In the modern age, we are constantly surrounded by images and media that sets ridiculously high standards for us normal folk. Films, magazines, social media, it’s everywhere. Telling us that women should look this way and that men should look another and that we should act in a way that society expects us to. And as scary as it may be to realise it, this is seen by, and therefore influencing, children on a daily basis. The technological age in which we are living means that children have access to everything.. EVERYTHING! From a young age children are looking up to famous celebrities and modelling themselves on people they see on TV. With this in mind, I began to wonder if Disney participates in setting unrealistic standards for children (and adults!) to aim for.
Disney princesses are idolised by young girls. The number of girls turning up to non-uniform days in Elsa dresses after the release of Frozen demonstrated just how admired the ice queen was. It’s pretty clear how influential fictional characters can be on children, so is it something we should worry about? Are the appearances of these characters something that could ultimately have a negative influence on children? To begin with, let’s take a look at the waist sizes of some of the women of Disney…
Take a look at Jasmine and Ariel. Even I, someone who worships Disney, have to admit that this is not what young girls should be seeing. Yes, they may be cartoon characters, but can children really differentiate between animation and reality? Of course, not all girls will look at the size of these Princess’ waists and think that they should look that way, most won’t even notice or even acknowledge them, it will be the last thing they think about when watching their favourite film, but we cannot deny that there will be a small majority that may aim to look like their favourite Princess, and this is just simply not achievable or healthy.
We see these Princesses with their ‘perfect’ hair, ’perfect’ skin, ‘perfect’ bodies, ‘perfect’ make-up… is this damaging to young children? Or are we worrying about nothing here?
We also have to recognise that it’s not only girls who are faced with unrealistic goals, (this is not a feminist rant on the struggles of the female population), young boys are presented with these unrealistic standards too. Could it be that young boys feel like they must live up to the men of Disney? Are the likes of Flynn Ryder, Prince Eric and Hercules making young boys feel like they have to be charming, with dashing good looks and huge guns in order to get the girl? These thoughts might be slightly farfetched, surely boys aren’t comparing themselves to animations? But how can we be sure? In the same way that a young girl may idolise the women of Disney, young boys may idolise the men and although the standards posed by these may be less obvious than those posed by female characters, they are there and they are relevant.
Personally, I don’t believe that Disney purposely set unrealistic standards. However, I do strongly believe that there should be characters of all shapes and sizes in Disney movies, and that it would be a great idea for Disney to create protagonists that do not conform to the usual beautiful, slim princess and handsome, hench prince images that exist currently. Don’t get me wrong, I am aware that Disney are very good at representing all types of people, and that not all of their characters conform to the stereotypical ideal, but in my eyes there is not enough of this in the Princess movies. To me, Merida, from ‘Brave’ is the ideal Disney princess for young girls to idolise.
She doesn’t have the waist size of a Barbie doll. She rightly wears no make-up. She is strong and independent. She is the sort of character that girls should be looking up to! And although some of the other princesses possess some of these qualities, it would be nice to see them more often and made more prominent. How about a curvy, average sized princess? More make-up-less princesses like Merida? An unconventional prince? It’s not too much to ask is it?
Appearance is not the only thing presented to a high standard in Disney movies. Let’s talk about romance. It is rare that a Disney movie doesn’t contain a love story. Not just any love story, a very unlikely, unrealistic, over the top love story! Not that that is a bad thing of course, that’s part of Disney’s magic and charm! But, it does pose the question, is it setting unrealistic standards about romance for children? Not only that, but it could be argued that this is leading children to believe that they must find romance in order to be happy, which certainly isn’t the case! This is one of the reasons that I adore platonic relationships in the Disney universe, although we don’t seem to see too many of those between male and female human characters. Don’t get me wrong, nothing makes me feel more warm and content than a magical Disney love story, but there is something special about genuine Disney friendships. Although we all want to find our perfect Disney love story, it is very unlikely that that will happen, and many might debate that seeing these unrealistic romantic encounters in Disney movies, is misleading to children.
At the end of the say, I’m just playing Devil’s advocate here. I find it hard to believe that this is a big issue amongst all the media children are faced with in the modern era in which they live. Although Disney characters are idolized by children all over the world, in my eyes it is relatively harmless compared to what they see in their everyday lives. The Kim Kardashian’s, the Calvin Klein models, the airbrushing…this is what is dangerous to children and what is setting unrealistic, unachievable standards for them to aim for. It is real life that we should be worried about, not Disney movies.