Beauty and the Beast… it’s such an alluring fairy tale isn’t it? It’s something that permeates our collective unconscious , swirling stubbornly into our psyche that we eat it up with glee. By now, most people have heard the darker side of the fairy tale but let’s go back to it shall we?
This myth is something that dates back centuries all the way back to 2nd Century A.D. Clearly it is an outdated version of male and female roles, relationships and romanticism. Yet the myth pops up over and over throughout history, cleaving greedily to our weakness and our externalized desire to change others in order to change ourselves.
What is the allure of the myth of Beauty and the Beast and why is it is such a huge foundation for our relationships ( especially among women)? Let’s reexamine it’s elements , even though most of us know them quite well. The fairy tale tells of a prince who was imprisoned in a castle and became a ” beast” . He is violent, abusive but underneath he has great beauty. A young and beautiful maiden is forced to live with the beast ( Stockholm syndrome ) and eventually through her love he changes into a beautiful prince. Her love transformed him.
So what is the more darker and sinister side? Clearly the message is the following : If you stay and put up with someone’s ” beastly ” behavior eventually you will change him and he will become exactly what you want him to be. If you put with his abuse, his ugly behaviour eventually you will create something beautiful.
And the definition of codependency according to wikipedia is : defined as a psychological condition or a relationship in which a person is controlled or manipulated by another who is affected with a pathological condition (as in an addiction to alcohol or heroin); and in broader terms, it refers to the dependence on the needs of or control of another. It also often involves placing a lower priority on one’s own needs, while being excessively preoccupied with the needs of others. Codependency can occur in any type of relationship, including family, work, friendship, and also romantic, peer or community relationships. Codependency may also be characterized by denial, low self-esteem, excessive compliance, or control patterns. Narcissists are considered to be natural magnets for the codependent.
The girl forsakes her family, her friends and her environment to please the beast. The beast becomes totally dependent on the girl to achieve total happiness and love. He cannot fully function without her, to the point that when he lets her go he dies. He is only beautiful because she loves him, and she only comes into her own through his love. There is a total blurring of self. The beast also awakens the girl’s sexual desire and her true identity. Through taming his animalistic traits she is able to become truly happy.
There have always been Byronic Heroes in literature.These men are anti heroes who are only redeemable when they find love and only for a short while. The men tend to be obsessive, physically attractive, charismatic, troubled and over indulgent, a mysterious and dark past, extremely driven at the cost of others and extremely vindictive. Usually the only moment they find any kind of redemption is through loving someone else. Examples range from Dr. Frankenstein, Dorian Grey, Severus Snape, Lestat, Anakin Skywalker, Tony Stark,among others. The beauty and the beast myth takes Byronic heroes a step further by the woman becoming the saviour of the doomed anti hero much to the detriment of the heroine.
Usually the Byronic hero hides a darker beast. This can be symbolic or an actual physical manifestation. The beast is uncontrollable and dark and can become increasingly vengeful and bloodthirsty. Examples of the beast range from vampires, werewolves, mummies, Dr. Jekyl, freakishly large flys, invisible men, rotting pictures, gargoyles, swamp monsters, sand men and all kinds of other things in between. These monsters, when they truly become these selves are unable to control this inner beast. In some variations to the story, the beast becomes an emotional or physical ailment. This ranges from drug addiction, obsessions, greed, psycopathic tendencies among others.
We are taught is that despite these bestial qualities there is a slight possibility that he will totally become something else and entirely wipe out all the negative elements and keeping only the beautiful ones. The vampire will always be beautiful, the prince will have the money and the power, the jealous and abusive man will still maintain his good looks and charm.
You want to know how prevalent this myth is throughout history? Let’s look at some examples :
Psyche and Cupid – 2nd Century
Psyche is the youngest and most beautiful of three daughters and, through Venus’s jealousy of her beauty is forced to marry a man (supposedly a monster) without ever seeing him. She lives in an enchanted palace where her only company is invisible servants who attend on her and play music for her and her husband who comes to her at night and leaves before the sun rises so she cannot see him. When her sisters discover her wealth and that is not allowed to see her husband, in their envy they convince her to light a lamp while he is asleep so that she will finally see who she is married to. As Psyche does this, she finds her husband is none other than the god Cupid himself and in her joy accidentally spills a drop of oil on his shoulder. Cupid is forced to flee and Psyche follows him until she reaches the house of Venus where Cupid is being kept from her. Finally the lovers are reunited, plead their case before Jupiter, and are allowed to live happily ever after.
Heathcliff ( Although admittedly he does not ever change, both Catherine and Heathcliff have a codependent relationship) – Heathcliff and Catherine are two wild counterparts, he is beastly and savage but it is only her love that tames him slightly. He becomes more evil as she strays away from him and her ” true self” ( Catherine herself is an extremely spoiled and willful character) . His constant presence in her life ultimately leads to her death as their love/ obsession is so strong that it eventually consumes both of them. Heathcliff is so consumed over avenging those who did him wrong that he accomplishes little else in his life.
Mr. Rochester and Jane
Mr. Rochester is cold, and Jane is plain. Through Jane’s love he becomes warmer and more alive but we find he hides a terrible secret. He has chained his crazy wife in the attic. Jane is unable to make a life for herself without him, and eventually comes back to Rochester who at this point is blinded and maimed over the fire that conveniently killed his wife.
Mr.Darcy in Pride and Prejudice
Mr. Darcy is prideful, makes fun of Elizabeth and has a hand in not allowing Elizabeth’s sister to marry his friend. But we soon find out he has noble intentions and loves her deeply.
Do you begin to see a pattern? All these men were loathsome at the start, but become ” softened’ by love. They change and transform by the women who surround them… or at least try to.
Yet in the Victorian times, there was a degree of fear or consequence in embracing the beast. Today’s modern examples hold no such luck. Let’s look at some examples from recent literature :
Bella and Edward in the Twilight Series
Bella is almost the same name as ” Belle” and it is little coincidence. Bella is bookish, reserved and has little life or meaning until she meets Edward. Bella becomes meaningful in the fact that Edward notices her. She forsakes all her former life, her friends and family and risks her life several times to be with him. Yet little is seen about the depth of their relationship. All we know is that they consider each other beautiful. We do not know their common interests, their goals in life or their talents. Belle constantly needs to be protected and makes little decision throughout the whole series. She is a weakened damsel in distress. When Edward leaves she literally becomes comatose and suicidal and only can cope by seeking refuge with another man ( Jacob). She has no problem leaving behind anything of consequence including Jacob to be with him. She forsakes her whole life- literally- to be with him. She only obtains meaning when she becomes like him , an immortal. Edward himself has some redeeming qualities, but is possesive and jealous and is quite one dimensional in terms of character development.
Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey
Probably the worst of the bunch, Christian Grey is controlling and abusive , emotionally manipulative and sadistic. Anastasia is able to make him ” change” by loving him. Yet we only see that she is the one who succumbs to his lifestyle. Within a couple days of knowing him she strays far away from her friends and family and submits to his whims. She is not even allowed to have male friends simply because they are interested in her. Her whole identity is melded with him.
The interesting fact is that it is not men who are writing these novels now but women. Women are imprisoning other women by succumbing to these alluring myths. We dress it up as a romantic ideal and gobble it up. The question is : Why?
Why is this myth so stubbornly repeated for centuries? One of the main reasons is that there is a certain amount of appeal of externalizing our own worth on others. By giving the power to an other inside of our own self. There is an allure to allowing someone else to make decisions for us. The desire for self worth and love and it’s transformative power is something that is intoxicating. There is one positive element of perpetuating this myth and that is the belief in the goodness of others, but the problem is the toxic codependent nature where our very identities and lives depends on others changing . The reality is that the only person we can really change is ourselves.
But the myth is misplaced. What if the ” beast” was merely the elements of our own selves? What if the love of Belle is merely our souls and by finally conquering the bestial qualities through spiritual power we are able to become a beautiful and whole self?
We need to take over these myths and stop selling it to little girls in a pretty package to sell merchandise. We need to stop teaching men to be this way and to depend on women to ” change” them.
We continue to give significance to these fantasies and as such measure our own self worth on this. You might think, it’s a harmless fairy tale. But fairy tales have the power to manipulate our inherent beliefs about our relationships, sense of self and identity. Our whole family structure is based on these romantic illusions. Battered women around the world adhere to the belief that somehow, if they keep chugging along maybe the men they love will change. Maybe someday they will always become the prince. Men all over the globe are taught that what women want is to be dominated. Maybe we are not conscious of these thoughts and perhaps many of us combat them. But we must realize that they exist, and try to create new and empowering myths.