Stop saying that Belle has Stockholm Syndrome. It doesn’t mean what you think it does.

Beauty and the Beast

Since the trailers for the new live action Beauty and the Beast started hitting the theaters, I’ve heard the old trope drudged up again and again:

Belle apparently has Stockholm Syndrome.

Now, I admit, I have a bias in favor of the Disney film (because it’s the best EVER) but I also know a little bit about Stockholm Syndrome. You see, in addition to my undying love of all things Disney, I also have a fascination with serial killers, crime and all things morbid.

Yes, I know how incongruous those interests are.

But let’s take a look first at what Stockholm Syndrome is, so that I can better explain how wrong everyone is:

Stockholm Syndrome is real.

Sure, it’s a gimme, but I’m going to go ahead and cover it anyway. You see, Stockholm Syndrome is non-fiction (or, in layman’s terms, real). In 1973, several employees were taken hostage during a bank robbery gone wrong. This actually happened. The events of the fairy tale Beauty and the Beast did not. I looked it up and it actually turns out that candlesticks don’t commonly come to life and serve you a seven course dinner.

People who have Stockholm Syndrome develop sympathy and affection for their captors DESPITE ongoing torture and abuse.

In the case of the 1973 bank robbery that named the syndrome, hostages were repeatedly threatened with violence. However, the abductors made the hostages feel as though the police were at fault for any injuries, and one victim even said he felt grateful when one of the perpetrators offered to shoot him in the leg to keep the police away.

Beast is not psychologically torturing Belle. He imprisons Maurice for stealing, something that a prince may well have been in his right to do when he reigned, and Belle took his place. He then offered no objection when she was given the nicest room in the house by his talking furniture (did you forget: NOT real?) and, despite a definite full-on tantrum about her not attending dinner, he doesn’t punish the aforementioned talking furniture for stuffing her to the brim with fine food despite his objections.

Victims of Stockholm Syndrome are essentially brainwashed.

Belle is not. She knows that she is not free, and brings it up whenever she gets the chance. When he asks her to come down for dinner, she yells right back at him, and when she hauls him back to the castle after he saves her, she doesn’t hold back either. At no point does Belle seem to submit — she changes her mind about Beast as he grows kinder and more compassionate. Sure, she’s pretty psyched to get a library, but what self-respecting girl wouldn’t be?

The victims of Stockholm Syndrome, not just in the case of the bank robbery but in multiple studies since, including battered wives, are merely tricked into sympathizing with their captors, especially during the point in the cycle of abuse where it feels like a mercy that they aren’t being beaten or tortured.

In cases of Stockholm Syndrome, the captors haven’t “changed”

I think what really bothers people about this story is that it’s unrealistic. People rarely change to that extent. When you’ve got a boyfriend who’s rude, cruel and uncouth, chances are they’re going to stay that way or even get much, much worse over time.

Unlike Gaston, who appears to be a “total catch” but his narcissism and cruelty only worsen when he doesn’t get his way, Beast truly changes over the course of the movie. He is angry from the start, but when he is treated with genuine kindness, he softens. He starts to laugh and smile, and remember the person he was before power, and then bitterness corrupted him. In fact, if anyone is trying to control Belle, it’s clearly Gaston.

Hey, baby. I’ll totally get your dad out of the loony bin (where I threw him) if you’ll marry me. Come onnnnnnnn… Also you should read less and smile more. Gaston likes his ladies SUNNY.

If your issue is that it is unrealistic that Beast would truly change, I would ask you to consider my original point. This is a fairy tale. It doesn’t have to be realistic.

In the meantime, it might behoove you to stop comparing a fictional fairy tale about a girl falling in love with a poorly mannered boar to actual accounts of abuse, death and indoctrination. It’s not a thing.

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