I’m sure most people have experienced grade school “Show and Tell,” when you bring something special to class and talk about it. For this activity, my Cinderella figurine was a no-brainer. She was gorgeous and I cherished her in all her porcelain magnificence. Six inches tall, she arrived in a satin-lined lavender box on my eighth birthday, along with a delicate wristwatch, designed for a young girl’s delicate wrist. It had a pale pink leather strap, white face, silver numerals…at that moment in my eyes, the House of Chanel had nothing on the world of Disney watches.
On the appointed “Show and Tell” day, I strapped on the watch and packed Cinderella in her hinged case for the walk to school. I held her gingerly, nodding with gravitas to the crossing guard who knew, I was sure, that I was carrying something spectacular. As I walked, I anticipated unveiling this creature before my classmates and hearing them ooh and aah as I did each time I spied her in the regal perch she’d assumed on my night table. They’d admire the soft blue of her dress, the sculpted folds of her skirt, her fairy-tale hair, swept up and tinted the color of warm butter, her fair, freckle-less skin that was so smooth and cool to the touch.
I had no doubt that my second-grade contemporaries wouldn’t be able to help but marvel at Cinderella’s quiet smile, which was patiently regal, as if she’d always known she’d be a princess one day, even when she wore commoner’s rags. She would enchant my peers, I was sure, as would I by extension.
Lost in these thoughts of imminent glory, I never saw it coming: the curb. Both my destiny and sweet Cinderella’s were tripped up by a lowly hump of cement. Down we went. I tried to save her, holding my arms out straight, clutching the box, not even attempting to break my own fall, willing to plant my face in the sidewalk to protect hers. We landed hard and the box bounced once, but sadly, once was enough. Cinderella was split in half, like a magician’s assistant, horizontally at the waist. No small pieces, no chips in the paint, just two painful parts of what was, just a moment ago, one. Too shocked to cry, I picked up my broken beauty and tucked her back in her box, which now somehow resembled a coffin.
As for “Show and Tell,” I did neither that day, except to tell my teacher I had forgotten to bring an item, unable to bear displaying my most prized possession as anything less than perfect. My mother fixed her, of course, as she seemed to fix everything that was wrong in my life in those days. I watched her painstakingly glue the split torso and Cindy ended up looking pretty good — but not perfect.
Her top half leaned slightly to the left, as if she were locked in a permanent sashay. And that cock of the hip, accidental as it was, instantly made her shy smile a lot more interesting. Instead of emanating a static splendor, she was now a character with character. And instead of worshipping her, I liked her as one might like a friend.
Cinderella never did make it to school, but she did find her way into the deepest corner of my memory. I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t have happened had I not dropped her, had she not suffered, had she not accepted her repair and resulting off-kilter stance with such humor and grace. I wasn’t perfect and now, neither was she.
That little statue has long since disappeared (I do still have the watch), but the lessons she taught me remain. I learned that perfection does not equal beauty, and that beauty does not always translate to loveliness. It’s the things that differentiate the way we look from the next person that make us interesting, that make us, us.
I realized just how solidly this thinking had sunk into my psyche when, several years ago, a friend was studying my face over drinks and said, “If only your nose were straighter, you’d be perfect.” I surprised her — and myself — with my quick response: “Why would I want to be perfect?”
Because even while I think I’d love to look just like Scarlett Johansson, most of the time I’m pretty happy looking like me. Sure, sometimes I think I’d like a less crooked smile. But the thing is, it’s my smile and it’s lovely.
So is yours.