Writing by Sue O'Hara. Artwork by Kate Granholm (@katesartthings on instagram)
I never had an obsession with Disney princesses as a child. In many ways, I was quite lucky. My dad being anti-American and my mum being a second-wave feminist, Disney was never pushed on me based on my gender. Even so, if I picked one out of my own accord, I would usually be allowed to take it home. Before Netflix made DVD rentals obsolete, and before my area was swallowed whole by the scourge of gentrification, my dad used to take me and my brother to the DVD rental shop near my house. I remember a black lino floor with a raised circle pattern, and the shelves of children’s DVDs near the window. I remember asking to borrow Beauty and the Beast, much to the chagrin of my father, and I finished the movie being disappointed that it wasn’t as good as I remembered. I must have been about nine or ten. My obsession with the film didn’t actually start until I was at least in secondary school. Whether it was my newfound feelings of not fitting in, awareness of the subtly feminist themes, or wanting to return to a happier time, something clicked. At the height of my fixation, I had to force myself to wait at least six months between each viewing so I wouldn’t ruin it. To this day, when someone asks me what my favourite movie is, I almost always say Beauty and the Beast (or The Terminator), even though I could probably go my whole life without watching it again. Desperate for new content beyond the movie, my interest has branched out over the years into the original fairy-tale book by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, the Broadway musical, and practically any other movie where a beautiful woman falls in love with a misunderstood man (Megamind and Edward Scissorhands among others).
Recently, when I was picking the profile icon for my new Steam account, something connected in my brain. What if the reason I identified so much with this story and the character of Belle was because it portrays a loving relationship in which physical attraction is not a driving factor? Belle turns down the traditionally handsome and admired Gaston because she knows he can never be enough for her. She needs more. She needs a relationship built on mutual respect and interests. And where does she find that love? In a beast so hideous he locks himself away in his castle, cursed to remain a monster until someone can love him despite his looks. As a teen, I saw myself as both of these characters. Belle was a representation of who I wanted to be – intelligent, strong-willed, kind and graceful. While the beast was perhaps more like me in my adolescent state – ugly, self-loathing, and secretly desperate to show love and be loved in return. Before I really knew what asexuality was, the movie served to reassure me I was a good person. Like Belle, I didn’t judge people based on their looks. Unbeknownst to me, what I thought was a personal virtue turned out to be the fact that I didn’t feel attraction towards anyone.
Although I would define myself as aromantic as well as asexual, I have always longed for a soulmate. A partner to share domestic life with and be my most important person and me theirs. For a long time I confused this with romantic love, but it’s different in a way that’s difficult for me to explain. What I can say though is: I want what they have. Someone to read with by the fireplace, to see the best in me despite experiencing my worst, to make me want to be a better person, to fight for me on a rooftop, to love me enough to let me go at the price of their humanity (hypothetically). Sure, you could say they only lived happily ever after once he turned back into a handsome prince; but, in my eyes, that was just a practical necessity for him to be re-accepted into society. It’s a physical representation of his internal transformation by the end of the film. In quite an explicit way, Gaston represents the societal pressure I feel to go down the traditional path of womanhood - to find typically attractive men hot, to have kids and submit to a guy who deep down doesn’t see me as his equal. In defying Gaston, Belle defies the belief that this is what every woman wants. Not only does she reject societal norms in favour of own desires and version of love, but she succeeds and is happy for ever after. It gives me hope that maybe one day I can do the same.