HomeCultureAnatomy of a Southern Belle

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.

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  • Bonnie Banters / June 2, 2011

    Simply my favorite movie ever! I quote Scarlet and “Gone With the Wind” often. I’ve been called a true Southern Belle! Can’t wait to see Kate’s post and your special section celebrating the 75th anniversary of the publication of the book. My mother was from southern CA and said she read the book a 100 times!

  • Only Prettier / June 2, 2011

    Perfect Kate!

  • Nicole Vickery / June 4, 2011

    Love it! The line from the movie ‘Sweet Home Alabama,’ sums it best: “Ya’ll ain’t gotta be from around here to get along, being Southern is a state of mind.” It warms my Southern heart to see it written about kindly as opposed to the usual fare of garbage that comes across, especially once you’re introduced as ‘from AL or whatever state.’

  • Jackie Garvin / June 5, 2011

    I love all things Southern: literature, food, traditions, customs, accents and Kate!

  • Bella Michelle / June 7, 2011

    Beautiful post!!!! You hit the nail on the head Miss Kate!!! Love ya, girl!

  • Jeanine Cockrell / June 13, 2011

    Very well thought out and well written blog! The conclusion was wonderfully stated in my opinion also!

  • Rachel Wagner / June 20, 2011

    Nice post. I’ve always loved my Southern roots (Kentucky) and introduced grits and chess pie to my northern friends when I lived in WI for 26 years. Tulsa, Oklahoma has been ‘home’ for the past 12 years, and I was happy to discover a refined and gracious ‘southern-ness” about my new locale. And, yes, I have a deviled egg plate!

  • Ally Garner / June 25, 2011

    The only disappointing thing about this post was that it had to end. Whenever i read anything by the sweet Kate Spears i feel like i’m sinking into an enthralling, page-turning novel. The kind you never want to put down. I’m so delighted my favorite digital Magazine, Deep South, continues to publish more of Kate’s work. Someday i hope to see her name on the cover of the next great Southern novel 🙂 A beautifully written, inspiring post Kate. Congrats Belle!!

  • Jerome Cartier / April 14, 2013

    I am Jerome Cartier, a local South Alabama Photographer, located in Daphne Alabama. I hav we many photos of my travels throughout Baldwin County. I think we are the most beautiful county in this State. I would appreciate an opportunity to show you my photos of the diversity of our South Alabama county.

    Jerome Cartier
    J. Cartier Fine Art Photography
    [email protected]

  • Steel Magnolia / August 11, 2015

    I have written several pieces for my page “Steel Magnolia” on facebook as well as a few articles for Southern Belle Magazine when it was up and running. It
    It’s funny I have a piece about what a Southern Belle and Steel Magnolia is to me. I lveo the South and my southern heritage. There are some cute little quiz pages that I have checked out for fun and a couple of the quizzes are about “How Southern Are You”…I have scored 100% everytime I have taken any of them. So I guess I am about as Southern as you get. Love to read articles such as this.

    • Steel Magnolia / August 11, 2015

      PS I also have deviled egg plates…my mothers and my own that I got as a wedding gift 52 years ago.

  • andi macMoragh / October 23, 2019

    Southern Woman: grace AND fire.