Emma Watson’s Belle Disproves Everything You Think You Know About Princesses

Image source: Alex J. Berliner/ABImages | The Walt Disney Company

I know way too many parents who won’t let their daughters anywhere near princesses.

They’re not exactly “empowered women,” they tell me. I always balk at this because princesses are all about female empowerment. They are the heroes of their own stories. They believe in themselves and their dreams. They take risks for things they care about.

But most of all? Princesses are destined to be queens.

They are learning to look after the well-being of everyone in their kingdom. They are learning to reign with the wisdom and compassion of a true leader. And there’s nothing weak or submissive about any of that.

Hollywood actress Emma Watson is a prime example of how “princess power” can create a fabulous, feminine force to be reckoned with.

Thanks to Emma’s amazing work with the United Nation’s HeforShe campaign, she became an overnight symbol of modern feminism. Emma believes, and rightly so, that women’s rights are human rights — and she happily accepted the role of Belle in the new Disney remake of Beauty and the Beast. She didn’t see a conflict of interest because there isn’t one.

According to Emma, Belle is “absolutely a Disney Princess; but she’s not a passive character — she’s in charge of her own destiny.”

This is true. Belle knows what she wants and more importantly, she knows she deserves it. She flatly rejects the chauvinistic Gaston because she wants to be respected as well as loved. Yes, her yellow ball gown is gorgeous (who doesn’t want to dance in that dress?) but we all know she would trade it in for an extra hour in the castle library.

Even famous feminist Gloria Steinem is a fan of the new Beauty and the Beast movie. She’s a friend of Emma Watson, and was fascinated to see Emma’s activism “so well mirrored by the film.”

In the new live-action remake, Belle fearlessly confronts the Beast, who seems to intimidate all but her, and later, she risks her life to rescue her father from Gaston’s xenophobic mob. You want examples of brave girls standing up to the patriarchy? Fairy tales have these in spades if we allow ourselves to see them.

And remember when Emma Watson was rumored to be dating Prince Harry? She denied it on Twitter rather quickly, but not before adding this: “marrying a Prince is not a prerequisite for being a Princess.”

If only more understood this concept.

Being a true “princess” is not about the tiara or the title, and it’s definitely not about the prince. It’s about staying loyal to the royal within yourself. It’s about standing up for what you believe in and using your position for the greater good.

There’s no greater real-life example of this than Princess Diana.

Princess Diana made activism her personal calling well before Emma Watson was even born. Diana was the first to hold hands with openly gay patients suffering from HIV; to break through barriers of prejudice towards UK Muslims; to reach beyond the palace walls to embrace low-income families and children from war-torn countries. Without planning to, Diana transformed herself from an obedient bride to a feminist icon — and captured all our hearts in the process.

Twenty years later, Emma Watson stood before the United Nations and extolled the virtues of gender equality. As her game-changing speech on feminism came to an end, she said this: “I am inviting you all to step forward; and to ask yourself: If not me, who? If not now, when?”

That’s true princess power. Emma has it. Belle has it. We all have it. We all have the power to step forward and do good.

Many don’t realize that Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is based on an ancient French fairy tale from 1756. But in the words of Mrs. Potts (and sometimes Celine Dion), it is a tale as old as time. Because at its core, the story is a moving reflection on the nature of marginalization, and the transformative power of an open heart.

Belle teaches us to avoid snap judgements, to avoid dismissing anyone purely because they look different, and to understand that what we share is more powerful than what divides us.

Female empowerment can take many forms. It’s not always combative or aggressive or in your face. Sometimes it’s daring to keep your nose stuck in a book. Sometimes it’s dreaming of adventure in the great wide somewhere. And sometimes, it’s simply seeing something there that wasn’t there before.

Princesses are all around us. Not all of them are in Disney movies, most are real women walking among us. They’re not all wearing crowns, but you can tell who they are through their courage and their kindness. And certain as the sun, our world is better because of them.

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