Disney’s waist-cinching princesses, body representations

Katie Schmidt

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Katie Schmidt
Katie Schmidt

Nearly every time I log onto Facebook, I am bombarded with news on the new live-action “Cinderella” movie. I haven’t seen the film, but I’m already disappointed.

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Images from the movie depict actress Lily James in Cinderella’s iconic blue gown, and, if you look closely, you will realize that she looks very similar to the cartoon Cinderella – or at least her waist does. James’ waist appears to be about half the size of her hips. Although Disney claims not to have used CGI to enhance James’ waist, the actress did state that she had to go on a liquid diet to fit in her costume.

In the past, Disney has consistently portrayed characters with exaggerated body proportions, male and female. In “Beauty and the Beast,” we see Belle with her nearly non-existent shoulders, dainty feet and string bean limbs, while Gaston’s muscles dwarf his head. In addition, images of the Disney princesses point out that their proportions have become exceedingly exaggerated ever since, you guessed it, “Cinderella.” Snow White had a fairly typical body, yet 55 years later, Jasmine had a skeletal frame. What happened?

It may seem insignificant for cartoons to have these unnatural bodies, but that’s not so. Studies have found that media portrayals of body images may not consciously be recognized, but they do manifest. A Rutgers study on the media effects of Disney princesses found that, “when interviewed, the majority of the preadolescent girls acknowledged that many images in the media are often unrealistic and unattainable. However, they were still dissatisfied with their body image. Their dissatisfaction stems from their belief that others view the unrealistic images as favorable and attainable.”

Furthermore, women’s rights activist Jean Kilbourne has conducted studies on body image, proving that portrayals of underweight women lead to body insecurities and eating disorders in girls and women, and these effects span the globe.

Disney has already been widely criticized for its representations of weak women. Ariel loses her ability to speak after falling in love with Eric, and Belle exhibits Stockholm Syndrome with the Beast. Not only are girls seeing unrealistic body images, but they are taught that weak-willed women are the ones who find love.

I can only hope that by the time I have a daughter, she has stronger role models in the media. While I can teach her how to be proud of her body and brains, I should not be the only source in her life to do so.

I don’t think it’s a high demand to see varied bodies from Disney. We see thin, but what about curvy? Not only that, but I’d appreciate more racial diversity, rather than tokenized characters such as Pocahontas, the Native American princess, and Mulan, the proud Asian.

Some may claim that this would never work, that it would lead to low box office money. Others have excused the lack of various female appearances because “animating female characters are really, really difficult, because they have to go through these range of emotions, but you have to keep them pretty.” Yet in an era with increasingly vocal opponents to sizeism, racial limitations and weak gender representations, I ask myself who these films are catered to and what studios have to lose by changing their female portrayals.

Is it really that threatening to teach women that there are numerous forms of beauty in body and mind?

Collegian Social Media Editor Katie Schmidt can be reached at socialmedia@collegian.com or on Twitter @KatieDSchmidt.

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