'Once Upon A Time's Strong Women Are The Real Deal, From Emma Swan to Belle & Way, Way More

Over the course of its first four seasons, Once Upon A Time has basically stolen my heart time and time again for a multitude of reasons, not least of which being its insistence on portraying strong, smart female characters that are complex, multi-faceted and frankly, pretty amazing. While standard fairy tales often present its princesses as damsels in distress, needing to be saved by the Prince Charming of the day, Once writers have turned that tired trope on its head and instead, they've been dedicated to portraying some of our most beloved childhood character — heroes and villains both — as the badass trailblazers they are, and I couldn't be more grateful.

Of course, managing to make someone like, say, the Evil Queen or Maleficent seem sympathetic is no easy task, but somehow, the series still manages it, by carefully unraveling each woman's backstory to uncover her true motivations and by allowing them a chance for redemption, if only they're brave enough to take it. And it's safe to say that, good or evil, no Once Upon A Time woman — royal or otherwise — is looking to a man to save her. The constant vocalization of this, along with the characters' realization that they hold the power within themselves to save the day — is not just refreshing, it's downright inspiring in its rarity and importance.

From Emma and Regina to Mulan and Aurora, here's why Once Upon A Time's treatment of women is one of the best things on TV.

Emma Swan

Emma's the Savior, but it's not always a role she embraced. That being said, one thing has always been true: she's got guts, and she's not one to back away from a fight just because things seem impossible. Especially not when things seem impossible. It took a long time for her to stop running when she was scared, but once she faced her fears, she really came into her own. As she once so eloquently put it, "No one saves me but me." Too right.

Regina Mills

Regina is by far one of the most complex and fascinating characters on the show, with a backstory that's as tragic as it is telling when it comes to what she later becomes. Regina has, perhaps, found more strength within herself than anyone else on the show, letting the love for her son — and the help from Emma — guide her back to the right path so that she can begin forgiving herself, and her past, for nearly turning her into a monster forever. Ugh, my heart!

Maleficent

Maleficent is one of the notorious villains in fairy tale history, but on OUAT, we finally got to see why. Her child — the only thing that she truly ever wanted — was taken from her... and it was done by the likes of Snow White and Prince Charming, nonetheless. The pain this loss caused her turned her evil, but now that she's got Lily back, it seems we're seeing more of her true heart. And in the end, she chose love for her child over vengeance, which takes incredible strength.

Ursula

Ursula was another wounded woman who turned to darkness after experiencing serious pain. After the death of her mother, her father was desperate to control her, and this battle eventually led Hook to steal her voice — the one remnant of her mother she had left. Ursula felt for years that she had nothing left to live for, but she eventually got that voice back, and the fulfillment of that part of her that had long been missing restored her humanity, and suddenly hurting other people didn't seem to take precedence anymore.

Elsa

I know all of us weren't thrilled with the Frozen interlude last season, but you have to admit, Elsa was pretty great. She went to the ends of the earth to find her sister, and managed to overcome the worst parts of herself in order to claim control over her powers and stop the Snow Queen from making a choice she would have deeply regretted.

Mulan

Mulan was not only an incredible warrior, but she was a noble human being. She put herself last, despite her personal feelings, to ensure that others were safe and happy. Being self-sacrificial isn't always a good quality, but being able to do things selflessly is a quality not many have, and Mulan did in droves. Oh yeah, and she could kick your butt, of course.

Aurora

Aurora may have been seen as the Enchanted Forest's pretty pretty princess, but she was tougher than she looked. While her love for Prince Phillip was a great motivator for her, she also didn't need him to be amazing all on her own. Aurora constantly proved herself to be more than what everyone thought she was, and was totally underrated, I think.

Belle

The smartest, most self-respecting move Belle ever made was dumping Rumpel's evil, lying, malicious self for good when she realized he'd been lying to her YET AGAIN. It can be hard to leave someone you've grown so accustomed to being with, especially when you still love them despite all your senses, but Belle knew she was worth more than that. Let's hope she sticks to that in Season 5.

Snow White

Snow White has always been painted as a hero, especially in comparison to the Evil Queen, but Once has shown us that despite the public perception of Snow's heavenly perfection, she's still a human being that has made her share of dark decisions. Instead of this knowledge giving her a fall from grace, instead if only made her more real. We've all done things we're not proud of, and if we're good people, we spend the rest of our lives trying to make things right. Snow's doing that, and I think she'll get there.

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