Oct 30, 2014

Life & Times: Belle Of The Ball

Me as Belle cheesing severely hard at age 6 on Halloween '92 
Halloween is really enjoyed best as a kid. As I go kicking and screaming into adulthood I realize that Halloween is now an excuse for adults to be assholes. It's Halloween! Let me be as racist, sexist, insensitive, and as idiotic as I can possibly be! Woot woot! Whether it's a retailer taking extra special care to enrage and chastise their consumers or some fools thinking they're oh so clever by dressing up as the latest tragic current event, every year I begin to feel that hanging out with Dracula and even fucking Pennywise the Clown are better than associating with adults on Halloween.

So that's why I choose to reach for nostalgia during this ghoulish time, because it was when Halloween wasn't the national holiday for assholery. It was just the last day in October where I was supposed to get dressed up, stuff my face with candy, and watch Halloween and Hocus Pocus till my eyes droop. Nothing more and nothing less.

Aside from the candy and the horror films, the number one thing I loved about Halloween was dressing up in a costume and pretending to be someone else for the day. I have been many things throughout Halloween --- a Power Ranger (the pink one, duh), a cheerleader (when I was a marching band nerd...it's an oxymoron y'all!), and even Zombie Tina Turner (which I've been since college because I'm broke). Still, I have yet to have a Halloween costume like the one I had when I was six years old.

Disney's Beauty & The Beast evokes a lot of firsts for me. Mainly because it was the first movie I ever saw in a movie theater, but also it was the first 'fandom' I indulged in. I watched it continuously on VHS. I listened to the storybook tape till it unraveled. Comforter set, lunch box, Tiger Handheld game (remember those?!?), dolls, tea party dishes --- if it had Beauty & The Beast on it, I had it. I even saw the Disney On Ice version, and I still a hold a small grudge over my Mom for throwing out the fiber optic rose wand that I got at the show. So hateful.

I also discovered my first cartoon she-ro through the main character of Belle. Belle was and still is the best. She was a passionate book nerd like me, and her being an outcast in her provincial village for whatever idiotic reason was equivalent to me being the only girl of color in my kindergarten class. I felt a strong connection with that. Plus my first bite of feminism was savored as I watched Belle continuously turn down the brutish mental dwarf that was Gaston, not settling for second best and sticking to her solo guns. Express yo' self, Belle.

I was never one of those girls who spouted feminist froth and bemoan Disney for giving them unrealistic visions what it means to be a woman. Whatever. I knew that they were cartoons based off of fairy tales. I knew it was fiction. I knew that the handsome prince wasn't coming to save me. I knew I had to save myself first. Okay, so the film is a step-by-step guide to Stockholm Syndrome, but way to be a downer. Beauty & The Beast is a god damn delightful love story about loving someone for who they are and not their appearance, and blessed be THAT GLORIOUS LIBRARY. Yeah, I'll be your guest, try the grey stuff, heck, even be a damn teapot if I could have THAT GLORIOUS LIBRARY.


So when my Mom asked me what I wanted to be for Halloween in 1992, it was a no-brainer. Belle of the ball I was going to be --- or else. I lucked out in the costuming department because my Granny was a seamstress. Dresses, shirts, pants --- she did it all, and she had a real gift for it. It wasn't just a job for her, but a way of living and expressing herself through the fabric, the stitching, and its end creation. She loved fashion and designing and a lot of that love spilled over onto her daughter --- my mother --- and myself. She taught me to sew on a few occasions, and she'd sit behind me, instructing me on how to navigate the needle to her spindly black Singer machine that I swear is older than the Civil War. I made a lot of Barbie mumu dresses and a few fabric purses and hats with that sewing machine, and though that machine is currently in our house now, I can never bring myself to use it because it's just not the same without my Granny there guiding me on how to make darts and sew hems.

My Granny was more than happy to make my Belle costume, and me being already high-maintenance,  I chose to have my costume be the sparkly yellow ballgown that Belle wears during the infamous ballroom scene where the Beast gets all groomed up, and Angela Lansbury's Miss Potts sings about a "tale being as old as time". She didn't hesitate. She bought the fabric and used a picture from one of my coloring books to copy the dress right down to the shawl. My Mom added to the outfit as she bought the gloves and some yellow satin slipper shoes, and she even did my hair and make-up like Belle, and well, I was set and ready to stun.

That Halloween day isn't terribly clear, but I do remember twirling around and around in that dress all day long. I also do remember refusing to play during recess for fear of getting it torn, and I made sure that when I went trick or treating later that afternoon, I curtsied after hearing the joyful plop the candy in my pumpkin pail --- totally selling the role.

That's what I miss about being a kid. That my imagination wasn't crowded with logic and political correctness. That I could be a Disney Princess without listening to crappy individuals telling me that I wasn't White enough to pretend to be Belle, or that it was stupid to pretend to be a princess because it wasn't a realistic thing for a young girl to aspire to be. If anybody told me anything nasty that day, I don't think I heard it, didn't care to, I was in the yellowy satin gauze of Disney Princesses bliss.

We now tell girls that playing dress-up and pretending to be 'pretty princesses' is a sexist endeavor that teaches girls to be defenseless and aspire towards unattainable beauty and wealth. It's why I had some scruples about the 'F-Bombs For Feminism' video this week, because it makes it seem like decking yourself out in fake baubles and fuzzy boas strips girls of their strength and intelligence, and I do find that quite the fallacy. I feel that girls should at least for once in their adolescent life feel like a young pretty princess. If not that, then a Wonder Woman or a bad ass sword wielding Michonne, just some sort of costume that can make them feel almighty and beautiful in it.

Make-believe is a powerful thing as it can either teach us to hide our true selves from others or to embrace what is underneath all the costume garb. For the latter, its why I understand why people do cosplay at Comic Con and conventions of that ilk, because for a moment they can truly be themselves without judgement, and to just have fun engaging in something that brings them joy to where it feels almost as if they've dove back into childhood again.

It's why I try to covet a lot of my good childhood memories, not because I don't want to grow up or have a fear of it, but because some of that whimsy, that freedom to imagine gets chipped away with each passing year and I forget. I forget to imagine freely without trying to be oh so correct and just about every thing. I forget to have that moment where all you needed to be happy was someone who lovingly made you a costume, and that it made you feel beautiful in it. To this day, wearing that Belle costume was the first and last time I really felt beautiful in a dress. I know there will be other times, sure, but at six, I was beautiful and that feeling has lasted with me, longer than the dress itself and even my Granny who isn't alive anymore but whose presence and wisdom still inspires and thrives within me.

I also forget to smile wide, like in the snapshot. I should do that more. I just never knew back when I was kid how many stones would get thrown at me, denting me along the way. It's why I say Halloween is enjoyed best as a kid. Let them have it, let them imagine and believe without marred technicalities, if only for a moment.

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