Things I Learned from Disney Princesses: Belle
by Erin M Rogan (@Rogue98)
Last week, I proposed the idea that there are lessons to be learned from Disney princesses that actually promote high self-esteem and ambitious life-goals; Rapunzel can teach us to dream big and take risks. Belle from Beauty and the Beast teaches equally important lessons about understanding ourselves and the people around us.
Don’t let others’ opinions inform your own–they might be wrong.
The viewer, even the youngest of viewers, has no trouble identifying Gaston as the villain in Beauty and the Beast. The villagers in Belle’s town obviously don’t get out much and are not so enlightened. They have chosen to prize attraction and public accomplishment over kindness, intelligence, and humility.
Like Belle, we should be suspicious of the opinion of the majority. Sometimes the majority is right and places its faith in people worthy of it, but this is not a guarantee. Consider the way an individual treats you and the people you care about before deciding to side with the entire town. What a sad end Belle’s adventure would have had if she had accepted Gaston’s proposal as the town thought she should.
Embrace your oddness.
Belle is, by the standards of her town, really weird. No matter how well-adjusted we like to think we are, everyone has quirks that occasionally make them stop and say, “I’m sorry, that was strange, wasn’t it?” But Belle doesn’t apologize for being odd; she decides that she should find somewhere she fits in with people rather than trying to conform.
Our quirks are the best things about us and we should embrace them!
Don’t be afraid to fight back.
One of the most memorable scenes from Beauty and the Beast for me is after the Beast rescues Belle from the wolves and she is cleaning out his wounds. All the Enchanted Objects are huddled and trembling while the Beast yells and growls, but Belle holds her ground. Neither of them apologizes, but this is the beginning of their friendship.
The turning point in this scene is when Belle says, “Well, you should learn to control your temper!” After a moment, she is able to thank him for saving her life and he responds kindly, leading them to begin building a relationship. That relationship is founded in their mutual respect: he respects her for speaking up and she respects him for hearing her.
People assume that in good relationships of all kinds, people don’t fight—as if fighting is a sign of things ending. But many long-married couples will say that they have argued for years. The lesson here is that you have to be willing to fight with and for the people you care about, and often, that raises you in their esteem.
Sometimes you need to be rescued.
Belle is a strong woman and she displays that strength time and time again: she refuses Gaston despite societal pressure; she takes the place of her father in the castle, sacrificing her freedom; she holds her ground, even when all around her are quivering. But when those wolves attack or when Gaston locks her and Maurice in the basement, she needs help.
Sometimes, it is only the strongest of people that can accept help when it is needed. Staying locked in the basement would have been of no use to the Beast and it might have been hours before she got out without Chip’s help. And to her credit, in that moment, Belle is gracious and happy to see her savior.
We are often told that in order to be strong we have to rely completely on ourselves. But at the end of the day, that’s just not always practical. There is no shame in being a “damsel in distress” on Tuesday because it will probably be someone else’s turn on Wednesday and you’ll get to play the hero. The truth is that we all have to play both roles from time to time.
People can change, but of their own volition.
It is well known, I hope, that getting into a relationship with someone you want to change is a terrible idea. This, as far as I know, has never worked out well for anyone. Yet, the point many people choose to take away from Beauty and the Beast is that when a person is “rough around the edges,” we should stick around and change them like Belle “changed” the Beast.
But did Belle change him? Are there any scenes in which Belle sits the Beast down and gives him lessons on how to be a more loving and caring person? In fact, the one scene in which she tries to model table manners results in the two of them compromising on a method that works for both.
For most of the movie, Belle has no idea the Beast even can be changed! The Enchanted Objects are careful not to reveal the nature of the curse, and even at the end, she doesn’t immediately recognize him because she never considered the possibility that he could be human again.
No, it is in the quiet moments that the Beast changes. He changes in the moments when he watches her loving nature or chooses to be selfless and lets her return to her father. The Beast changes himself because he wants to be worthy of her, but that is all his own doing.
Get advice from the teapot.
Finally, remember that Mrs. Potts was endlessly caring and comforting, no matter who she encountered. She insisted on warming up Maurice, she consoled Belle, and she stuck around when the Beast was unsure about his next move. That’s a pretty good representation of a teapot! Sometimes, at the end of a really bad day, the best thing to do is make a cup of tea and sit down with a good friend.
Belle teaches us to be true to ourselves and to trust our gut. She shows a balance between the strength you need to be a hero and the strength you need to ask for help. But most importantly, Belle and the Beast exemplify our ability to become the best versions of ourselves for the people we love.