La Belle et la Bête is the classic fairytale turned Disney princess movie that boasts a lasting moral lesson on the importance of inner beauty over outer beauty. The Beast was once a handsome Prince until he refused to care for an old lady, who unfortunately turned out to be a fairy with the ability to turn him into a hideous beast. This curse of ugliness could only be lifted if he could find someone to love him in spite of his outer unfortunate visage. When the beast captures an old man, his beautiful and bookish daughter Belle comes along to rescue him. After some time, Belle chooses to love the beast in spite of his abundance of fur and set of horns. And they of course live happily ever after.
Now that that’s done, you will have to pardon me for looking past the surface of this innocent story to the real theme: outer beauty is more important than inner beauty. Let’s begin with this snippet from the opening prologue (note: I have printed the full prologue for your enjoyment, but I will just be focusing on the highlighted part):
“Once upon a time, in a faraway land, a young prince lived in a shining castle. Although he had everything his heart desired, the prince was spoiled, selfish, and unkind. But then, one winter’s night, an old beggar woman came to the castle and offered him a single rose in return for shelter from the bitter cold. Repulsed by her haggard appearance, the prince sneered at the gift and turned the old woman away, but she warned him not to be deceived by appearances, for beauty is found within. And when he dismissed her again, the old woman’s ugliness melted away to reveal a beautiful enchantress. The prince tried to apologize, but it was too late, for she had seen that there was no love in his heart, and as punishment, she transformed him into a hideous beast, and placed a powerful spell on the castle, and all who lived there. Ashamed of his monstrous form, the beast concealed himself inside his castle, with a magic mirror as his only window to the outside world. The rose she had offered was truly an enchanted rose, which would bloom until his twenty-first year. If he could learn to love another, and earn her love in return by the time the last petal fell, then the spell would be broken. If not, he would be doomed to remain a beast for all time. As the years passed, he fell into despair, and lost all hope, for who could ever learn to love a beast?”
This last highlighted part dealing with the fairy’s ultimatum to the Beast states that he “must learn to love another.” This beast learned to “love” the first beautiful girl he saw. She is literally so beautiful that her name means “beauty” in French, yet we say that he has learned the importance of inner beauty. How does this follow logically? He simply fell in love with the thing that he had always loved: beauty. Nothing changed for him. If, instead, Belle had been an ugly old pig of the fairy tale witch type then I would admit that the beast had indeed made a full heart transformation. But, sadly, that is not the case.
Instead, Belle is the character who must look past outward appearances in order to fall in love with the Beast (though what she saw of inner beauty I cannot say). Belle is beautiful both inside and out, and she is the one who successfully loves the ugly and unwanted, not the other way around.
But before I step off my soapbox (is that someone throwing an orange peel at me?) I want to say that this small fracture in an otherwise beautiful tale reflects the way the world deals with beauty. We say that inner beauty is more important than outer beauty, but is that true? Or, like the popular theme of Beauty and the Beast, does it just seem that way? I’d like to use this blog to explore that question further.
For me, I would say yes, it’s just a nice saying to make people feel better. Think about it. What’s the first thing anyone asks when someone says they’re dating? “Is he/she cute?” “Can I see a picture on Facebook?” Then, once we see a picture of them, if that person is less attractive than the other half, we say “He/She could do better.” How do you know that? How do you know that this less-attractive person isn’t extremely smart, interesting, nice, and funny? Maybe this less-attractive person could do better. You cannot judge someone by their unchangeable outward appearance. And I’d like to use this blog to try to prove that to you.
Feel free to disagree with me in the comments.