I’d like you to picture a 37-year-old woman jumping around her kitchen, raising her arms in the air as she belts out, “Let It Go.” She twirls her children in a waltz and claps in excitement alongside her 3-year-old daughter when, “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” comes on next.
I’m not exactly proud of this. (Well, sort of.) The point is, I love the movie Frozen. I’ve seen it twice, so I should know. Paid both times. I watched every moment. Two times. The fact that I brought my children with me seems secondary at this point.
But for me, Frozen is also a perfect example of the problem parents face on an almost daily basis, especially the parents of daughters: where to draw the line between good media and bad media, and how best to raise confident children who are happy in their own bodies.
There are some great messages for little girls in this movie: The fact that it is the true love Princess Anna has for her sister that saves her, not the true love of a prince, is genius. (Incidentally, even though Frozen is the first Disney animated movie directed by a woman, I understand the true-love bit was suggested by her co-director, a man.) There are funny moments when Princess Anna doesn’t always look so put together–drooling in her sleep and whatnot. And then there’s the fact that Anna’s original love turns out to be a jerk, and we understand she fell in love too fast and little girls can see that you have to take time to get to know someone. (Or you might be murdered?)
But, I have to say–I think the movie misses a big chance. The princess saves herself, yes. But she does so looking like, well, like the Disney marketing department says she should look. I get it–attractive people and cartoons are more entertaining to look at, so I won’t spend much time lamenting the fact that the two princesses in Frozen have impossibly huge eyes, impossibly pert noses, and impossibly thick hair. Disney has commissioned studies on what people want, and other cartoon creators have followed their lead, which is why so many cartoons of late have these large, slightly slanted, wide-set eyes and huge heads. Apparently, we like it.
Maybe they are different enough–thin lips?–to be unique among Disney princesses. But this is not, and this is what really gets me:
There are many little girls right now who want to look like her, who want to have a waist that small and hips that narrow. And they will spend years trying to achieve it. They will see there is no way they can change the thickness of their hair or the size of their eyes, and so they will move to what they think they can control: their bodies. They will do ugly things–they will starve themselves, they will exercise obsessively, and they will throw up their food. They will degrade themselves in front of a mirror, to themselves and their friends, and they will degrade others who can’t maintain this image. Don’t kid yourselves. They will.
Is it Disney’s fault? No, not entirely. A lot of things are at fault–magazines, parents, TV shows. But Disney has a huge platform and they target young people. That is their audience.
Girls are influenced by images they see in the media. Most of what they see right now is extremely thin. Disney could use their huge platform to show other images of a young woman. Some women are that thin and still healthy, yes. That’s not the point. There are many shapes and sizes, many more beautiful shapes than just thin. But we don’t see them, unless they’re in the form of an overweight fairy godmother.
I want to be clear–I don’t think Disney should portray an overweight woman, either. That’s not healthy. I hear a lot about how the average woman is a size 14. Well, frankly, in a lot of cases she probably shouldn’t be. We’re an overweight society and while we should celebrate different shapes and sizes, we shouldn’t necessarily celebrate all the different shapes and sizes.
But maybe part of the reason we’re overweight is that we try so hard to be a size 0, and shame ourselves so much when we can’t be, that food is no longer what it should be–healthy, enjoyable, sustaining.
Our young daughters have a lot of challenges ahead. They will face Abercrombie and J.Crew and every retailer who tells them, implicitly, that a 0 is actually something to strive for, something to be. A puff of air. Nothing.
They will face ads like this:
And these young girls will think, “Well, if it’s in a magazine…if this image of an adult that kind of looks like the victim of a concentration camp was created by adults, and approved by adults, then it must be okay. It had to go through all those hoops to get here before my eyes. How can all those adults be wrong?”
So even as I dance in the kitchen with my daughter, I feel guilty for pretending not to know what I know–that she is being manipulated by the marketing department at Disney, by the adults in the room who have chosen to sustain an image that is impossible to obtain by most women. My daughter is too young to initiate into the community but soon enough, she will come to understand all the tricks and cues she is being exposed to over and over again. I will make sure of it. Because it’s everywhere and it will come at her like death by a thousand pin pricks and I need her to be armed every time an adult says, “She’d be pretty if she lost weight.” Every time a friend says, “Oh my God, my ass is so gross.” Every time she hears a boy call a girl fat.
Then again, maybe she won’t be like me. Maybe she’ll be one of those girls who seems immune to what she’s supposed to look like. Maybe I don’t have to “arm” her and she can simply enjoy the movie for what it is–a movie, one movie. Maybe, by educating her, I’ll just be training her to look for the bad that can surely be found in everything, instead of the good that can also be found.
What’s that saying? Plan for the worst and hope for the best?