Watch and Learn: The Trend to be Thinner in Disney Animated Films

March 5th, 2014 | Categories: Uncategorized

Guest blogger Amanda Watson shares her insights about the consistent use of thin in Disney entertainment.

Communications theorist, Marshall McLuhan said, “all media exist to invest our lives with artificial perceptions and arbitrary values.”  In other words, the entity of the media has the power to influence the minds of the masses and general public.  With this power, also come the values embedded in society and the portrayals and depictions of people and images.  One of the most popular media entity in the world, The Walt Disney Company, have had a long history of investing into the lives of people, especially younger generations through their movies and animated characters.  There has been a trend for animated Disney characters to go thinner, such as Snow White and Jasmine in Aladdin.

The Walt Disney Company is a leading international family entertainment and media enterprise with five business segments: media networks, parks and resorts, studio entertainment, consumer products and interactive media.  It all started as The Disney Brothers Studio on October 16, 1923 when Walt Disney signed a contract with M.J. Winkler to produce a series of Alice Comedies. Since then, they have been in the business of creating everlasting characters that enters the homes and hearts of children and people from all around the world. Such characters include Snow White, Mickey Mouse, Simba from the Lion King, Peter Pan, Ariel from the Little Mermaid, and Bell from Beauty and the Beast to name a few.

There are ideals and standards of how women should conduct themselves when finding a Prince that Walt Disney Productions portray through their female protagonists characters.  The Disney films gives off the impression that women are supposed to be skinny, beautiful, and perform all housewife duties.  Television plays a major role in how these films influence children, as they are likely to watch videos repeatedly and it helps them construct the social world around them.  Mass media including Television, can act as a teacher of social norms for children. Children may be persuaded to think a certain way after watching something on Television.  Stereotypes and “ideals to live up to” are communicated to them through this medium.  Children also come to understand the role that race and gender plays through television.

Third wave of feminism occurring in the 1990’s brought on critics that said that Disney princesses promote an unhealthy lifestyle and that every princess is anorexic and too thin.  They feel that as young girls watch these movies; these are the images they would look to as being ideal and strive for a similar image. Snow White and Sleeping Beauty were both depictions of how an early 20th century housewife was supposed to be with the worth of a princess being based off their appearance and singing ability.

According to The Gaurdian, Disney’s new animation, Frozen is said to be a prime example of Disney heroines not reflecting “real” or believable body shapes and proportions. In Frozen, both Princess Anna and her sister, Elsa is said to have “the kind of body proportions that would make Barbie look chunky.”  They have tiny waists, no hips, long legs, skinny arms, eyes three times the size of the male characters and small feet.  The big eyes feature is seen in other Disney films, such as Puss in the Boots and Jasmine in Aladdin, and sets the standard and brand of beauty that this is what is needed to be a princess.

In a recent event, Merida, an animated female heroine of the film, Brave also fell under this standard.  The film, Brave, was produced by Pixar and released by Disney. In the film, Merida appears to have more realistic body proportions.  However, for a Disney Princess Collection Toy line, she was all glammed up, which sparked some controversy and even a petition.  Merida’s creator, Brenda Chapman said, “by making her skinnier, sexier, and more mature in appearance, you are sending a message to girls that the original, teenage-appearing version of Merida is inferior.”

Barneys New York was subject to criticism for their holiday window display and short film when Minnie became a long lean high fashion model.  Daisy Duck, Cruella De Vil and goofy also get similar “insta-slim” treatments as CNN would call it.  The makeover even sparked several online petitions targeting Barneys and Disney for reinforcing a skinny model image needed in the fashion industry. Stinebrickner-Kauffman, Executive Director and Founder of, said “girls are bombarded by impossible physical figures in the media and to have such a familiar face and shape be turned into such a skinny Minnie seems like it could fuel the insecurities young women often have about themselves and their bodies.” On the other hand, some critics may argue that

Minnie is seen very happy at the short film returning to her old self and window-shopping on Madison Avenue just like she was in Paris.  Some people may also say that these fashion illustrations and images are just exaggerations of how people may want to feel but not actually going to kill themselves to look like.

The images that The Walt Disney Company portray through female characters in their films, reinforces a message of a standard or ideal appearance often communicated in the media and society.   With the constant negative criticisms/reactions and backlash from these depictions, would Disney consider reworking their animations and illustrations? Well, we would just have to wait and see.




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