Strange Beauty

Illustration by Warwick Goble to Beauty and th...
Illustration by Warwick Goble to Beauty and the Beast.       (Credit: Wikipedia)

On the back of my laptop is an orange oblong sticker that reads, Beauty will save the world.

It’s no coincidence that my favorite fairy tale of all time is Beauty and the Beast.

A young girl enters a dark stone castle in order to save her father, and through the power of her friendship, shreds the spell that enshrouded the selfish heart of a prince who was cursed to appear as a haggard beast until another soul deemed him worthy of love.

There’s much to be said about beauty as a source of calm, healing, and new hope, but I’m more interested in examining what happens to our heroine when she becomes a stranger in a strange land.

She leaves her family, home, and culture to tread the shadowed halls of a palace rife with despair and broken dreams. She accepts a new status, learns to converse with an ill-mannered ingrate, and finds love that goes beyond physical appearance.

In my travels to foreign places, I’ve found that as soon as you remove my native language, cultural norms, and sense of complacent invisibility, I’m freed to be someone entirely different.

I can make new choices that follow none of my usual patterns, I can talk to strangers who I’d normally avoid, I can love fearlessly because my eyes are widened by the bright strangeness of my surroundings.

The magic of Beauty and the Beast flows from the person who our heroine is allowed to become when she enters a frightening, different world.

Have you experienced a freedom of behavior like this when you visited a strange, unfamiliar place?

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This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Yes! And the phenomena of “new” and “freedom” actually is something I studied … this article is lengthy but was so helpful to me. You’re essentially talking about the very fragile and powerful short period of newness that gets referred to in science as “bonding.” And… as adults, we have a choice to bond or resist bonding in every overwhelmingly new situation.

    1. Well, now you’ve made me feel intelligent. 🙂 I’d no idea that science calls this “bonding.” I’m only familiar with that on the social science level of a deep connection between two people. I’m intrigued by your article. Thank you!

  2. YES! I totally know the feeling. The strongest remembrance of this is when I went away to college. I moved 700 miles, from West Palm Beach, Florida, to Rome, Georgia, where I literally did not know a soul, and I was 1000% on my own. I remember feeling *radiant*, literally, when I walked into the student center for orientation.

    1. I love this. I love that you felt radiant in your freedom, instead of shriveled and tiny and afraid. College is a perfect time for this, because almost all of us do some reinventing of ourselves during those years.

  3. “…I’m freed to be someone entirely different.”
    I think that’s true..for a short season. The first time I went to Norway (spring break, 2004), I felt like I could do anything–I even performed a karaoke version of Grease Lightning (in drag!) at a stranger’s birthday party, in front of about 50 people. It was wonderfully exhilirating, and extremely out of character for me.
    When I went back to Norway the following summer, that enchantment faded as I stayed longer, and I noticed that I hadn’t left my old patterns and me-isms behind, like I thought I had.
    In my experience, that wild freedom has a short lifespan, and then we are forced to confront our same old selves in a new environment, which can be incredibly difficult.
    Also, I think we naturally act differently when we are put in a situation for a temporary period than when we feel rooted to a place/people/event. It’s easy to act out of character to strangers we never expect to see again, but when we feel connected to them, I think we tend to follow familiar patterns, for good or for bad.
    Still, a great observation, Elise! I love reading your stuff!

    1. Scott, I completely agree that this is a short, precious season. And man oh man, I would have loved to see you sing Greased Lightning in drag. What I would pay to see that… 😉

  4. Whenever I visit Nova Scotia, I feel a freedom to be different. I’ll try new things, visit new places and experience new adventures. Peggy’s Cove especially has an incredible feel to it that brings me out of myself to sit on the rocks and dream beyond the ocean. I know it sounds ethereal, but that’s how the place makes me feel different.

    1. Jack, this sounds like a very magical place for you! It’s incredible how certain locations have powerful effects on us. Finding a place that gives you the freedom to dream more expansively is priceless. I’m glad you’ve found yours!

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