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Like so many folk tale-inspired Disney Films, Snow White is full of symbols and psychological lessons. When watching the film or hearing the story, we are learning intuitively about morality, inner beauty and wellbeing. Although I cannot give justice to all its lessons, I will attempt here to extract some key themes that come to mind for me when rewatching this magical film.


What are the key events going on?


We have the evil queen who is obsessed with being the ‘fairest of them all’, willing to do anything to secure her superiority in beauty. An obstacle for the queen is that there has risen another who is more beautiful than her, her stepdaughter, our lovely Snow White.

The queen goes as far as to order Snow White killed but she escapes into the woods, where, after some struggle, she learns to thrive among the animals and seven dwarves who live there. Meanwhile the queen is misled to believe that she is dead.




What does this have to do with inner beauty?


The story may seem to be about outer beauty when seen from the perspective of the queen. However, the beauty expressed by Snow White certainly goes deep. Snow White possesses a character that brings life to her surroundings.

Her innocent nature, and virtues such as honesty, kindness, and compassion, inspire animals and Dwarves alike to rush to be of service to her and each other while thriving in the process. In other words, her very presence inspires thriving and wellbeing. This way of bringing positive energy to one’s surroundings can be thought of as what we call ‘inner beauty.’




Why does she get into trouble then?


The evil queen can be thought of as Snow White’s ‘shadow.’ She is the destructive side of beauty. The kind of beauty that looks good on the surface but has become vain and narcissistic on the inside, only concerned with preserving its superiority and receiving admiration. 

In contrast to Snow White, the evil queen’s character is destructive, tearing others down instead of helping them thrive. It is all about her and any threat to her being the centre of attention must be destroyed. She gets others to assist her, not by inspiring them, but by installing fear in them. 


Which is stronger?


These two sides to beauty are each other’s weaknesses. The narcissist fears the genuine virtue of the innocent as it exposes who she really is, and the innocent is vulnerable to the malicious intent of the narcissist.

This is symbolised first when the queen learns of Snow White’s superior beauty. This truth immediately threatens a vulnerable self-image that she needs continuous validation from her mirror to preserve.

This theme then returns through the poisoned apple when Snow White’s virtues become vulnerabilities. The queen mischievously tricks the trusting Snow White to think she has her best interest in mind. As we know, this is not the case, and the apple sends Snow White to sleep.

Finally, the queen is destroyed by Prince Florian who wields ‘the sword of truth’ and ‘the shield of virtue’. This is the statement in the film that favours ‘true’, inner beauty. However, there is another crucial detail in this story.




What about the huntsman?


Indeed. If the huntsman hadn’t acted the way he did, we would have had a story where evil prevailed. The huntsman symbolises the nature of compassion.

The main problem for the queen is that people are naturally compassionate beings. In a sense one could argue that the tendency of people to be compassionate is the reason the virtues embodied by Snow White prevail over the traits of the queen.

Compassion is to genuinely wish the best for someone else. In the context of the story such a wish could only help Snow White achieve her goals, as the queen’s goals were not in her own best interest.




Snow White and the queen represent extremes, and we all possess elements of each within our own character. What we can do to help ourselves is to create our own internal huntsman and prince.

We can use our inner huntsman to show ourselves compassion. Many of us are prone to criticise ourselves when we are vulnerable. This is like letting the huntsman carry out the job he was assigned. If we instead learn to treat ourselves as if we genuinely had our own best interest in mind, this could have a great impact on our wellbeing.

We can use our inner prince to wield the sword of truth and carve through self-deception. We can all fall into the trap of deceiving ourselves sometimes in order to feel better about something we have done.

For example, you may accidentally say something that hurts someone else. Your initial reaction may be to protect yourself by thinking that they are just too sensitive, so it is their own fault they are hurt. The truth is rather that you made a mistake and that you did not mean to hurt them, which happens to us all from time to time. 

You can then use the shield of virtue by acting bravely on the truth. Following the example, this could be to own your mistake and genuinely apologise to the person who got hurt.

Integrating such an attitude of compassion, honesty, and bravery will, according to the lessons in the film, promote thriving and overcome the destructive forces of vanity.

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Dr Erlend Slettevold

Dr Erlend Slettevold is a Clinical Psychologist at The Oak Tree Practice. His qualifications include Psychology BSc, Psychology MSd and a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology.