Beauty and the Beast as a Lesson in Self Acceptance
What this classic tale has to teach us about loving our despised parts
Posted December 4, 2016
It's a psychological cliche that we need to learn to love ourselves, even those parts of ourselves that we think are objectively objectionable. It's such a cliche that it's almost hard to take it in when it's said to us. So I thought to teach this lesson in another way, through one of my favorite fairy tales: "Beauty and the Beast."
Most all of us are familiar with this tale, which is told in several variations. For this post, let's go with a very abridged summary: There is a beautiful young woman who volunteers to be imprisoned with a terrible beast in order to save her father. The beast looks horrible, and Beauty shuns him, fears him, and longs to escape from him. Each night the Beast asks her to marry him; each night she refuses.
We the readers know that the Beast is something Beauty must learn to love without any coaxing or inside information. Beauty must learn to see the beauty in the Beast.
At first there are only glimmers of something different, something in the eyes or the behavior in the Beast that clue her into a dawning realization that this Beast is not so terrible. We're rooting for her to see what we already know: She must learn to love this Beast.
I'll skip to the punch line: Eventually she does fall in love with the Beast, and she kisses him. The moment she does, he is transformed into a handsome prince. In my favorite version of the story, she is so in love with the Beast that as soon as he's transformed she cries in dismay: "Where's my Beast? I want my Beast back."
Now think of some part of you or your life that you don't like, can't accept, wish were otherwise, something you can think of in only negative terms. Some aspect of yourself or your circumstances that has you feeling trapped, that you hate, that you want to go away or to escape from. According to this tale—and I believe the reason it holds such sway over us for so many centuries is because it is describing something true for all of us—you must learn to love this very thing you currently hate. Not in order to get a handsome prince in the end—that kind of artifice wouldn't work for Beauty and it won't work for you—but because behind every mask of ugliness there lies something of value, something you must learn to treasure and to love. Until you do, you are trapped in this prison cell of not accepting yourself or your life as it is. It is only through this kind of self acceptance, genuine and complete, that we come to appreciate our issues and challenges as the gifts they are. That is when we can unite with this previously unacceptable feature of our lives and live happily ever after. This is when that which we despise is transformed into something beautiful.
At this point some of you are nodding your heads in agreement and some of you are thinking "Yes, but." I want to suggest that we can all do both. We can nod our head in agreement when we recall times when we have experienced this transformation of a Beast into a prince in our lives. And those areas where we are still shackled, where we are thinking "Yes, but"—well, maybe this instance is the exception to this rule?
I don't believe so. While I often bemoan the heroic consciousness that makes us strive so, here is where I think the true value of heroic consciousness lies: to challenge ourselves to find the beauty in the beasts in our lives.