Was Goldilocks the Original Karen?
Photo by Ivan Lapyrin / Unsplash

Was Goldilocks the Original Karen?

Two new Redfin ads unintentionally recast a children’s fairytale as the ultimate White privilege parable

It should have been obvious from the beginning: A little white girl with golden hair walks into someone else’s house and proceeds to make herself right at home. She didn’t knock, and she didn’t pause to consider the potential danger that might have been lurking in the unknown.

She has no idea who lives there, and nobody is home, so she decides to traipse around the house like it’s her own. She helps herself to the breakfast on the kitchen table, takes a time-out in the living room (breaking a chair in the process), and then falls asleep in the bedroom (trespassing is, after all, exhausting). Along the way, she complains about the porridge, the chairs, and finally, the beds. If the story had been set in a Holiday Inn, the uninvited, non-paying guest probably would have asked to speak to the manager!

When I was a kid, Goldilocks and the Three Bears was one of my favorite fairy tales, and it’s probably the only one I still can remember in detail from beginning to end. Although the story was all about the young, Blonde protagonist, I honestly didn’t pay that much attention to her or to her brazen antics.

I was more taken with Baby Bear. Maybe it was being the youngest in my family, or my love of teddy bears, but I related to him more than I did to any other character in the story — especially the rude, entitled little girl with bad manners. Of course, unlike Baby Bear, I never came home to find a little White girl sleeping in my bed. If I had, I’m pretty sure the cops would have found a way to put the blame on me.

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I did, after all, grow up in Kissimmee, Florida, in the 1970s and 1980s, and it was not a bastion of racial progressivism. It was a place where Black boys were disinvited to the birthday parties of white girls by their racist parents, a place where a young Black girl — for example, my sister — could be accused of shoplifting for merely picking up a magazine in Fairway Supermarket. Today, I’m fairly certain that if local Kissimmee police had been called to the home of a little Black boy who had found a little White girl sleeping in his bed, they would have found a way to interpret it as being his fault.

But at 5 or 6 years old, that’s not where my mind was inclined to go when reading or listening to a fairy tale. I never stopped to consider Goldilocks and the Three Bears in the context of race until the other night when I saw a pair of new TV ads for Redfin, a home-finder app, for the first time.

The ads appear to be sort of reboots of the fairytale—or maybe they’re more like sequels, 20 or so years later. Goldilocks is all grown up, and she’s immediately identified as the guest who never left the bears’ home. “Well, she’s not the easiest person to please,” Papa Bear says in one of those reality TV-style interviews at the start of one ad, to which Mama Bear replies: “She needs things to be just right.”

Don’t get them wrong, though. They love her, and they say just as much (Stockholm Syndrome?). But they are ready to take their home back. In another ad, Goldilocks is the one giving the opening interview, and she echoes Mama and Papa Bear’s sentiments about her from the other ad. “That’s why I love Redfin,” she announces. “They show me homes that are perfect for me.”

She goes on to talk about how the bears love having her in their home (and the house is actually quite cute — I can see why she stuck around), and they’re “like family.” However, it’s time for her to go. She finds the perfect place on Redfin, and at the end, she says, “I know Baby Bear will miss me,” as he’s seen shaking his head no in the background.

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I had my epiphany somewhere around the part where Goldilocks is doing her abdominal exercises on the living room floor. That’s when it hit me: Goldilocks was the original Karen. She waltzed into someone else’s space and proceeded to behave as if she owned it. She didn’t pay any price of admission, but she still expected every single thing to be to her liking. Like Hansel and Gretel, she was a trespasser, but at least Hansel and Gretel had a redemption arc — they were almost eaten by the old witch!

When I looked at it through an adult lens, especially as a Black person who is well aware that Goldilocks had to be white and she had to be blonde (for reasons other than her name: Little Black and Brown girls are conditioned to be watchful from an early age, even when sleeping in their own bed), I realized that Goldilocks and the Three Bears was really about a home invasion. At least Goldilocks had the good sense to run away when the bears came home rather than trying to claim their turf as her own. (She’s the one who broke into their home, but they’re the scary ones?)

Goldilocks taking that kind of stand would have made Goldilocks and the Three Bears something even creepier: possibly an allegory for Western expansion — or perhaps colonialism? I doubt that is what Robert Southey, a British poet, had in mind when he published the fairy tale in 1837 as The Story of the Three Bears, with an old woman cast as the uninvited guest.

In 1950, Joseph Cundall recast the original protagonist as a young girl called Silver Hair. In future adaptations, the three bears became a family rather than just roommates, and Silver Hair received a series of makeovers before she was renamed Goldilocks. I’m pretty sure it was the introduction of Goldilocks into the narrative that sent it on its way to classic status.

She may be an entitled criminal, but she’s young, pretty, blonde, and white — a perfect fairy-tale heroine. (Snow White is a brunette, but she’s named Snow White; you do the math.) Goldilocks is also a total Karen. Alas, although they’ve existed throughout history, Karens weren’t widely identified as “Karens” until this decade.

The Redfin ads put the fairy tale in a modern context that, for the first time in my life, made me seriously consider Goldilocks’ race and all the implications of it. They age her and make her a permanent fixture in the home of the three Bears (she’s basically, a squatter), which, I must admit, is a pretty clever way to advertise a home-finder app. But watching the ad as a grown man who has spent a lifetime encountering women who act just like grown-up Goldilocks reminded me of the privilege and sense of entitlement that can come with being white, blonde, and female.

You can break into someone’s home, stick around for years, and when you finally decide it’s time to leave, you get to leave by choice — not in handcuffs.

This post originally appeared on Medium and is edited and republished with author's permission. Read more of Jeremy Heligar's work on Medium.