There’s a line in the opening scene of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, where the narrator introduces the audience to the Beast, saying: “As the years passed, he fell into despair and lost all hope. For who could ever learn to love a beast?”
I’d never given much thought to that quote or the whole movie, for that matter – honestly, I’d always been a bigger fan of The Little Mermaid where Disney movies are concerned. Growing up, Disney movies were just fun cartoons to watch with your friends and family; I never really saw the lesson in each movie. Now as an adult, the lasting takeaway of Beauty and the Beast is all I can seem to think about lately.
In anticipation of the live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast (in theaters March 17), I re-watched the 1991 version recently and came to a surprising conclusion. Many women easily identify with Belle, the smart, book-loving heroine. But me? I don’t see myself in her at all (though she is pretty awesome!).
I see myself in the Beast. That’s who I am and that’s how I’ve always felt. Let me explain.
I was born with a physical disability called Freeman-Sheldon Syndrome, which is basically a genetic bone and muscular disorder. My hands and legs are deformed and I’ve had close to 25 surgeries.
Needless to say, I didn’t have a typical childhood and maybe that’s the point in life where I first started to feel different – where I began to see a distinct dividing line between me and my peers. If not in childhood, then that metaphorical dividing line certainly became crystal clear by the time I entered high school. In a time that’s all about finding yourself and becoming your own person, I found a version of myself that was separate from everyone around me.
A big part of me felt like I was on an island, as if I was living alone in my own private castle, just like the Beast. I may not have consciously locked myself away, but I definitely didn’t do much to put myself out there, either, especially where love was concerned. It was probably just better to keep to myself instead of taking a chance and getting hurt, I reasoned. Who could ever love a girl in a wheelchair, I wondered?
Looking back, maybe I'd always felt like the Beast. I never understood it much as a child, but as I've journeyed through adulthood, the story has become my story. I never felt like people "saw me" – not the real me, anyway. They just always saw the outside – my deformed body and my wheelchair – and quickly made their assumptions. Assumptions that were, more often than not, completely off base.
So, yes, I am the Beast. My story is one of someone who falls decidedly outside the lines of society’s definition of beautiful, but is nonetheless just like everyone else in the end – someone who’s waiting for someone to see what lies beneath this outer shell. Don’t we all just want to meet our Belle, that one person who won’t be afraid to open the metaphorical book that is our heart and soul and see what’s inside?
In the end, I don't want to always be afraid. I don't want to hide away in my metaphorical castle, afraid to go out into the light of day and face people. I'm slowly realizing that I do want people to see me. All of me.
My advice: Don’t be afraid to get to know someone on a deeper level, beyond the superficial exterior. You just might be surprised by what you find. You might just find your Belle.
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