Fairy-tale lessons on inner beauty

My beautiful daughter turns 16 this week.
Once upon a time, when we were all much younger, a favourite family ritual was to make up a fresh bedtime story each night.  
By capturing the experiences, thoughts and feelings of my children’s day, I engaged their imaginations while providing parental lessons both subtle and obvious.
What follows was a favourite inspired by the funny faces my then eight-year-old daughter made. Parents have always warned their children that their faces may freeze that way. Of course, there is some medical truth in this.
In our 30s, we discover that our parents were right after all. Our wrinkles reveal our habitual emotions with lines betraying smiles or frowns.
I trust that my daughter will remember this story for its deeper lessons about real beauty, that inspires us more than a striking physical appearance and real love, the recognition of that beauty within.
To be truly loved is to be accepted and cherished just as we are. As we age, we wrinkle and weaken, shorten and sag, yet authentic love sees a beauty that persists.
As Yeats wrote in his poem When You Are Old, “How many loved your moments of glad grace, and loved your beauty with love false or true, but one man loved the pilgrim soul in you, and loved the sorrows of your changing face.”  
The Scary-faced Princess
On the day she was born, Princess Michelle had the most beautiful face ever seen.  
She was certainly the most beautiful baby the doctor had ever delivered.  At the moment of her birth, he couldn’t resist pinching her dimpled cheeks.
The newborn princess frowned, wrinkled her brows and scrunched up her nose. So shocked with this scary transformation, the doctor nearly dropped her.  
One day, the queen, while feeding the princess, could not resist pinching her precious dimpled cheeks.
The pretty princess frowned, wrinkled her brows and scrunched up her nose. The queen was startled and Princess Michelle spat up her milk into the queen’s eyes.
At the princess’ baptism, everyone in the court, all of the villagers, and each of the forest fairies came to adore her and bring gifts. Each visitor was enchanted by her incredibly sweet face. No one could resist pinching her soft dimpled cheeks.
The royal baby soon grew weary of this. Just at the moment the Pink Fairy approached her crib, raising her wand to grant a spell of eternal beauty, Princess Michelle frowned, wrinkled her brow and scrunched up her nose.  
So shocked was the Pink Fairy that she dropped her magic wand into the crib. After an explosion of starry flashes, the Pink Fairy was nowhere to be found.  
The king and queen rushed to their daughter’s side but with one look at her once sweet face, the king fainted. The queen, who could not see quite as clearly because of the milk in her eyes, quickly bundled up the princess in a soft blanket and hid her from the eyes of the court.
The face of the once beautiful princess was frozen with her frown, wrinkled brow and scrunched nose. The effect on others was immediate and frightening. One look upon the princess’ face caused a reflex of fear.  
Only one person in the kingdom was able to look upon her features and not freeze. The queen whose eyes had been clouded by warm milk could not see the frown, the wrinkles and the scrunch.
Though still loved by her parents the princess grew up in the dark so that even she could not gaze upon her own features in a mirror. No one else would be frozen by her frightening features.
Servants brought Princess Michelle her meals to this darkened room lit only by a single candle in its farthest corner. They would only see the outline of her body, which appeared like a shadow.
Her voice and her heart remained sweet and kind. Each visitor would be entranced by her gentle spirit. She had many friends but none ever saw her face.  
In her dark room, the princess had learned to listen. When her friends came to visit, she would listen and reflect back what they were truly feeling. She had the gift of compassion. The heart of anyone who came to see her would leave a little lighter and happier for no one else could listen and understand so well.
One true friend, Peter, learned from the princess how to listen. He helped Princess Michelle grow up in the dark. He told her of the outside world – what it was like to play with other children and to see the beauty of nature. The king and queen too enjoyed their daughter’s kind company and counsel.
It is difficult to rule a kingdom. There is so much to think about and so many decisions to make.
Princess Michelle was able to make their work easier and their hearts lighter. She had acquired wisdom beyond her years. They knew that one day she would be a fitting queen.
Yet the king and queen worried that she would never marry. Her frightening face would certainly freeze the heart of even the warmest suitor.
According to tradition, the princes from the surrounding kingdoms were allowed to ask for her hand in marriage when the princess was old enough to make her choice.  
The king and queen could not deny the parade of young men who came to meet the princess when that day arrived.
Although they knew that most of these princes only wanted to acquire the riches of the kingdom, the king and queen felt they must warn them of the princess’ secret. None believed them.
One by one, each prince would enter the princess’ meeting room, where he would try to convince her to accept his hand in marriage.
The princess told each prince that she sought only true love – love that would last regardless of age, illness or appearances.
After each prince promised such love, she would open the curtains of the window revealing her frown, wrinkled brow and scrunched up nose.
One by one, each prince froze in fear and had to be carried out by her servants. The princess was heartbroken. It seemed she would never find true love. No prince would see past her scary face.
At that moment of need, her best friend, Peter came to comfort her. He knew her better than anyone in the whole world and he knew that she had beauty within.
Peter then revealed his secret. He was also a prince, and he had always loved her.  
Before she could stop him, he opened the curtains of the window, gazed into her eyes but instead of fainting or freezing, he smiled and kissed her. Princess Michelle felt her face transform – her frown melted into a smile, her brow relaxed and her nose unscrunched.  
The room was filled with a wondrous light, and the kingdom was again enchanted by the princess’ beauty.
Dr. Davidicus Wong is physician lead of the Burnaby Division of Family Practice and works at the PrimeCare Medical Centre. His Healthwise column appears regularly in this paper. You can read more of his writing at davidicuswong.wordpress.com.

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