For people that know me well, it's no secret that I love Belle and Beauty and the Beast. Although I love most Disney movies, this one is #1 in my book. I have a huge collection of what I call "Beauty and Beast paraphernalia." I've dressed up as Belle at least half a dozen times in two different costumes. I don't even know if I could begin to count the number of coloring pages I've colored of Belle (and the other Disney princesses) over the years. But to be honest, I don’t know exactly when it happened that Beauty and the Beast became my favorite movie. I do know that I always loved the video as a kid, that I loved it when I got to meet Belle at Disneyland when I was 15, and that I started my Belle collection shortly after. Other than that, I’m not really sure when it happened.
But one thing I do know is that my love for this film has only grown as I have gotten older. I see so much depth, symbolism, and wisdom in this version of the fairy tale. Being a princess story fan, Belle has become my favorite princess. But the reasons I love her go far beyond her beauty or her happily ever after. It goes to the heart of her character. In a similar way as I did with Cinderella, I’m going to list the character traits that I admire the most in her.
1) Her Modesty (Inner Character)
This line really does make me think of Belle, because although it seemed that everyone else in her town thought she was beautiful, she was totally unassuming about it. She was a natural beauty that was comfortable with herself. She had no idea how beautiful was, or how her beauty was perceived by everyone around her. Aside from her struggle to fit it among the people in town, she was very comfortable with who she was as a person and a woman. She wasn’t seeking out a man for affirm her or romance her (unlike many Disney princesses or heroines). But the thing that strikes me the most about it is that Belle was a young woman whose inner self matched her outward appearance. With Belle, what you see is what you get. Unlike most of the other princesses, Belle had nothing to hide about herself and was able to be transparent. This revealed that she was a kind young woman that was tender-hearted towards those in need. I personally think that her transparency was part of what made the people in town uncomfortable around her. But this quality was part of what aided her in reaching the Beast.
As I look at this quality in her, what I want for myself is the ability to have my inner self matched my outward appearance. So many of us struggle with putting on façades of external beauty to mask the struggles we face or the insecurities that make us vulnerable. But Belle is a great reminder that when we open with who we are but also show kindness to others, we can reach people on a deeper level. It’s when we achieve this kind of a mindset that I believe we are able to have our insides be reflected externally in a positive way.
2) Her Sacrifice
I think this part of the story is rather unappreciated, because it really it one of the most important elements of the whole story. The sacrifice that Belle makes for her father’s life is huge! It a significant element of the original fairy tale that Belle’s father had to bring one of his virgin daughters (since he had two other daughters and a few sons) as ransom for trespassing on his castle grounds, and that she had to agree to stay of her own free will. Yet this sacrifice in the Disney version, although it is there, is often not appreciated fully enough. Belle gave up everything, even her relationship with her father, to save his life. She agreed to live in a dark dreary castle with a beastly creature, all because her father would of died under the same conditions. It did become a little easier when she found out that she didn’t have to live in dungeon and that the castle was enchanted, but it doesn’t change the fact that she gave up everything for her father’s sake. All she had to call her own was her horse and the one dress on her back. This also illustrates the love and devotion she had for those she loved. And there is definitely a profound lesson to be learned from it.
3) Her Choice To Be Content Despite Her Circumstances
If I had to pick one character trait in Belle that I dislike in her, it’s her discontentment in the beginning of the film. (I'm also not a fan of the fact that she was being a snoop when she went into the West Wing. But she learns her lesson there too) The fact that she is calling the town that she’s living in “provincial” implies that she thinks this is a boring town where nothing out of the ordinary ever happens and she was tired of it. She didn’t have any deep relationships or friendships because everyone thought she was odd. But it also stands to reason that she was bored with the people around her too. Her desire for adventure was underlined with a desire to escape the boring life she was currently leading.
However, after she makes the selfless decision to sacrifice her freedom for her father, her attitude changes. In the Broadway play, Belle’s song Home reveals her struggle to be content in her circumstances, because she doesn’t feel like she could ever call the Beast’s castle home. But in the end, not only did she realize that it was wrong to complain about the town she lived in, but she resolves that she will make the best of her situation, even if she doesn’t ever quite feel at home. Eventually, she finds home among the friends she makes with the enchanted servants and with the Beast himself when she learns to love him the way he is. I think there is a profound lesson here.
So although I don’t like her discontentment in the beginning of the film, she makes the right choice later, and one that I admire. We often get caught up in our present circumstances and struggle to see God’s hand in it. We try to blame Him when things go wrong and claim those circumstances are evidence that He doesn’t love us or is punishing us. These types of situations tend to make us turn inwardly bitter, often resulting in us pushing God and the ones we love away from us. Some of us even end up becoming paralyzed by our circumstances. But Belle chooses a different path than the one of bitterness and discontentment. Instead of finding peace and contentment in her circumstances, she instead found it from her perspective of hope in the middle of a difficult situation. She viewed this situation as an opportunity that she needed to make the best of, and she was made better for it. I hope to remember to find my peace not in circumstances, but from the perspective of the hope I have in my salvation through Jesus Christ and the eternal promises of God.
4) Her Ability to Look Past the External
All of all the traits Belle displays throughout her story, this one is probably my favorite. Being human, it is so easy to get caught up in the external. But Belle doesn’t. I think it’s partially because, as I mentioned earlier, Belle was transparent about who she was and tenderhearted toward others. This helped her in being able to see past others’ outward appearances and see their souls. In the Beast’s case, although he was ugly, mean, and angry on the outside, Belle started to figure out that there was so much hurt in the Beast’s past that left him where he was when she met him. Once she saw that, she was able to slowly but surely get through to him in a way that soften his harden heart. It eventually helped him learn how to love. This is by far the most profound lesson from this fairy tale.
The moral of this fairy tale has remained consistent across all the variations of this fairy tale over the centuries this story has been told – true beauty is found within. This moral is not just practical or truthful, but it is actually biblical in its original nature. It always makes me think of 1 Samuel 16:7b:
“The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
When I look at what Belle does for the Beast, it brings a sobering challenge to intentionally look past outward appearances, recognize inner beauty and potential within each person, and to do what we can to bring out the best in them. In a Christian’s case, it’s means valuing them as Christ did, not matter how difficult it is. That is a tall order, and often is much easier said than done. It definitely wasn’t easy for Belle. But it’s one of the best ways to live our lives in light of the second greatest commandment – to love our neighbor as ourselves. It usually ends up bringing about change within ourselves when we devote ourselves to these tasks, which brings me to my last point.
5) Her Change of Worldview
The last trait I see in Belle that I admire is the change within her worldview that takes place by the end of the story. Her heart and kindness remained the same, but in the Broadway play, she acknowledge that there has been a change in the way she sees the world. This all came about in the process of trying to touch the heart of the Beast. While working on touching someone else’s life, her own life was changed. The song A Change in Me illustrates two major changes that have taken place in her perspective of the world around her.
When we seek to make a difference in the lives of those around us, we cannot help but be changed ourselves. If we are trying to teach something, we will most likely be learning the same lesson we are teaching our students. Challenging others will often result of us being challenged in the process. Some might resist being challenged or changed. But Belle embraces the change in perspective she’s had from her experience. It ultimately taught her how to love the Beast. Sometimes, we need to change in perspective in order to better ourselves. Christians should embrace opportunities to change our perspective in order to conform to that of Christ. Because when we comfort to God’s will, it will often result in us learning to love other more fully.
“Even if she didn’t get her happy ending, her story would be worth telling because of the life she led.”
An old youth minister of mine said this about Cinderella. But the more I thought about it, the more I also believe that this applied to Belle, at two different points of her story. If Belle had been locked up in the Beast’s castle for the rest of her life, even if she never befriended the Beast, her story would have been worth telling because of the sacrifice she made for her father. If the Beast had died after Gaston stabbed him, Belle’s story would still be worth telling because of how her love and kindness changed the Beast’s heart. It isn’t the happy ending that makes me return to this story again and again. It’s the lives these characters led, what I have learned from the stories of their lives, and how I have learned to apply those lessons to my life. The happy ever after is just the icing on the cake. I hope some of you are able to take these lessons to heart as well.