This past opening weekend, Beauty and the Beast set a number of box office records. Yet, this latest fairy tale remake has me shaking my head once more. At the risk of sounding like a broken record myself, I ask again: When is Hollywood going to stop “retelling” these stories that — in this case, by its very name — smack of patriarchal sexism? As The Washington Post’s Alexandra Petri tweeted last year when Disney released the trailer for the movie (which also broke viewing records), Beauty and the Beast “is just another story about a hairy guy with a bad personality whose friends think he deserves a beautiful smart woman.” Ain’t that the truth. What’s also upsetting, however, is that in selecting the fair Emma Watson to play the role of Belle in this live-action remake, Disney chose yet again to define beauty as a white woman.
From the feminist perspective, the message behind Beauty and the Beast, like its fairy tale brethren, is insidious. Nonetheless, an article by a female journalist on Time’s Motto.com lauded six positive things girls can learn from the story, including that “[i]t’s not always the man that does the rescuing”. To me, the very notion that a person needs “saving” is one of the most insidious aspects of these stories, as well as much of today’s romantic fiction. Fundamentally, the fact that even the male protagonist needs to be saved is just as sexist as the man coming to the woman’s rescue. That is, the act of saving itself puts the rescuer in a position of self-sacrifice, which does not allow her to evolve to a greater state of being beyond martyrdom.
Moreover, when a man saves the woman in a story, he’s branded as the hero. Yet, when a woman saves the man, she’s generally portrayed as exhibiting her good and virtuous self. This subliminal theme, which equates goodness with sacrifice, is detrimental to women. In fact, from a young age, girls are conditioned to be “good girls” while it’s acceptable for boys to be “bad”. The underlying message to young girls is that in order to be “good” they must ultimately sacrifice themselves for another, in this case a beast who manages to prove he isn’t just a sad, insecure, pathetic creature.
The very title of the film, Beauty and the Beast, is objectification at its worst and reminds us that no matter what the story preaches about looking beyond the surface to know someone, beauty is still everything with regard to women while men can be beastly and hairy or even have a “dad-bod”. Part of the problem with this objectification of beauty is its abject subjectivity, which serves to marginalize those who don’t fit within certain prescribed parameters, especially women of color. We’ve been socialized, not only by these stories but also through images in the media, to regard a very particular type of body, hair and skin color as the paragon of such beauty.
The obsessive focus on being beautiful has kept women from remembering that they already are beautiful. They were born beautiful and a profound and ageless beauty resides within each of us. And yet, that sense of their own beauty is squashed by the dangerous storytelling to which young girls are exposed during their formative years, inculcating in them that they’re not pretty unless they’re a Princess who looks a certain way. Disney’s latest remake is just another incarnation of the same story that continues to hurt women who face patriarchal values of beauty every day, as well as minorities who are faceless and underrepresented in these insipid princess movies as well as Romance stories.
As a Romance writer, it’s clear to me that our distorted notion of beauty has also warped our view of love, keeping it superficial and void of anything truly real.
In our world, beauty is measured, literally and figuratively, by how others perceive us. If our view of beauty expands so too will our capacity to understand holistic love because it would be inclusive rather than exclusive.
The Beauty and the Beast retelling is just one of many examples of what is sorely lacking in the story-telling arena. Minority women, misperceptions of beauty, misogyny and sexism continue to prevail. The challenge remains for people to begin to expand their limited perceptions to see beauty in every being, to reverse the damage that has been done and is being done to girls and women with dark skin, with layers of fat, or with less-than-proportioned features.
It’s time to recognize that the only way in which we can lift up the next generation of women is to give them a new story in which they can see themselves portrayed as they are — perfect — not because of their external beauty, but for their ability to see and express their internal beauty. Enough with the broken record, I say.
Mindfulness has recently emerged as a trendy modality. It’s almost impossible to go through the day without an article, a celebrity, a meditation studio or an Elephant Journal quote touting its effectiveness in bringing about personal peace and awareness while allowing for complete presence in this world. As a therapeutic concept that’s been around for several decades, mindfulness has provided a way to approach our very imperfect world and enabled people to make sense of their often tumultuous human experiences. However, as with many things born decades ago that were a good idea at the time (think moon shoes, crimping irons and creepy crawlers), it’s time for our own understanding to surpass the concept.
It doesn’t serve us to hold onto this notion that working on ourselves through the mental body will help us solve our issues when the reality is that it takes so much more than that to bring about actual change within and without.
One of the reasons mindfulness seems to have become popular again is the way it’s been attached to meditation. Like mindfulness, meditation has made its way into mainstream consciousness, although it’s been around a lot longer (in fact, thousands of years longer). I’ve no doubt that the world would be an entirely different place if more people incorporated meditation into their lives. Mindfulness, however, is not meditation. Nevertheless, there’s been an effort by meditation studios to further bolster their cachet by incorporating mindfulness, which is problematic.
True meditation does not access the brain in order to allow for transcendence. True meditation is the melding of all the bodies (mental, physical, emotional and spiritual) in order to connect to the one true source that emanates from the heart center. The heart center is the multi-dimensional place through which we can access our deepest selves. This cannot be achieved through the mind, but only through the heart.
The more mindfulness is connected to meditation, the more it takes away from the holistic nature of what true meditation is and breeds the notion that the awareness we allow to come from our minds is what defines our realities. Actual awareness, much like meditation, does not begin or end with the mind just as it cannot begin or end with our emotions.
Depending on our minds for awareness risks a level of narcissism that befalls many who pursue meditation. A strong meditation practice divests the self and brings Oneness in its place.
It is not and has never been about “me time” or self-awareness. Telling ourselves to take deep breaths, be aware and feel without assigning meaning is not a complete representation of our experiences. Our minds have long been twisted by our past and our current worlds which have informed and dictated very old belief systems that many people have not yet released. These systems often skew our understanding of our present and create confusion, which the mind, so often ruled by the ego, is good at.
Awareness through mindfulness is not true consciousness. Consciousness, like inner peace and meditation, can only be enabled through the heart. If we rely on our awareness to be first perceived by our minds, it will be shaped by a narrow filter developed as a result of our minds being corrupted by a number of distorted realities. This means that by the time it reaches our other bodies (physical, emotional and spiritual), our understanding is a limited one.No one is exempt from this mental filter. There are many mainstream “spiritual” beings who hold strong opinions about a spectrum of topics and claim to “speak from the heart.” It strikes me as incredibly antithetical to spirit when we hold others in judgment. To be fair, it’s not that these “spiritual” people are lacking in awareness or spirit; rather, they’re lacking truly evolved Consciousness. They’re allowing their awareness to be drawn from their minds which cling to polarized belief systems such as love/hate, right/wrong, good/evil, heaven/hell, etc. It’s not that these belief systems make them less spiritual, but it’s their mindful approach to their awareness, which can be often confused with Consciousness, that distorts the message.
Consciousness is Love. Love embraces and allows. It does not hold anyone, any place, or any thing in judgment. In the face of what is perceived as evil, love embraces. In the face of what is perceived as injustice, love allows. In the face of what is perceived as fear, love increases exponentially.
It is our mind, ruled by our ego, which is entirely defined by our fears that limit us and our understanding of our potential as humans. We have, by virtue of our histories, been taught to believe we are less than our own creative genius. Sadly, our minds (a.k.a mental bodies) have succumbed to this. We regard fearful situations and become stuck in half-truths and lies. While mindfulness may teach that we should be less reactive, the reality is that it only results in our own paralysis. Reactivity is positive and even necessary when it comes from a place of love. And our minds cannot teach us how to love or whom to love or where to send our love. Only our hearts are able to do that.
Heartfulness, by contrast, is the state of being and standing in complete love. It allows us to embrace ourselves and others without relying on our state of minds to define or understand our current realities.
Our world, as we’re currently witnessing, is evolving too rapidly for our minds, which are tethered to old stories and teachings. Releasing our mindfulness will give way for our understanding and awareness to come from our hearts, which are directly connected to our spirits. It’s not about being spiritual or even meditation (although it can be a good way to get there). It’s about accepting that deep within all of us humans is a reservoir of love, and our hearts are the channel for it. Once we can fully access and come into Consciousness through our hearts, we will be able to access all the gifts our minds and our physical bodies have to offer because we will no longer be bound by their limitations. The heart is limitless, and Consciousness is limitless, which means that when we come into a full and open relationship with love, we become limitless.