when it comes to Karen. The crude image of her perfect body sitting atop bloody mutilated legs makes her brokenness impossible to hide. And isn’t that sort of honesty liberating? Sometimes, I feel like my body is a lie I tell to anyone who is capable of seeing me. It is young, functional, it has no apparent deformities, and it conceals my self-loathing. It’s nice sometimes because I never truly feel vulnerable, but it breeds a lot insecurity. If no one sees me for what I am, how can I ever truly feel accepted?
I think that a lot of people will say that this story is about how vanity can ruin you and blablabl.. more oppressive ideas about female sexuality professed by the catholic church… but I have always seen it as a tale about facing the good, the bad, and the bloody within yourself.
The truth isn’t simple; It is a young girl who looks gorgeous from the waste up, but is forced to hobble around on the ghosts of her own feet.