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I'm thinking about making a dark (and I mean darker than Grimm dark) short adaptation of Cinderella. The gist of it is that, after a life of manual labor and emotional and verbal abuse at the hands of her stepfamily, Cinderella is extremely bitter and arguably evil.

I want to portray Cinderella as I would think she would actually adapt to such a horrible situation--and physical accuracy is one of my needs here. That brings me to my question: Cinderella is treated like a workhorse since she was, say, 6 years old, up until she's around 20.

So what would over a decade of non-stop labor, throughout childhood development, do to her physically? Would she be calloused and strong? I keep fixing my mind on the fact that she would be bending down quite often--could her spine be malformed?

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    $\begingroup$ Depends on the type of housework, I'd think. Roasting chestnuts on an open fire incurs fire damage, floor-cleaning damage would be physical exclusively, and outdoors work causes a lot of radiation damage (and on the flipside, pure indoors life might cause vitamin D deficiency, though Cinderella might have to be a Norse for that to be the case). $\endgroup$ – John Dvorak Nov 9 '19 at 0:46
  • $\begingroup$ @JohnDvorak I'm thinking she does almost everything--cooking, cleaning, outdoor work, repairs, tending to the animals, pampering her family--she is virtually their slave. $\endgroup$ – weakdna Nov 9 '19 at 0:48
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    $\begingroup$ This question shows how far human society (or at least a part of it) has progressed in the last two or three generations. We have completely forgotten that "a lifetime of housework" is exactly what the vast majority of women did throughout the ages until very recently -- maybe the 1950s in America, 1960s in western Europe. A man works from sun to sun, a woman's work is never done. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Nov 9 '19 at 1:38
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    $\begingroup$ Only a relatively affluent first-worlder who never had to do any kind of chores or physical work and who has never encountered anyone who has chores or physical work to do could possibly come up with this kind of question. You're basically describing the daily lives of the vast majority of people on Earth -- men as well as women as well as children. $\endgroup$ – elemtilas Nov 9 '19 at 3:18
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    $\begingroup$ You're welcome! A suggestion: if you really want to see what Cinderella would actually look like after a lifetime of (non-modern) housework, just fire up the search engine and look for key terms like women poverty housework Philippines or India or Appalachia. You'll find lots of physical changes, of course, but you'll also find deep reserves of strength and determination and often of simply joy that modern materialistic culture can't offer. $\endgroup$ – elemtilas Nov 9 '19 at 16:53
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A quick search on the topic of child labour and its impact on the health of the worker led me to these two papers: The Health Impact of Child Labor in Developing Countries: Evidence From Cross-Country Data and Environmental and Occupational Health Problems of Child Labour: Some Issues and Challenges for Future.

They focus mainly on labour in hazardous conditions, which may not be your central paradigm (although I doubt Cinderella's adoptive family cared much about her health and safety), but they also list a great number of criteria that make children more vulnerable than adults, such as:

  • Greater toxin absorption, both through the skin and lungs
  • More susceptible to toxins, due to an incomplete growth, especially in the brain
  • Greater energy consumption, so they will suffer more from malnutrition
  • Greater sensitivity to heat and cold, which will increase their fatigue both short and long term
  • Weaker immune system, in part sue to all of the factors listed above but also just naturally

All of these mean that any effects of intense labour you'd observe in an adult will be exarcebated for an adult who had to endure these hardships as a child. Feel free to pick from this list of effects you could see:

  • Scoliosis, or other back problems, that can lead to someone being hunchbacked, after spending years scrubbing the floor
  • Reddened eyes and skin, in sensitive areas, due to exposure to toxins
  • Breathing problems, such as shortness of breath, asthma, bloody coughs etc, again due to toxins
  • Scars due to infection, particularly on the face (puberty is kind to none...)
  • Perhaps dormant infections, contracted young and just waiting to break out in later years
  • Calloused hands and feet, and probably damaged nails (ingrown, infected)
  • Unbalanced strength, because Cinderella would probably prefer using her dominant arm for scrubbing
  • Tendinitis and arthritis due to repetitive movement (these can manifest later on, a 20 year old with the tendons of a 35 y/o wouldn't necessarily have tendinitis, but a 40 y/o with the tendons of a 55 y/o would)
  • Stumped growth and weak bones due to malnourishment
  • Crooked and damaged teeth

I mentioned that a fair amount of these can manifest later on in life because one concern of mine is... Would Prince Charming really fall in love with a female Hunchback of Notredame? I know beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but still. It would probably make more sense for Cinderella to be slightly bashed from her labour, then Fairy Godmother undoes some of it temporarily for the ball, only to have it come back at midnight (hence why Cinderella ran off). Then throughout her later years, she develops other complications due to her messed up childhood.


Another factor to keep into account is that children are very vulnerable psychologically too. Years of abuse and neglect will leave her damaged in many many ways. This could be another point to exploit in her bitterness later on ("Step-Mother never let me eat enough as a child, so I'll be sure to have a massive feast every night now that I can"). Her various aches and pains (you could probably even call them disabilities if they've advanced far enough) probably wouldn't help with this aspect either.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 for a great answer, however: All of these mean that any effects of intense labour you'd observe in an adult will be exarcebated in a child ... er... no. Children will not have worse scoliosis than adults. They will heal faster from cuts, scrapes, and bruises, and will have fewer issues with tendonitis. These are things which are worse in adults than children. However, this type of hard labor in children will make these issues worse when they become adults, but they will not be worse when they are still young. $\endgroup$ – cegfault Nov 14 '19 at 14:02
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    $\begingroup$ @cegfault Good point! That's more what I meant, that their effect on your body will be worse in later life if you endure it as a child. I'll edit for clarity. $\endgroup$ – Whitehot Nov 14 '19 at 14:51
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She'd get a lot of ailments from repetitive strain injuries related to the type of work she does. For instance:

  • Housemaid's Knee (Prepatellar bursitis) if she spends a lot of time kneeling to scrub floors or similar tasks
  • This website mentions lye soaps and lead lined sinks damaging the hands of housemaids who wash clothes and dishes Edwardian servants
  • Modern nurses suffer from back injuries when lifting patients, so expect similar if she is hauling around stacks of firewood, sacks of coal or similar
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I did some research on some of what you mentioned, since I was interested.

It seems that, at first, she'd be rather sore and in pain. In fact, considering that Cinderella started at the age of 6, continuous, strenuous household work could constitute child abuse under some state or national laws. If I get time, I'll look that up to support my claim. It's really beside the point anyway, as Cinderella takes place in the middle ages, and her guardians don't care about her welfare.

Within weeks she'd begin to strengthen, and eventually develop enough physical conditioning that she wasn't in constant pain—provided she either have time for rest, or use more ergonomic techniques for her tasks. If not, she her labours could result in permanent damage to her spine and joints, especially her elbow when she's younger.

That's all I can think of at the moment, but I can add more later if you feel I didn't fully answer the question.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for this answer, it's pretty helpful! If you could flesh it out more, it would be perfect! $\endgroup$ – weakdna Nov 9 '19 at 3:22
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So what would over a decade of non-stop labor, throughout childhood development, do to her physically? Would she be calloused and strong? I keep fixing my mind on the fact that she would be bending down quite often--could her spine be malformed?

This is really interesting situation... on one hand intensive labor, on the other, the time where the human body has the maximum chance of recovery physically/ emotionally due to youth, yet again due to stress of child labor could affect a person emotionally in the long run.

  1. Assuming that the house where the steps and Cinderella were living is wealthy, this could mean that that there is a likely hood of other servants, where the jobs are divided ("Seriously if a few people can do a better job than one considering that the job includes everything... why accept sub standard work from one person" said stepsister 1 once upon a time).

    In which case the chances of having a deformity due to work go down drastically as the physical labor at maximum could give her a scars, wounds maybe a few burns and the ability of running about for stuff and lifting would imply that she has become physically accustomed to this labor thereby could lead to her being physically strong but emotionally damaged that she has to do this while the sisters are exposed to a lot of glitter.

  2. However, this scenario could go down the drain say if the family is middle class then answer by @DrBob would be the most likely scenario in my opinion.

There a lot of variations for this story just check Wikipedia... I think it would depend mostly in how you decide to set the story.

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