“Belle” 04.19.24

Recently, I witnessed a theater production that conspicuously mocked the princesses I have known and loved since childhood. It was a roast, and for the most part, it was hysterical. I enjoyed almost every scene. The show was about the unrealistic “once upon a times” and the women who were overshadowed by knights in shining armor. These women were not “happily ever after,” and in this portrayal, they voiced their truths. The show was a musical; when my sister took the stage, tears brimmed my eyes. She was so beautiful and her voice was captivating. Each princess had a solo act. Obviously, she was my favorite princess of all time. She played Pocahontas.

For many years, Pocahontas was not recognized as a “princess,” though she was the daughter of the chief. She did not wear ball gowns. Her riches were found in the earth, when land was not for sale and people did not buy flowers or water. She did not fit the “perfect,” “lady-like” mold. Those traits are some of the reasons why I love her the most. She didn’t try to be anyone she wasn’t. Though she was a native to this country (and we are all immigrants), her face was not commercially plastered everywhere until society deemed her “technically” worthy of the princess title; she joined the club of animated plastic dolls on the shelves of little girl’s all over the world, a beloved movie star.

The character of “Belle” entered the stage being pushed in a wheelchair by the kind of orderlies I will never forget. She was wheeled in wearing a straight jacket. My jaw dropped. I retreated to the lobby-followed by my husband-and sat on the floor while he watched and waited with me until that part was over. I could not believe my ears as the crowd laughed and made light of a situation I will never find humorous. Unless you have worn a straight jacket yourself and been pushed around by nurses you loath, you cannot know the anger and loss of control you experience when your body no longer belongs to you. I understand that people are afraid of the unknown, and may be confused about psychiatric disorders. I am aware of the stigma, and feeling like an outcast, but humor? This is blatant disregard for someone else’s serious pain. It is disrespectful, and disgusts me. I will never laugh about a person in so much trouble. How is this funny?

According to the accounts I am familiar with, Belle and Pocahontas share the independence the other princesses do not experience. They created their own “happily ever afters,” without waiting for the strings attached to a man. These women chased their own dreams and saved the lives of those they cared about. They were not damsels in distress, but the heroes.

The agenda for this event was to recognize women as strong, capable and powerful. We do not need a prince, though we are free to want one. We are no longer damsels in distress. I understand and believe this message with my whole heart, though admittedly I prefer a happy ending with an uninterrupted kiss that I wait for an hour to witness (preceded by several frustrating interrupted ones).

It is unfair to label anyone as a permanent damsel in distress. Everyone experiences distress. Though damsels are sometimes in trouble, it doesn’t mean they need someone to rescue them. We are capable of freeing ourselves. Join me in removing your straight jacket.