After reading a scathing attack in some yankee newspaper, I set out to write a spirited defense of the Southern Belle. After several well-meaning attempts that quickly descended into yankee bashing (always fun, but not quite the point), I realized I was making a grave mistake for two reasons. First, it allows the yankee hit-piece to falsely elevate itself to a place of importance—masquerading as a piece worthy of response. It was not. Secondly, never—in the annals of history—has there been a creation less in need of my defense than the Southern Belle. Regardless, being the gentleman that I am, when some shrill, soulless harpy from up north decided to needlessly attack them, something had to be done. Since mounting a defense seemed to imply she had done something that placed her in need of “defending,” I decided instead to laud her—offering praise for who she is, how she conducts herself, and—most simply—for staying Southern.
To be honest, I always have loved Southern women, and I always will. From a roguish young adulthood to 23 years of devotion to the most Southern of belles, I adore them all. I could listen to them read the phone book for hours on end in their drawls. I often tire of hearing the piercing yankee accent before completing my order with the wait staff in a restaurant. The Southern Belle is woman personified. The truest example of the ideal: strong, intelligent, self-aware, happy, confident, radiant, honorable, Christian, and charitable.
A Belle is strong—stronger than a yankee can possibly imagine—not in the feminist, I wish I had a male appendage sort of way, but in the absolute strength of character that has been driven into her as part of her birthright. Steel Magnolias, they are called and with good reason. That soft, feminine exterior wraps a core of existence so strong that nothing can shake it. If you’ve lived in the South for any time, you know that you can always depend on a Southern woman to take charge of emotionally challenging situations—deaths, divorces, and the like.
A Belle is intelligent, able to hold her own in conversations ranging from theology to history; world affairs to modern politics; SEC football to proper canning techniques. She is the antithesis of the ditzy California blonde or the ridiculously clownish “real housewife.” Often she is formally educated, but even if not, she has taken it upon herself to insure she can discuss and understand a very complex world with ease.
A Belle is self-aware. There are certain truths that time cannot erase—she understands her history and does not shy away from it. She is able to effortlessly stand athwart it—embracing its richness , wrapping her birthright around her like a shawl , blessing the hearts of anyone who wants to “help” her overcome it. She knows who she is, what she is, and by God, she’s proud of it. She feels no need to defend herself to those who can’t or won’t understand.
She is a jovial sort, enjoying laughter, fun, and good-times. This isn’t to say she is not a serious person—she is. Still, she’s not the cold yankee shrew, clad in all black, attempting to pretend that she isn’t a woman—even pretending that being a woman is somehow a negative—as she soullessly attempts to replace her instincts with a career. No, a Belle can have a career if she chooses and do it as a woman in full, or she can raise a family, being the mom that she yearns to be. She can also do both—as we see every day here in the South. She does all of it with a sense of humor, a sense of fun, and a sense of belonging that few will ever find. Still, there exists in her soul a pervasive melancholy that remains masked—an acknowledgement that her world is still rooted in the forced oppression of the yankee invader. A sadness, laying just behind the eyes, that lets us look into the wellspring of calm that she can tap at any time, no matter the circumstance.
Above all else, a Belle is confident. She does not seek, nor does she require your approval, thank you very much.
A Belle is radiant. She glows with the knowledge that hers is a life worth living. She is satisfied with her place in time, content with her lot in life, unabashedly loved by her family, comfortable with her history, and confident where her soul will go when she dies. This, along with time spent in the summer sun, has blessed her with a glow—internal and external—that is instantly recognizable.
A Belle is honorable. Enough said.
A Belle has complete confidence in her salvation and understands that she was blessed by a loving God with her birthright. She is thankful for both and ashamed of neither. A lifetime of Sunday mornings on church pews, midnight conversations with friends, hours in the Bible, and 3 a.m. conversations with God have assured that.
A Southern Belle is charitable. Sure, she gives at church. She also gives to the homeless man on the street. She makes him sandwiches too. She bakes casseroles for friends in need; she volunteers for the PTA, serves as the team Mom, takes in her children’s friends as her own, and adopts pets. She always has a shoulder for her friends to cry on, is happy placing the dreams of her family above her own, and is always, always willing to let her children have the last slice of cake.
Oh, one last thing. About those hoop skirts: if a Belle chooses to wear a hoop skirt, she does so for one of three reasons: first, she can. She doesn’t need to defend her choices to anyone, let alone some constantly interfering yankee. Second, because she knows it enhances her stunning beauty. She’s sorry if you’re ashamed of your femininity. She is not. Finally, she does so as a nod to her mother, her grandmother, her great-great- grandmother, and her place in the chain—something some ridiculous yankee, who hasn’t had the smell of cape jasmine and magnolia wafting through their lives since before they could crawl, couldn’t possibly pretend to understand.
In all of this, the Belle abides. God bless and defend her, and keep her safe.
This piece originally appeared on The SouthGent blog on August 17th, 2015.