Note: November 25th, is the U.N.’s International Day To End Violence Against Women. In recognition of the day, something I believe is important every day, I plan to share a few posts this month that look at how women are viewed and treated in society– and how that may contribute to the problem.
When women are sexualized and compartmentalized, on so many levels, it’s not hard to see why they are victimized in such huge numbers.
I’m not an expert on the topic, and I’m sure there are much more complex theories out there; however, whether it’s unrealistic Disney characters or how our girls are expected to dress at school, these issues are relevant to the larger issue of inequality and abuse of women. Join the discussion! Share these posts, or contribute your own thoughts in the comment section.
I grew up on Disney and their magic. Every Sunday night, I waited for the iconic music and the image of Tinker Bell, spreading pixie dust over the Disney castle, to make my weekend complete. I ached to go see that castle in person, and was sure Tink was real. Though a tad haughty, she remains my all-time favorite.
As an even younger child, some of my earliest memories are of dancing around my paternal grandmother’s cast iron coffee table, as my brother and I listened to the albums Bambi and Mary Poppins… yes, albums. They came with color print inserts, that you could follow along on. My brother and I made our own fun– imagining the hunters coming or skipping with our invisible kites. We sang and danced for hours in that tiny living room, swept up in the magic that Disney does so well.
My maternal grandmother took me to Disneyland when I was five and a half, and my new baby sister’s birth required that my mother rest. My aunt Pam was only 11, and we were “tickled pink” to be in the Magic Kingdom! I can still remember the Small World that made mine grow exponentially, and my determined effort to be as cool as my aunt. Later, our family would visit Disney World– which truly is worlds bigger than the land that started it all! To this day, the clean perfection of Disney World does something to me that doesn’t exactly gel with my other world-views. I know it’s plastic; it’s a money pit; it’s un-environmental on a million levels– I know all the reasons why Disney World should annoy me, but I love the place, and the sense of fantasy that comes back to me when I’m there.
As my own children were growing up, they too were fans of the Disney franchise. Each new movie swept them away, and I got to continue seeing them, in the name of parenting. Principessa, my now 24 year-old daughter, and my first-born, was totally besotted with The Little Mermaid. She would stare at the screen in a trance. She knew every word, every song– every gesture. When Belle came along, she learned to twirl around our small living room in Chicago, and yell “the beast!” She posed for most pictures with her hand tilted under her chin, á la every Disney heroine ever seen. And my boys were no less enthusiastic about Lion King, Aladdin, and each of the Toy Story movies. Disney has been a part of my life for… all of my life.
The making of a princess:
However, it didn’t take becoming a parent to notice some Disney trends that have certainly challenged me. It has always bothered me that Disney feels compelled to kill off mothers. Hello? What’s up with all the dead mommies, Walt (and all the Disney guys since)? Snow White (the first Disney full length film): dead mom, evil step-mother (Freud would have a field day!); Bambi: slaughtered mom; Peter Pan: lost boys– no mommies; Cinderella, Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin (neither Aladdin nor Yasmin had mothers)… character after Disney character without mothers.
Beyond the lack of mother figures, or mean step-mother figures, it’s hard to be a mother of a daughter and not notice that most of Disney’s female characters are demure, sexualized, and beautiful… unnaturally beautiful. They all have doe-like eyes, tiny waists, perfect bust lines, gorgeous hair– they’re all just a tad too… perfect. And while I know they’re cartoon characters, they are all just perfect in a way that just isn’t… real. What does that teach our daughters about how they look and how they should act, to appear more like the characters they admire?
Recently I’ve seen two separate visuals about the ways in which Disney women/girls are portrayed in highly unrealistic ways, that perpetuate unreasonable expectations for young girls, and admittedly, each picture and point had me nodding my head and wondering how I allowed my own girl to idolize these unreasonable standards of femininity, and how did those early messages influence how they feel about themselves in life, when they don’t look like the heroines they have admired. Poor Barbie has taken a beating in recent years, but Disney remains a favorite.
What I find most disturbing about these photos is that once you look at the images on the right, the “realistic” animations, the originals look so wrong– actually the originals are much more distorted than I realized before. And, the “realistic” characters are not way out there folks; their bodies are adjusted to a fairly slim version of real. Why oh why can’t Disney just do it real in the first place? (images from Loryn Brantz at Buzzfeed)
I know this blog post isn’t going to change the world; it isn’t going to change violence against women, or how they’re viewed, and it certainly isn’t going to change the “magical world of Disney–” but it’s a step forward. From an early age to now, it’s been a love-hate affair for me, with Disney. While I have long enjoyed their special brand of magic, as a mother, as a woman, I wish they would use some of their immense influence, to lead the way in bringing stronger female role models, who do not represent a distorted physical image, that is impossible to attain. What an incredible thing it would be, if Disney stepped up and helped a new generation of girls and boys see that girls are not just delicate, pretty things, who win in the end by batting their eyes and finding a prince, but by being determined, intelligent, adventurous, and strong– in bodies that are strong and accurately represented.
As we look at the continued assaults on women, all over the world, and how girls and women are viewed, maybe it’s time we all take a closer look at what we set in front our daughters, as examples of femininity, from the start. The characters in these animated movies are often some of the earliest role models and heroines our daughters, nieces, sisters… we, see and try to emulate. They sing their songs; dress like them for Halloween, and carry them in their hearts as the young women they look up to. That has been true since I was a girl. It’s time that we all get real, and help girls and women see themselves as the strong, capable, beautiful people we are… just as we are– not as some artist imagines us. Disney, let’s get real!
For a compelling look at one family’s withdrawal from all things Disney, check out this blog: http://www.commercialfreechildhood.org/blog/one-familys-bold-experiment-year-without-disney
These visuals are pretty compelling as well! Is it that hard to be real in that magical world?
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