As we know, eating disorders among young children have risen dramatically over the past few years. We are beginning to see that the stereotype of a middle/upper middle class teenage or young adult female is not necessarily representative of someone struggling with one of these conditions. A recent survey shows a staggering one-third of six year old girls are concerned about their weight. Although many factors contribute to the development of eating disorders, the media is influential – perhaps arguably even more so for children, who generally have not yet learned to dissect it through a critical lens. The media bombards us with manipulated images of beauty that meets socially constructed standards of acceptability. In this vein, we might immediately think of skincare advertisements with a 20-something hawking anti-aging creams, or a more blatant gimmicky campaign for a weight loss product showing an “undesirable” before and a “stunning” after. The same thread runs through television shows and movies as well – turn the channel to see thin, young, and attractive women. Although some people might claim the number of roles for women who do not fit this mold is growing higher, larger women are often demonized or pigeonholed.
Needless to say, mass media and popular culture are not representative of the vast majority of people, and even knowing this, adults still struggle to come to terms with feeling inadequate, even if they do not develop an eating disorder (or a diagnosable mental health problem). Sometimes a gulf exists between feelings and knowledge. Since eating disorders are so prevalent, wouldn’t we want to try to take a step in prevention for some of our most vulnerable people – young children? Or perhaps that is the question we should be asking. Mattel has taken a step forward, in trying to promote more realistic body image with a Barbie doll based on the proportions of an average 19-year-old, instead of dimensions so disproportionate that if they belonged to an actual woman, she would be unable to walk. On the other hand, Disney seems to be creeping backward on this front. We live in a world in which little girls admire and adore Disney princesses; however, they are all thin, showing little to no diversity in body type, reinforcing the idea that thin equals good. Opposite to Mattel, Disney inexplicably cut inches off the waists of two of its limited edition dolls. One of these dolls included The Little Mermaid‘s Ursula, among the few larger female characters depicted (despite not being a princess) and perhaps the only one who the filmmakers portrayed more positively – attractive and powerful.
Although Disney has taken strides in creating a more diverse array of realistic female characters, the largely cookie-cutter appearances have not appreciably changed.
Do you think Disney has a responsibility to children and families provide a wider range of positive body images in its characters?
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