Is Frozen Good or Bad for Girls?

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.

*Spoilers coming*

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.

Frozen

Maybe they are different enough–thin lips?–to be unique among Disney princesses. But this is not, and this is what really gets me:

frozen1

Elsa

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:

Thin

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?

This post first appeared on the PDXX Collective.

BOOK REVIEWERS: An advance copy of my novel, The Rooms Are Filled, is now on NetGalley. Click HERE to request an e-book.

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28 thoughts on “Is Frozen Good or Bad for Girls?

  1. I haven’t seen the movie yet. Honestly, I don’t like anything about the way the princesses look. I can’t figure out why the eyes are so big! Anyhow, I really think our daughters will get their best feelings of body image from us, their mothers. Our sons too. Gray hair, wrinkly belly, whatever, I tell my kids I love my body the way it is and those things they see in magazines or movies isn’t real. I hope it works. Great post.

    • I completely agree. I think we have the most power regarding this issue. And a wonderful by-product of all that training–telling our kids we love our bodies, showing them the images aren’t real–helps us, too.

  2. This perfectly voices my ambivalence about the film. I took my two young sons to see it, and they enjoyed it, but I also wondered about how so many men were depicted as evil and uncaring, or rude and sarcastic…not one genuine, kind male in sight. It’s a shame that Disney makes such entertaining films and yet clings to old tropes about gender and body types.

    • Yes – I did hate to see that first prince do such a 180. But then I argued with myself, even, about whether that was the point. He was so lovable during that song; and then so completely evil. I suppose Disney doesn’t do much nuance.

  3. I think a good percentage of the Disney females have thick long hair—Sleeping Beauty, Ariel, Jasmine, the girl from Brave etc. That’s just the few off the top of my head. I guess it’s good they’re finally using other races. Once upon a time, it was only white girls-then they added in other races-which is good! My daughter is struggling right now comparing herself to her classmates and criticizing herself too much-and thinking that too thin is good. I know what you mean.

    • Oh, I’m so not looking forward to the age when all the negative criticizing begins. Like I said above, I think parents win out in the influence battle, but for a few years I know my daughter will put a lot of stock in what her friends say. So here’s to hoping we women stick together and stop criticizing our own bodies, so our daughters can emulate that.

  4. I enjoyed the Disney movie but also see your point of view here. My big struggle with Frozen and other such Disney movies is that the marketing is so thorough to our little ones. Little brunette girls are running around in exact dress replicas with actual fake blonde wigs… We are trying to keep our consumption of this movie to being that of a fun movie with great songs. (it is sometimes difficult and I have given in with youtube videos of the songs, an iPad app and even a doll…) I think there’s a big difference in watching the movie and having dance parties to the music vs trying to turn your house into Arendelle.

    Forgive me as I ramble a bit here, but I also wonder if we expect too much from Disney. As a huge corporation, their objective is to create a product that we will spend money on so they can make more products and so on and so forth. They are not creating real role models, they are creating marketable products. Disney has a lot of money and makes it really easy on us to choose their material since it is so accessible and perfectly presentable. There are so many other sources of inspiration out there for our children and it is up to us as parents to find them and bring them to our children. I follow the facebook group for http://www.amightygirl.com/ – they highlight tons of different resources for raising strong girls. It’s my daily dose of girl power material!

    • So glad you posted the link – already liked them on Facebook!

      I agree–it doesn’t surprise me that Disney does what it does. My business mind gets it. But I think there’s a market for something else, and because their power is so extraordinary, I wish they would choose to go there. They do seem to be trying; that’s something to celebrate.

      • I agree! If a large number of parents start supporting other products that have a better message, I am sure that will speed them up.

  5. Oh my… I remember sitting in the theater thinking, “Please don’t let the man save her, please don’t let the man save her!!!” and even turning to my husband and saying, “Thank GOD it wasn’t the man!!” So I agree, the message is good, but yes, it’s so hard to keep them from these images of the skinny skinny girls {and omg that ad is just creepy}. You’ve managed to capture all my ambivalence about Disney films…. I think so much of it is the conversations we have with our children.

    • At the same time it’s scary, it’s also kind of a relief, right? That we have that much control and influence. So we can counterbalance all the crap they’ll be exposed to.
      Thanks, Sarah!

  6. Great post Jessica. Just before I sat down to read this I was soothing my baby girl to sleep and caught my reflection in the mirror and thought I should get back to the gym and slim down my post-baby thighs. Ridiculous because I’m a size 2, sometimes a 4. As a grown woman I still battle the influence of media images – our little girls, if left without our guidance have no chance at all. I LOVED Frozen, as did my son and I can’t wait to watch it with my daughter when she’s older…but I agree that it will have to be with the post-viewing commentary of “what’s up with those huge eyes? no one has eyes like that!” etc.
    One thing I do believe is what we as mothers model at home is what our girls will absorb. So, healthy eating, healthy exercising and healthy mind sets. If we love ourselves and our bodies, they will learn from that. Or, at least, I hope,

    • Yes, I think the battle of the body image continues long after I ever thought it would. It’s waaayyyy better for me than it was as a teenager, but I’m also a 2 or 4 mostly, and for some reason on some days that’s not good enough. Which is idiotic. But I agree – we have so much power and the more we’re aware, the more positive we can make the home, and I think that will win in the end.

  7. Awesome post. While I can understand your perspective – especially since my daughter has not taken off her Elsa cape that we made from Sequinned Fabric since November – I think this just strengthens the fact that we need to constantly remind our little princesses there is a different between reality and fiction. Movies are exaggerated. They are just that. Movies. Meant to entertain. I think if we can instill this distrust in the “media”, we can therefore lay the foundation of positive self image from when they’re toddlers. Ultimately, this will give us a better chance of combating the negativity and encourage positive the self esteem they’ll need to make it to adulthood.

    Or – I could just be making excuses because I LOVE Frozen, and I’m totally guilty of twirling in circles, and stamping my feet pretending to build an Ice Castle in my Kitchen.

    • Ha – yes, love that part, and I’ve done it too. 🙂
      Distrust, or at the least very critical thinking, of the media is essential. Just a moment ago, I was explaining to my son why we weren’t going to buy Lucky Charms and why the commercial he just saw, though “so cool”, was meant to make him think it was cool–but that doesn’t mean the cereal is good for him. Overall, I hate to mess with his naivete, but that bit of wisdom will serve them well, I think.

  8. Well said, my friend. First it was Barbie dolls who sent little girls the wrong message, and now a movie. It’s no wonder so many girls suffer from bulimia and anorexia, and at increasingly younger age.

  9. I agree with many comments here and I agree with Jessica’s concern in this posting. Truth be told, there is so much out there in the media that affects our children. Funny thing is, I am not sure where it all comes from. My family watches disney movies however my 5 year old boy doesn’t watch the really “girly” ones because they are gross. We do not allow video games in our house and they have never been to the movies. So, riddle me this……why did my son come home from school and ask when he could get six pack abs? In kindergarten?? Really?!?!?!?
    Princess movies are just the tip of the iceberg.

    • Ugh, there is so much out there, Carrie. And while I think parents are the biggest influence, I think media definitely has some too. So we need to use our influence to serve as role models and also to make our kids aware of the way media works and the messages sometimes being sent.

  10. You hit the nail on the head, Jessica. I will admit that I was so thrilled with the message the movie sends that I forgot about how the girls were portrayed physically. But you are right, and it’s a sad commentary on our society.

  11. This part caught my attention:

    “Every time she hears a boy call a girl fat.”

    Am I mistaken in believing that a young woman is more likely to be called fat by her female peers than her male peers? The boys aren’t blameless (far from it), but it bothers me to frequently read citationless assertions that boys are always the primary tormentors about body-image. I suspect that most body-image bullying is intrasexual, which is to say that boys suffer it more from other boys, and girls suffer it more from other girls. If this is supposed to be a conversation about where the outrageous standards come from and how they are imposed, I think this admittedly tiny detail of your article is worth discussing.

    • Definitely – I’m glad you brought it up. In my experience, girls are the source of much of the pressure. But, somewhat ironically and again I can only speak from my experience, they don’t openly call each other fat–even behind her back and certainly not to her face. It’s much more subtle than that–maybe a sort of fake concern, “Oh my, she’s gained some weight. I’m worried about her.” Or continually degrading their own appearance to their friends. There are dozens of suggestions every day to a girl that she needs to be thinner, skinnier, better.

      It’s been men who, seeming to confide to me in a buddy-buddy way, have said things to me like, “Her ass has gotten huge.” I included that comment because from my experience, too many men don’t realize that, for many women who are already sensitive to the whole issue, even talking about OTHER women that way is harmful.

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