I recently came across the trailer for “Beauty and the Beast,” and I couldn’t tap the screen fast enough as the Disney kid inside me leapt for joy. I sat mesmerized, my eyes wide with a wonder and excitement that I had nearly forgotten existed beneath my now grown-up exterior. I sat smiling in the afterglow of the preview and wished my nearly 4-year-old son had the slightest interest in watching this classic from my childhood come to life.
He doesn’t, though. Rescue Bots, Paw Patrol, and Mickey and the Roadster Racers fill his mind the way Belle, Ariel and Jasmine populated mine at that age. A village girl trapped in a castle with talking furniture isn’t his cup of tea. No offense to Mrs. Potts or Chip, mind you.
In all likelihood, my son and I will never share the experience of watching “Beauty and the Beast,” and it made me sad. The longer I sat there, though, the more my emotions shifted from disappointment to appreciation, and perhaps a bit of relief. I want to teach my son to look beyond appearance, and recognize and respect women for their strength. Seeing a movie like this might not hurt my case, but it certainly won’t help it any.
“Beauty and the Beast” is a masterfully told story that highlights Belle’s ability to look deep into the heart of the Beast and see the good inside him. Her path to love is filled with compromise and leaps of faith. Belle’s willingness to see the beauty in the Beast is what eventually leads him to true love, and sets the enchanted castle free.
It’s an amazing tale, but it has a dark side.
The less than two-minute preview opened my eyes to the cultural lack of belief in the possibility that men can have similarly strong characters. The movie implies that males can’t recognize internal beauty when it isn’t packaged in an attractive exterior. While there is a current outcry for feminism in our country that cannot be denied, there is also a silent stereotyping of men that many ignore. The male image is suffering quietly, and until I watched the movie trailer, I was oblivious to the negative light in which my son will most likely be seen.
What if the roles in the movie were reversed? What if Belle were ugly instead of breathtakingly beautiful? What if the Beast were handsome instead of frightening? Would the movie receive the same reaction from the audience? Would it be believable for the man to see past the woman’s looks to the heart of who she is?
Men are frequently portrayed in popular culture as being incapable of looking beyond a person’s physical appearance. Movies where handsome men fall in love with unattractive women are few, but plenty of films depict the stereotypical relationship at the heart of “Beauty and the Beast.” In “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” Esmeralda has to look past Quasimodo’s disfigurement to see his true beauty. Although the plot is much more complex, “The Phantom of the Opera” follows the same lines.
In each scenario, the leading lady is responsible for seeing more than what meets the eye, yet male leads are never given the opportunity to go past appearances to the heart of the woman. It saddens me to see what little faith our culture has in men, as the entertainment industry feeds the stereotype that men are shallow and can’t turn down a pretty face, or look beyond an unattractive one.
My son is forming ideas and opinions right now about what is beautiful and what is not. I am confident that he will be able to distinguish true beauty from curled hair, painted lips and flowing gowns. When the time comes for him to start dating (be still my heart!), I want him to see helping an elderly lady across the street as lovely, feeding the hungry as gorgeous and sitting next to the least popular kid in school as not just respectable, but ravishing. And yes, strong.
Beauties can be beastly, beasts can be beautiful, and neither is gender specific. I know my son is capable of understanding that and, contrary to depictions in popular culture, that ability is not a rarity or a defiance of his genetic code. It doesn’t exist despite being male, but rather, despite our culture’s refusal to give men (and boys) credit for being more than superficial.
Beth Pugh is a mom and writer based in Shelbiana, Ky. Find her online at likebabybearsoup.wordpress.com.
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