When I was little, I always figured that "fairest of them all" meant the most beautiful. But considering that Snow White literally had skin as white as snow, perhaps "fairest" was referring to skin tone, instead of beauty--or are the two synonymous?
As I grew up, having fair skin was definitely a trait that would get listed in the negative column. The pretty girls were tan. The really beautiful girls had rich, dark, skin. Now as I spend my time around Muslim girls--many of whom have beautiful dark or olive skin tones, they feel like they don't quite fit into a society of whites, and don't quite admire their skin color like I do.
I was explaining to some friends last night how I remember a girl I went to high school with, walking across the gym floor at some sort of assembly. She was wearing a black miniskirt revealing her legs--and the girls behind me were snickering, making fun of her very fair, very light, very white skin. Have fair skin was almost like an illness, we were all supposed to 'get a tan.' My sister used to sit in the sun wearing baby oil to try to darken it--do you realize what kind of burns this causes? I recall being embarrassed to wear shorts early in the spring (before being able to spend time in the sun) because my own legs were so pale. I used to love that during band camp I would get a tan--and consequently refused sunscreen at times.
It's really sad that from such an early age, girls are trained to not be comfortable with their own bodies.
I'm not sure if this pressure has faded just since I've grown up, or because my friends now are mostly Muslim. I don't think Muslim girls, growing up, are able to totally escape the snickers and nasty remarks from their adolescent peers. However, I think that women who cover (and I'm not even talking about the headscarf here but just wear long clothes, pants/skirts and full sleeves, for example) are able to feel at least a little more comfortable with themselves and their bodies, because they aren't trained to expose themselves to everyone they meet. (Sadly, that doesn't mean that other Muslimahs, in private, are never cruel critics of the beauty of others.)
But on the other hand, I think that covering is not just about interacting with men. It can protect a woman from her own ego, and from jealousy.
Regardless of a woman's height, weight, skin tone, or hair, she ought to be able to respect herself enough to refrain from criticizing her peers, and to look into her own mirror and see that she too can be the fairest of them all.