“Who’s your favorite princess?”

This is a game we play fairly frequently, and it deserves proper time and consideration.  Alight, my youngest daughter, loves the Princesses.  There is no quick answers to this question.  Choosing a favorite princess requires consideration and time.  First, one must line all the princesses in her possession up, and then discuss their unique characteristics.

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Ariel has red hair, which gets her points in Alight’s eyes.  She’s also a mermaid, which earns her major coolness awards from all three of us.  But if you have a tail, you can’t walk very far (stuffing both legs into one pant leg is how we know:  we’ve tried this).  Ariel’s great, but she’s not the “bestest.”  Cinderella is just classic:  she’s got a blue dress (major props),  she’s got Jaq for a friend (also a big deal) and she does get to ride in the carriage.  She’s optimistic and hopeful in the face of extreme challenges and chooses to find something good where there really isn’t anything.  Plus, in my grown-up mind, the scene where she cries in the garden unfailingly makes my heart just melt:  it is sad when someone who tries so hard to be happy and optimistic feels hopeless.  Cinderella is also the one who learns that dreams must be believed in.  Also, if you’ve ever seen  “Ever After:  A Cinderella Story”, well, it’s almost impossible not to fall in love with the story and her character.  Like a said, this princess is a classic.  But she’s never chosen as The Best.

Then there’s Aurora, who almost always gets overlooked.  Snow White is innocent, but its really her seven dwarfs who hold the most fascination.  Plus, I didn’t let the girls watch Snow White until Breathe was seven because the evil woman is undoubtedly the most evil villain in any of the princesses movies.  I mean, the woman demanded that this teenage girl’s heart be cut out and brought to her on a platter.  That pretty much turns me away from Snow White.  Rapunzel, however, gets major consideration.  Her hair is a source of never ending fascination. What little girl has never, even in the tiniest moment, dreamed of having hair  “like Rapunzel’s?”  Plus, again, the Disney movie “Tangled” is probably my favorite Disney movie of all time;  I’m 31 years old and I melt every time I see the lanterns. She’s also courageous, smart and independent.   Plus, the traditional telling of Rapunzel was, like, my number one story ever growing up.  So we always pause with love and thoughtful consideration of all her many, wondrous characteristics.  But she’s rarely chosen as The Best.  Jasmine has cool clothes, and an awesome pet but, because of Jafar and those “secret messages” I found years ago,  I still have not allowed the girls to watch Aladdin so they don’t really know much about Jasmine.  She always gets a “she’s pretty”, and then that’s kind of it.  But we can’t forget Mulan.  Mulan is the one that both Breathe and Alight both love and admire.  For a long time, they said that Mulan wasn’t a princess—she was a hero.  I kind of liked this image and so didn’t correct them.  She’s sparked discussions on what women can and cannot do, and where.  She’s inspired conviction—“I CAN chop you up!”  She also had one of the funniest companions in any of the films as her sidekick and, in the end, she really doesn’t care about the award: she just wants to go home.   She has awesome clothes, too.  Some days, she’s lucky and she’s chosen as The Best.

Most of the time, though, she’s chosen as Second Best.

Because of Belle.

And, finally, we’ve reached the main section of this post.

First, let me say that I love Belle.  She’s got an awesome yellow dress, she’s super nice and patient.  When she had the opportunity to leave the Beast, she chose not to because he was hurt.  Instead, then, she got him back to the castle where she mended his wounds and argued with him as if he were nothing more than a man, which showed how much guts she had.  Plus, she loves books.  If I were given unlimited access to the library that she was, I’d probably have fallen in love too.  She holds a special place in Alight’s heart and almost always is chosen first, as The Best.

The story of Beauty and the Beast is thought to be a fairy tale, the classic story of redemption, of not judging others by the way they appear, by believing in the ones society has rejected, in trusting that love can bloom for even the most unlikely.  It’s Disney, and it looks and sounds lovely.

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But.

Well, I’m slowly working on a new book whose topic is domestic abuse.  I have a most unusual heroine who insists that I draw in pictures the outline for the book.  In so doing, I’ve been severely challenged and I’ve actually had to think longer than normal about a topic before picking up the pen.  Most of us know that, in domestic abuse, the abuser seems to have two different personalities:  one is forgiving,  apologetic, humble and almost child-like; the other is the complete opposite in nearly every way.  My heroine meets first the humble, handsome, perfect-sounding man first and falls in love.  She can’t forget who that man is to her—-the one who seduces her with compliments delivered in such a way that makes her believe they’re true,  the one who calls her at work to see how her day is going,  the one who doesn’t laugh at her when she talks of her dreams.  This is the face that engraves itself onto her heart, this is the voice and the love that she associates with him.   Even when he begins to tell her that she looks better in skirts, or that she really doesn’t have to work because he’d love to take care of her forever or that she should add a little more sugar to the tea next time—she sees and hears the love that she’s learned so far to associate with his name.  The first time he strikes her,  even the strongest woman will often shrug it off, chalk it up to an argument spun out of control;  she fails to see that control is a major force of his personality.  When she questions him and he turns it around, accusing her of instigating it, it sounds like the truth, not a cover-up.  In other words, she sees the man, not the Beast.  The thing is, though, signs of the Beast were almost always present, even when the man was showering her with attention and praise and love.   She just overlooked them, or she shrugged the disconcerting words and actions away.  She didn’t judge.

Am I saying that we’re all pigeon-holed into whatever stereotype we fall?  Of course not.  By looking at me, you’d never know that, given enough incentive, I can win almost any argument I care about.  You’d never believe that I can move really heavy things all by my lonesome.  You might even think I don’t like to get dirty, but you’d be wrong:  making a good mudpie or painting my entire body some funky color is part of my normal life.  Some men have violent tempers that would make me run for the nearest closet — but despite their volatile nature, they’d never hit me or any other woman while some very mild-mannered man might speak beautiful promises of forever while their eyes roam to someone “easier.”  We’re all stories of contradictions and, until we take the time to get to know someone, we never see the full picture.  Judging someone shows a lack of maturity and irritates the heck out of me.  Before going further, I’d also like to state that I know people can change.  I’ve seen it, and I’ve experienced it.

That said…

Most of the time, people are who they are.  While they may be capable of changing, it rarely actually happens.  And it almost never happens because of the love of a significant other.  You have to truly understand the pain you’ve caused someone, you have to truly want to change—no matter the personal sacrifice.  There aren’t many people willing to put forth that kind of effort, or to look that deep.  People who abuse never just stop—even if their victim walks away, they’re likely to take the first opportunity to slip into old habits.  They may not want to, but they don’t want to do the emotional work it takes to fix it even more, and so they don’t change.  One of a woman’s most self-defeating, sad thoughts is:  “I can help him” or “He’ll stop if I just love him enough” or, my favorite:  “He doesn’t want to hurt me so if I can just make him see how badly he’s wounded me, he’ll stop: I just have to make him understand.”  Staring at the Beast while believing he’s just a man.

“Just a man” can demolish a woman’s self-esteem.  “Just a man” can traumatize her forever.   “Just a man” can make her so ashamed she doesn’t want anyone to see her.  Stockholm’s syndrome occurs when someone makes another person believe she has absolutely no value, that her decisions aren’t to be trusted, that her opinions don’t matter;  it reduces her to a child in need of permission.  And this can happen without her ever being hit.  Love is powerful, just as the story the Beauty and the Beast implies.  Love can break bonds, it can heal wounds, it can be the catalyst for powerful restoration; it can serve as a ladder by which we reach confidence.  But real love doesn’t involve changing another human being.  Those in need of serious changing need to seek restoration from within themselves before becoming involved in a romantic relationship.  Real love involves celebrating each other and utilizing respect;  it involves the encouragement of each other’s independent decisions.  Real love treats each person as a whole person—there is no “half.” While romantic to hear, no one is “half” of another person;  each individual is fully capable of reaching amazing heights with only the help of God Himself.  Anyone who belittles or demeans another person’s ideas, thoughts, wants or needs is a dangerous person who probably doesn’t even realize the power they wield over unsuspecting, trusting individuals.

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I can watch The Beauty and the Beast and enjoy the story.  I love Belle.  I appreciate the lessons it encourages in not judging others.  But I believe that that lesson should be tempered with a discussion on how to remain true to yourself, how to appreciate yourself, how to love yourself and how it is never your responsibility nor your job to break a spell of violence or evil over someone else.  You can walk with that person, you can offer assistance but, in the end, the only one who could save the Beast was the Beast.  He had to reach out, he had to learn his lesson, he had to believe in himself and see with clear, unobstructed eyes the pain he’d inflicted on others.  He was transformed into a Beast because he was selfish, because he did not care about those around him.  No matter how nice he was to Belle—that is a serious character trait that a real woman should treat seriously.  If the person you love can’t be kind and humble and respectful of those around him… can’t that be indicative of a superior attitude and, if so, isn’t that dangerous and risky?

Belle was smart.  She was independent, too.  She was courageous.  She was full of life.  The Beast never tried to change any of this in her.  She wasn’t caged.  She was just watched.  And Belle didn’t try to change the Beast.  Only when it was obvious he was struggling did she discreetly offer assistance, assistance that benefited them both.  When he couldn’t change the way he held the fork, she adapted and sipped from her bowl so that he wouldn’t feel awkward or embarrassed:  she met him in the middle.  And he met her in the same place, too.  Love is not about changing each other;  it’s about two people who admire one another and want nothing but to be in the presence of each other;  to watch, to listen, to laugh with and to hold.  Love is a shared experience, an emotion that happens to both individuals,  magic.  if you have to convince someone to love you, or if you have to prove yourself—–then you’re forcing it and the magic will fade.

We’ve all heard the phrase “love is blind” and it sounds very romantic, and makes most girls (myself included) sigh.  We all want to know and believe that we don’t have to be perfect in order to be loved.  But the truth is… love should not be blind.  Love should have eyes wide open and both members of a relationship should have the opinions of many so that they can have an informed and rounded view of their life together.  When treated as the union of two grown adults, equal in all respects, the gift of relationships is that it can raise your confidence, it can make the world a brighter place that’s full of hope and possibilities and butterflies and teasing laughter.  It can be a fun and joyful experience that’s tempered by tenderness, compassion and honesty.  None of that can be, though, if one person is trying to hold the entire relationship together;  none of that can be, though, if one person is always the strongest, or the weakest, or the smartest and, if we’re not careful, in our zest to “help” those we love, we can end up damaging ourselves.

Belle fell in love with a Beast.  He accepted the challenge, repented and was transformed.  They lived happily ever after in one of the most endearing and epic children’s films of our time.  It makes me believe in magic, it makes me hopeful and feel dreamy eyed.  It reminds me of the amazing capability of the human to overcome himself, to learn compassion and empathy.  It’s a beautiful story, just like love, when it’s pure and real and shared is  “a tale as old as time, a song as old as rhyme…”

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