Beauty and the Beast is one of Disney’s greatest classics. It’s got everything: romance, magic, big musical numbers, action, a strong female protagonist who loves to read, and a massive hairy monster with dreamy blue eyes … ahem. Yeah. It’s no wonder why so many people love it. But many more people claim its core relationship is unhealthy, accusing Belle of Stockholm Syndrome, falling in love with her kidnapper. And yeah, that’s one possible interpretation, but I think that romance is healthier than they give it credit for.
One of the key aspects of a healthy relationship is that both parties involved make the other better in some measurable way. And it’s obvious how Belle affects the Beast; because of her influence, he becomes kinder, well-mannered, and generally less beastly. But ask what effect the Beast has on Belle, and … well, that’s when Stockholm Syndrome gets brought up. But what kind of main character doesn’t change by the end of the story? In truth, the Beast has a profound impact on Belle, making her a better person for knowing and loving him.
Think about it…
When we first meet Belle, we know that she’s a social outcast and that she’s dissatisfied with her life and longs for adventure. What you might not pick up on, though, is her real problem: she never faces her problems. People think you’re odd? Don’t challenge their perspectives, just hide in a book. Want adventure? Never leave home, even when your father goes off to the fair. Gaston making unwanted advances? Don’t tell him no, just say you don’t deserve him, shrink away from him, and “accidentally” throw him out of the house. Not once does she ever face a problem head on in the movie’s introduction.
The first problem she actively tries to solve is her father’s disappearance. She tracks him down and offers to let the Beast keep her instead of Maurice. It’s a nice effort, but it doesn’t truly solve the problem, trading one prisoner for another, and it doesn’t involve much confrontation. After that, she goes back to hiding from her problems, whether by sobbing in her room, passive-aggressively rejecting the Beast’s “invitation” to dinner, or sneaking around his room without his knowledge. All the while she’s exposed to his direct, confrontational (and unhealthily so) approach, until she can’t take anymore and literally runs away from her problems.
Then the Beast saves her life, and she’s faced with a decision: does she keep running or stay and face her problem? She chooses the latter, standing up to the Beast and demanding that he control his temper. In doing so, she earns his respect, friendship, and ultimately love.
From that moment on, she starts confronting all her problems. She finally gives Gaston a firm no (not that hard when he’s basically holding her father hostage), she stands up to the townspeople who think her father is crazy, and she runs to the Beast’s aid when Gaston tries to kill him. All very direct and confrontational actions that the woman at the beginning of the movie probably wouldn’t have taken. And it’s all because, just like she helped the Beast become kind and gentle, the Beast showed Belle how to stand up for herself and tackle her problems head-on. Both are better for having the other in their life.
I still don’t claim that their romance is ideal or a model to follow. But it certainly isn’t as unhealthy as Stockholm Syndrome has made it out to be.
Beauty and the Beast is owned by Walt Disney Pictures.