Twenty-one years ago, Disney released a film that introduced my favorite character of all time. It didn't start out that way. For a while, three animated heroines bobbed up and down on a current- Ariel, Belle, and Jasmine each taking a turn as the highest ranked. I couldn't make up my mind which I liked best. However, it wasn't long before one of them found her special place in my heart as number one.
Belle of Beauty and the Beast is so much that I am and everything I wish I could be. I'll admit it- part of the reason I adore her is superficial. She is the only Disney heroine with hair like mine, the only one I even remotely resemble, but she is so much more than her physical appearance. When the entire village sings about how odd Belle is, I feel for her. I know people think I'm odd too, and I go back and forth between just wanting to feel as if I belong and wanting to stand out and be embraced for my differences. Like Belle, I have walked around with my nose in a book. I beamed when friends back in my school days would on occasion call me Belle. Like Belle, I tend to be off in my own world, forgetting to pay attention to my surroundings.
In 8th grade, I participated in the ensemble for a production of Cinderella. Another girl playing a townsperson decided to make her entrance in the opening number with a book in hand, reading as she walked. I wished so much I had thought of that myself that I decided to pretend to read over her shoulder so that I could be Belle-like too!
In other ways, Belle is very different from me. She is far more courageous and selfless than I could ever be, and I greatly admire her for it. She gave up her freedom for her father's. She stood up to the Beast, and later she stood up for the Beast when Gaston riled up the town. Belle is no wallflower. She is not afraid to speak her mind, and she is not afraid to defy popular opinion. I love how she has some sass and attitude. When the Beast yells at her in her room, "You can't stay in there forever!" she yells right back, "Yes, I can!" In the Broadway show, the Beast orders her to be hungry, and Belle points out just how ridiculous that is.
My latest obsession is the Disney produced fairytale mash-up television fantasy Once Upon a Time. Last year, my favorite episode was, of course, the one that brought Belle, played by the lovely Emilie de Ravin, into the show's narrative, "Skin Deep." In this version, Rumpelstiltskin takes on the role of the Beast, and it works perfectly. Rumple hates himself for the monster that he believes he has become, but Belle reaches out to him and sees the goodness in his heart. She isn't scared of him, and he has never met anyone quite like her. It's heartbreaking when he sends her away because he can't believe someone could love him. She calls him out on it, not believing for a second that he would choose his power over love but rather that he is too afraid to accept the idea that someone might actually love him.
Belle's love of books is also transposed to Once Upon a Time's take on her, and it is used to even greater effort. Belle uses knowledge and books to find a monster and later a pirate. Her ability to read another language saves a life. She is strong in this show, not afraid to decide her own fate.
Sometimes among the vast world of fictional characters, we find one that truly resonates with us. For me, that one is Belle. Belle is my muse, my spirit, my aspirations. She is beautiful both inside and out. Several years ago, my mom bought me a name necklace that says "Belle" instead of "Angela." Sometimes, people ask me why I wear a name that isn't mine. I like to think that it's a little reminder of my own inner Belle.