Disney Princesses & Dissapearing Waistlines

Watching The Rescuers earlier this week with some feminist friends got me to thinking about Disney movies (again) and the messages that they portray. With this in mind I noticed a few things while looking through the Disney Princesses that I’d like to take some time to highlight here:

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If you line the princesses up chronologically, in the order their movies were released, some things become strangely apparent. Look at their waistlines – although Snow White starts off incredibly thin, as time goes by the princesses only get thinner and thinner. The 1960s are when the real thin ideal came into its full force in our culture – is it a coincidence that Disney princesses had started shrinking in the decade before? Its true that culture informs media, but it goes the other way too – little girls who grow up idolizing impossibly thin princesses become young women who perpetuate and buy into the idea that thin is the only acceptable form of beauty and one should strive to be thin, regardless of the price. Obviously Disney is not the only perpetrator of this ideal (but considering its constantly growing power, revenue, and influence it plays a large role) and all little girls do not grow up and internalize this message, but enough of them do to make a difference – as evidenced by the shifting ideals between 1950 and 1960.

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1992, when Jasmine joined the list of princesses, is where things start to get tricky. Jasmine marks both the first non-white princess, and also the cessation of the shrinking waists (I don’t think it could get smaller than Belle!) It strikes me as significant that Jasmine is both non-white and relatively “fuller” than past princesses. Measuring Up:  How Advertising Affects Self Image by Vickie Shields explains this issue best, in my opinion, when they say “In order to enter the mainstream media, one must look and sound as ‘white’ as possible, altering voice, diction, and most importantly, appearance to present a close ideological fit with the status quo.” Part of the reason Jasmine was allowed to have a relativley fuller figure probably has something to do with the fact that she isn’t white – once one part of the “status quo” has been broken, it is much easier to diverge from others as well.

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Jasmine opened the proverbial floodgates for Disney, allowing a multiracial wave of princesses to break into the mass media. On one hand its fantastic that Disney is making an effort to be culturally inclusive and put their racist beginnings in the past, on the other hand Disney’s non-white princesses (just like their white princesses) leave something to be desired. Disney is certainly taking steps in the right direction – its princesses are becoming less homogeneous, more independent, and just generally more awesome…but there are still issues.

First of all – each and every one of these princesses still embodies a beauty ideal that is unachievable for real women and girls. While I understand that they are cartoons and a certain suspension of reality is expected and accepted – do their waists really have to be nearly as thin as their arms? Why can’t we have an average sized princess, or even an overweight princess? Disney has made a great step in attempting to break down racial beauty stereotypes, now, why can’t we continue that momentum to encompass weight (among many things) as well?

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Why can’t Disney Princesses look like the little girls who look up to them?

Secondly – why does Disney feel the need to “whitewash” both history and culture? Pocahontas, while a beautiful movie, is fairly unethical as it co-opts the real story of Pocahontas, a Native American woman who was assimilated and taken advantage of by white settlers as a young girl. Honestly, it would have been just as easy to make this movie and call Pocahontas something else, so as to not rewrite and dishonor her real story. In addition the stereotyping in these movies is often horrible – Aladdin is the best example; Aladdin himself was modeled after Tom Cruise, and the only stereotypically Arabic character in appearance and voice was Jafar, the villain. While its fantastic that Disney is making a concentrated effort to be more racially inclusive that inclusivity should be done in a sensitive matter – historical manipulation and rampant stereotypes are not okay.

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Lilo & Stitch is a good start – Lilo looks and acts like a normal little girl, which is refreshing to see, and her older sister Nani is most likely the “realest” looking Disney woman in existence. In addition the movie seems, at least in my knowledge, to be respectful of the Hawiian culture and racially inoffensive. However, movies like this are not the norm with Disney and Nani, unfortunately, has not been set up to be emulated by little girls.

Nani is an orphaned young woman, essentially acting as a mother for her younger sister Lilo, not a princess; little girls most are taught to look up to princesses, to want to be princesses which means that, while Nani is a great start, Disney really should be using its princesses to help promote positive ideals in little girls – like good body image, independence, intelligence, bravery, and so on… at least for as long as society points to these princesses as the ideal for little girls.

All of this sounds well and good, but Disney is never going to listen… right? Not quite. Its true that Disney executives and animators will probably never stumble upon this blog post, but I’m not the only one thinking this way. If you feel passionate about this issue, take a bit of time and send a letter to Disney* (I can’t find an apprpriate e-mail address) and let them know! If enough of us write in, who knows what could happen…

Walt Disney Animation Studios
500 S. Buena Vista Street
Burbank, CA 91521-4850

Another fantastic way to take action in promoting better media images of beauty and femininity is to support those media outlets that already promote this ideal. For instance, The Paper Bag Princess is an amazingly empowering children’s book that supports a different kind of female ideal. Also, Ugly Betty is an awesome show that promotes so many positive messages (and ABC pulled it mid season! Do I detect another letter writing campaign?) Please use the comments to tell us about more body-positive, female positive media that we can support!

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* If enough people are interested (let me know in the comments!) I’d even be interested in providing a letter template to make your lives easier, or even starting a petition. Contact me at imaginejill@gmail.com if you have an idea as to how we can take action on this!

39 thoughts on “Disney Princesses & Dissapearing Waistlines

  1. Pingback: body loving posts from the blogosphere « medicinal marzipan

  2. Isnt it a cop out to blame the media? Arent the media just trying to make a buck by giving the public what they want? I dont know, I just think its not that simple

  3. You make a valid point – blaming the media alone is in every way a cop-out but, in my writing, that is not what I try to do. All too often I feel that, while we acknowledge society informs the media, we tend to forget that the media also, in turn, forms society.

    I like to think of it as a cycle that goes both ways: the media’s values shape society’s values which then, in turn, shape the values portrayed in the media and so on… this is why I find it equally important to call out negative media messages and negative cultural messages – if we can disrupt the cycle of negativity in one of those spaces, most likely the new positive message will cycle around.

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  5. Im thirteen, and i hate the way i look! i grew up watching disney my whole life. I do love the girls but looking back and watching them now i can see theres usually not happy ever after, and that no one looks like they do! i agree completly with this article! if disney ever dicides to portray real beautiful women i would love to see it!

  6. I understand where you are coming from with this, but at the same time, they are cartoons. Plus, Barbie is just as harmful to young girl’s body image. And I think the Disney Princess movies have a better message than modern media/culture. The women are not objects in (most) of the Disney movies. Jasmine, most notably, refuses to be ‘a prize to be won’. Belle and Ariel are also great examples of strong women. Snow white is probably the most passive of them all, probably because she was the earliest. Also, I do not expect myself or any of my partners (I’m a lesbian) to have their body type, which, on a human would look really weird. I watched all the Disney Princess movies as a child, but it was my mother who taught me that not everyone can look like that. People are shaped all different ways. I have a normal body image. I went through anorexia, but I honestly don’t think it had anything to do with the ‘influence’ of Disney Princesses. In fact, I think my disease gave me a better body image in the end, because I realized how amazing my body really is, not only to be able to function on less than 300 calories a day, but also to be able to recover and still carry me on my bike and run me through the park. That is what we should tell little girls…they are all princesses, no matter what they look like or where they came from, and they all deserve respect and happiness. And if that involves a tiara and a sparkly dress, so be it!

  7. Excellent article, very well written. It’s upsetting that our society puts women into two categories; women who are smart or women who are beautiful, no if, ands, or buts. However, you have to admit that Disney is definitely moving forward, what with the interracial princesses and, as you mentioned, a small step towards realistic female bodies. At least Mulan, Pocahontas and the newest princess have actual dreams and aspirations. They aren’t floored on getting married, they just happen to in the end. I would love to see a princess who chooses her dream instead of marriage. Disney is trying though, and I’m proud of them for that.

    • Brandy, you make an excellent point! I just wanted to add that Pocahontas ultimately chooses to stay with her family – where she’s NEEDED, not merely where she’s WANTED (as she would be in John Smith’s London). I always considered that an extremely monumental point in Disney history. She is an undeniably strong woman and remains so through the end.

      Of course, I’m speaking from the perspective of someone who has only seen the first film (in my opinion, the only one that truly counts)!

  8. Great article!
    One disagreement though…. You say that Jafar, the villian of Aladdin, is the only stereotypically Arabic character.
    I don’t agree. It seems to me that Jafar is modelled in every respect – voice, appearance and mannerism – on Tim Curry. Don’t believe me? Watch Disney’s movie of The Three Musketeers, and see if you can differentiate Curry’s evil-advisor-to-the-king Cardinal Richelieu from Aladdin’s evil-advisor-to-the-sultan Jafar.

  9. Thanks for the comment! :)

    I can’t comment on voice or mannerism, having never seen the Three Musketeers, I do know who Tim Curry is, though, and I can see the resemblence you speak of! However, Jafar is still much darker skinned than any of the good-guy counterparts in this movie, and his facial features still read (at least to me) almost as a version of Tim Curry’s face skewed to look more like a caricature of what an American person would assume an Arabian (I’m sorry if this is the wrong word) person to look like.

    I’m not saying he should be super-Americanized like the rest of the good characters, but maybe the good characters should instead be drawn to look like the people in the region they are depicting?

    • and how do the good characters not look middle eastern? jasmine looks exactly like beautiful arabian women, thick eyebrows big almond eyes etc, the fact you think middle easterns are all dark and look like jafar is more racist imo

  10. I, like many others in my generation, was brought up on disney movies and have to say i always enjoyed them, especially the princess movies. However, i do not agree that disney princesses promote a negative body image amongst young girls. I am a perfectly healthy size 12 and have in fact fought my entire life to the polar opposite of the disney princesses cos although i loved their stories and dresses, i realised very early on that wasn’t how women were supposed to look. Also, Meg in Hercules is probably the worst of them all although not a princess…

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  12. This article is absolutely and sadly correct. Pretty much since birth I’ve been observant, deep thinking, and overanalyzing. Since age 2 I was enthralled by and obsessed with Disney movies, particularly Disney princesses, and I played with Barbie dolls all the time. It came to be that my idea of beauty was the dainty, wispy, almost floaty bodies of Disney princesses and the bodies of Barbie dolls. At age 4… AGE 4… while on a hayride before Halloween, I looked over at my mom, worried, and asked her if my legs were fat. Keep in mind that I have ALWAYS been slender and was far too young to even know that the media existed, so that was not what influenced my thoughts… I was analyzing the bodies of Disney princesses and Barbie dolls and came to the conclusion that THAT was what it meant to be beautiful. Since then, again always being slender, my mental issues with my weight continued since 4… at 6, 7, 8… I continued to cry over my body and tried dieting until my parents stopped me… at 10 I’d wear tights and pantyhose under my clothing to constrict my body. I developed body dysmorphic disorder. At 12, my life-destroying anorexia began. I started as a distinguished honors student but later I dropped out of high school because of so many hospitalizations and treatment programs and from being sick due to anorexia related gastroparesis and other health problems. I was diagnosed as Bipolar type 2, anorexic, and with body dysmorphic disorder…. though those diagnoses couldn’t truly explain why I became anorexic and had such a distorted image of my body, as I was never overweight and though I was bullied badly by some girls in middle school (and later found out it was because they were intimidated by the fact that they thought I was pretty), it was not a severely traumatic event like rape or beating and did not truly explain why I’d have developed anorexia or why I’d have such intense body image issues since an age as young as 4. In treatment, I was almost always the only person that could not figure out why I had anorexia. Recently, after years of contemplation between myself, my family, and therapists, we came to the conclusion that my body image problems began as a result of my deep thinking and analyzing creating the illusion in my mind that beauty equated to the wispy thin Barbie dolls and Disney princesses that I had loved and admired since age 2. I am now 21 and continue to struggle with my body image and eating disorder. Now I know what I have to blame for it. Thank you for writing this spot-on article.

  13. In my experience, women who write articles like this are usually a bit on the heavier side and that is what causes all the hate for skinny disney characters!

    I love Disney, and they just give the public what they want. I didn’t want to be a fat princess growing up and no “positive cartoon image” would’ve changed that.

    • In my experience people who comment on an author’s (real or imagined) size instead of what the person actually wrote don’t have any legitimate information to back up their opinion ;)

      I don’t HATE Disney, nor was I calling for a fat princess either (though there’d be nothing wrong with that.) Instead, I was asking Disney for some body DIVERSITY (princesses that come in a wide range of sizes and shapes, just like real girls do) which should not be that big of a deal.

      (Also, no idea where you pulled the “positive cartoon image” quote from as I didn’t write that anywhere above.)

      • I would have to say that body image comes more from the home than disney princesses. I grew up on Disney just like most of you but never once had an unhealthy body image. I am thin but with thick-ish skin if you know what I mean but I still think the princesses are perfectly acceptable. If someone goes annorexic, its not Cinderella’s fault. I think people should take accountability for their mistakes and stop looking for someone to blame, especially a fictional character. Though it is undeniable that media plays a huge role in someone’s opinions, it is also true that people don’t expect you to look like the little mermaid. My God if your head were larger than your waist you’d look like a freak. Get something new to complain about and leave these fictional characters to those who actually enjoy them.

      • I do agree with certain parts of your text, however I also have to say that there would be something very wrong with an over weight princess. If you put an over weight princess in a disney movie, you won’t be “pormoting” (btw I put the the quotation mark not to quote you but to indicate that i am quoting people with the same opinion as you in general) irrealistic body images but an unhealthy body image that could cause many health issues. The truth is you will never find a “normal” princess because our deffinition of normal is constantly changing. If 59% of canadians are over weight, then technically speaking that is the norm, yet it is not what we want to show our children. There has also been a dramatic increase in unhealthy weight in children. “In 1978, only 15% of children were overweight or obese. By 2007, Statistics Canada found that 29% of adolescents had unhealthy weights. Most adolescents do not outgrow this problem and in fact, many continue to gain excess weight. If current trends continue, by 2040, up to 70% of adults aged 40 years will be either overweight or obese.” You will never find a norm for body types because everyone is different. We shouldnt be teaching our children to be thin or thick and it isnt up to Disney to take care of what our children see, it is up to the parents. I grew up with all the same princesses you are talking about in your article, yet I know very well that they are not what I should ever look like because my mother and father taught me and my siblings to love who we are and what we look like. Disney’s job is to give children that dream of being a princesses and having a fairy tale. I am not saying these princesses shouldn’t be modified to look HEALTHY but at the same time, it isn’t only up to them to change. It is up to each and every one of us as individuals. As for the media, I am a college student studying media, they only give the public what they want to see and what the people with money want to see. You say Disney should change their princesses body types, yet I am sure if you look in your house you will find at least one product that is endorsed by a skinny actrice or model. You cannot blame one single person or company for how our society thinks and how it is affecting our children.

        By the way here is my source for statistics: http://www.childhoodobesityfoundation.ca/statistics

  14. Just stumbled upon this after watching Snow White and realizing how normal she looks compared to hourglass-shaped princesses like Jasmine–I wanted to point out, in the images you have above of the first three princesses, you are using Disney’s redrawn and updated version. If you pull an image of Snow White from the original movie, her waist line is even more “normal” (and demonstrates your point even more dramatically). Cinderella, too, isn’t so bad. They look like realistic women–a shape we don’t see again from the Disney princess line until Mulan. Nice article, thanks.

  15. Thanks for posting this. The screenshots showing the trend of teeny tiny waistlines is pretty much exactly what I was looking for. As a young girl I tried all the time to suck my stomach in and go on stupid diets because I wanted to look like the little mermaid. Now I have a three year old daughter and I want to do everything I can to prevent her from falling into the same patterns/thoughts/etc.
    Anyway thanks again-
    Melissa

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  17. Meg from Hercules is the thinnest of ALL Disney characters, SHE HAS NO RIB CAGE!!! And to think, I grew up Idolising her. Belle was my all time favorite character of all time… Disney are just as much to blame for this corrupt image of feminine beauty as magazines and catwalks. Walt disney will be hearing from me. Thanks so much for giving me the addess.
    But also you have to look at male image, I mean not every little boy grew up watching disney, but girls grow up to look for men with the looks of princes (and stupidly chiseled bodies) these men are very few and far inbetween. They are as unrealistic as Meg and her non-existant rib cage…

  18. I actually didn’t notice how unrealistic these princesses were until my 3 year old daughter started watching these movies (I’m a stay at home mom ) & with a new baby these movies really made me feel like a over weight freak. At least rapunzel had a more realistic body a typical 18 year old thin body unlike 16 year old Ariel’s hour glass body with an unexistic waist

    • Actually, saying that all teenagers should be thin, not hourglass shaped, is much more detrimental than it being the other way around. I had an hourglass body since 14 and I was proud of it but I had a friend who looked like me (she was a ballerina) who developed anorexia. Wishing your body is something that it can’t be is bad, but wishing your body is something that it can be only by starving yourself to death is a bit more dangerous. I’m at least happy Disney has both body types used on the princesses; if there is both then that makes everyone feel good about themselves.

  19. A very well written article taking on a controversial point in a well thought out argument but I do disagree with one point. While an unhealthily skinny body is not something that should be promoted neither is an overweight one. If one is arguing that Disney should be presenting good role models for impressionable young girls then one should be campaigning for a ‘healthy’ body and being overweight is just as unhealthy as being too thin. I have seen it so many times (although not specifically in this article), skinny girls are criticized while overweight ones are praised as better role models, I think it quite hypocritical. That said I really enjoyed your blog!

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  21. I agree somewhat but I think its silly to expect an overweight princess. While I think its disgusting that society demonizes the obese it certainly isn’t something we should encourage in little girls.

  22. I’m sorry, but your never going to get a chubby princess because there are chubby people all over- princesses are rare. I can honestly say that I would not take a chubby princess seriously. Has Disney brainwashed me? Possibly. But I think that the bigger issue is that people feel the need to hate on people/cartoons that are what they want to be- aka thin. I mean really, how many cartoons show figures anatomically correct? Almost none. It’s just the style. So honestly, just get over it, stop hating on Disney, and lose some weight.

    • Realistic maybe, but they are not cartoons anymore. The whole point of a cartoon is that everything is exaggerated. But yeah these pic are gorgeous to my opinion, thanks for sharing! (My comment is not specifically directed to you but to everybody in general :))

  23. Pingback: A Disney Culture: The Good, The Bad & The Princess-y | alanamercante

  24. So I’m 16 and really disagree with certain things discussed in this post. The biggest issue is the mention of wanting an overweight princess. That is definitely not the message we want to be sending to impressionable young girls. It’s just as detrimental to health as being anorexic. Another point, if the ideal was switched, all the thinner girls would be treated even more horribly than they already are. I’m not saying that everyone should feel bad for thin girls, but I think people often overlook the fact that people tease us too. I’m 115 lbs & get crap from both sides of the spectrum! Some people will tell me I’m fat while other people will tell me far too skinny! Disney is definitely not the biggest problem here. In reality, it’s us. I know that my body isn’t what I would like it to look like, but I’m not blaming anyone for that besides myself. I want a strong, healthy body so I’m going to get it that way. We all need to stop making excuses, blaming others, or discriminating against each other. We need to educate ourselves & each other what health is & work to attain it. Not because of celebrities or princesses, but because our bodies deserve to be taken care of.

  25. I myself just did an entire research study on this very topic. People deny deny deny that Disney Princesses have any affect on children. They say that it’s the parents fault, that Disney is not to blame. People are extremely aware of facts and the negative connotations that surround the Disney Princess franchise, but Disney hides behind the trademark of innocence which gains parental support. Even the studies that prove that Disney creates poor self-esteem are frowned upon. Well, they do whether you like it or not. People will blame themselves or the parents or teachers but not Disney in the slightest. I see through certain comments here that these ideas are parroted in their responses. Disney’s marketing is so old, reaching through our grandparents generation, and so massive that it has literally come down to everyone throwing their hands in the air and saying “Well, I give up! They’re not that bad, people are just trying to blame Disney because it’s easy….” What I’m claiming is backed up completely by research study and human surveying. Don’t worry, Jill. You can still be a Disney Princess lover but recognize that it has negative images… Disney is like chocolate. People just aren’t ready to accept that you can love something that’s bad for you because it was so apart of their childhood. If you want more information, please contact me. By the way, my favorite is Belle.

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  28. An overweight princess? c’mon. We strive to teach young girls that they do not have to be “model skinny” to be beautiful. Most of the time, the models you see with their bones poking out are far from healthy. As the same with having an overweight princess. Obesity is just as unhealthy as someone who is skin and bones.

    Instead of sticking to just one body type of princess, Disney should strive to showcase an array of different (healthy) body types! Whether it be thin, athletic, average, curvy! Underweight and overweight are simply unhealthy and we should set an example.

    Although, I personally grew up watching Disney princess movies. And never once did I think “Oh, Ariel is so skinny! I wish I could be as beautiful as her!” No. I had a brain to know that she was just a cartoon, and her waistline was hardly realistic.
    Give the children more credit people ;)

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