Anatomy of a Southern Belle
by Kate Spears
When Deep South Magazine asked me to do a guest post about what it means to be a Southern belle, I was honored. As the author of a blog called Southern Belle Simple, it makes sense that I should be able to offer some insight. I was also asked to include any inspiration or pearls of wisdom I have gained from Scarlett O’Hara, but from a modern perspective. Since one cannot in good faith speak about being a Southern belle without mentioning Scarlett O, the request seemed perfect.
The mere mention of the phrase “Southern belle” evokes vivid images of the old South. Perhaps this is best demonstrated in the opening scene from “Gone with Wind” where a coy Scarlett teases the Tarleton twins on the front porch of Tara, both of them wrapped around her little finger.
We can certainly learn from Scarlett to keep our chins up in the face of the greatest adversity as she often made lemonade when life gave her lemons, even if her judgment in some situations would cause us to scratch our heads. As this summer marks the 75th anniversary of the publication of “Gone with the Wind,” we should also turn our attention to another noteworthy belle: Ms. Margaret Mitchell. Unconventional to a fault, she made plenty of waves in Atlanta with her refusal to conform, her bravery in standing up for what was right, and her dedication to helping others … often secretly and without glory.
Scarlett might be the quintessential Southern belle, but it goes much deeper than our fair heroine. A true Southern belle is more than a feisty, hot-tempered beauty who flounces around in a hoop skirt, though we’ve got those qualities in our bag of tricks too. I don’t believe there is just one formula for achieving belle status. Belles run the gamut, from Virginia co-eds to Mississippi debutantes and everything in between. That’s the beauty of the South, in my opinion: all the wonderful, colorful characters of which it is comprised.
I am neither old money nor a triple-legacy to a sorority, but many belles are. I might have a silver pattern, but my china is thrifted whereas some belles wouldn’t dream of secondhand. All these are minor details that really don’t define a belle. It’s the big picture where a real belle comes into view. Behind all the pearls (real or faux), the core of a true Southern belle is grace.
Whether hosting a few friends for book club or planning her daughter’s wedding for 500, this grace allows a belle to make her guests feel at ease. A Southern belle’s house is truly a home, regardless of square footage or how clean it is. Her kitchen table might not be Chippendale, but it always has room for one more, and everyone walks away with bellies and hearts full of love.
Southern belles are mothers, daughters, sisters, grandmothers, aunts and nieces. We have impeccable manners, but don’t employ them to make others feel less important or beneath us. The belle I strive to be is one with a calm confidence, able to receive compliments as easily as give them. Being loyal to family and friends and knowing what to hold dear are other characteristics of a Southern belle, as are remembering the loved ones who came before us and telling their stories so they won’t be forgotten.
Southern belles don’t fit the same mold. We are tall, short, skinny, plump, natural brunettes and bottle blonds. We are scattered far and wide, from the Big Apple to the West Coast, from London to New Zealand. The common thread that runs through all of us is our connection to the South, a wonderful, magical place where eccentricity is celebrated. As long as the South is rich with history and every home has a deviled egg plate, there will never be a shortage of Southern belles.
Guest blogger Kate Spears writes Southern Belle Simple from Knoxville, Tennessee. Described as “utterly Southern … elaborately simple,” she says her blog is a celebration of all things particularly Southern and gives readers a daily dose of loveliness. Her latest post is in recognition of National Bubba Day to celebrates the lives of Bubbas everywhere. For us, her post above helps kick off the 75th anniversary of the publication of “Gone With the Wind” and our special section of related events and sites to visit. Photo courtesy of Clayton County Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Road to Tara Museum in Jonesboro, Georgia.