On Being a Southern Belle


Sally Ward Lawrence Hunt Downs Oil on canvas by George Peter Alexander Healy 1813-1819

The Southern belle is a term conjectured about in modern day society and yet not typically understood (particularly for a Yankee, such as myself). She is a stock character representing a youthful woman of the American South’s upper socioeconomic class. The “Southern belle” archetype is characterized by cultivation of beauty, Southern hospitality and a flirtatious, yet chaste demeanor. Southern belles were customarily expected to marry respectable men, and become ladies of society dedicated to the family and the community.

The Southern belle has become by turns glorified and villainized in modern society and yet still holds tradition dear as well as horse-and-buggy values. I, for one, am fascinated. There is something bewitching about the old-world aspect of it even in a career driven, fast-paced world, one can appreciate the customary values, the charm, the nuances of Southern aristocratic American life. On a divergent note, a Southern belle is not strictly limited by geography, it’s a mentality.

I’ve compiled a concise list of Southern belle cultivated characteristics. Here are a few examples of which there are many more:

The Southern belle values family and their partners above all else.

The art of subtlety. Never express sentiments, particularly strong ones, in an overt manner. Conspicuous and undisguised discrediting and disparaging remarks are never acceptable form. Nuance is principal.

Proper etiquette. Manners are taught, enforced, drilled into you from a very tender age. You obey these rules readily.

Gift of gab. Charm is utmost. Sprinkle the pixie dust on everyone. Be kind, smile often, be courteous. Always obtain valuable information from others. One can gossip, never with malicious intent. Gossip is considered an art form.

No crass, rude, or vulgar terminology. Certainly no usage of profanities and cursing.

Knowing how to cook. Paramount. Feeding onself properly and the people you love, it’s a must. If you have guests, they must leave satiated and content.

Family time is continuous and often. Relegating family to backseat, never ok. They are everything and you will make every sacrifice under the sun for them.

Dress, always dress. Slovenly is never appropriate. Every aspect is carefully cultivated. Being undone is never an option.

The career is not the most important part of a Southern belle’s life. They can have professional, high earning jobs, but they always know what will keep them really happy and make life worth living.

Respect your elders. They’ve lived longer than you and perhaps have sage wisdom to impart on you.

Exercise is important and stressed in high society and yet the Southern belle eats, plentifully.

Putting people at ease is essential. Take pride in your social skills and use them wisely. Be humble, down-to-earth and sweet as pie to everyone you meet.

Never turn your back on a friend or family member no matter the mistakes they have made. Don’t evaluate options. Be loyal.

Add nicknames to your linguistic repertoire. Idioms, use them frequently. Have a wide range of vocabulary, and use it wisely.

Faith is important. Find it somewhere.

It is permissible to sully your hands once in awhile in the proper circumstance. Field work, shooting a gun, ok in the proper setting.

Cleanliness is next to godliness. The homefront should be pristine at all times.

Smile! Happiness is the most beautiful quality on a woman.

Gender roles are enforced and not something to be feared. Men excel at certain things, as do women, and serve different roles biologically and socially. It doesn’t mean they’re not equal, they just have their own value.

Femininity is to be embraced, fully.

Keep a brave face, and a strong back for those in your life. When they have families, they must be depended on in the face of chaos.

One can party, never to the point of no return.

Be mysterious. Don’t convey anything unflattering, improper or irrelevant.

Education and subsequently learning throughout life. Always a good idea.

Southern hospitality is knowing how to entertain. All your guests must leave happier than when they arrived.

And finally, Southern belles do not give a hoot if everyone likes or agrees with their chosen lifestyle. Some may find it “old-fashioned” or too “traditional.” But only they know how much better life is when you live it in style.

The most beautiful voice in the world is that of an educated Southern woman.”

-Winston Churchill


Attribution to Thought Catalogue, Ashley Brooke Nicholas