As easy as it might be to say yes, the answer is no, not exactly. It’s a little more complicated than that. Where do I even begin?
Recently I picked up Cinderella Ate My Daughter from my local library and got through it in no time. This compelling read by Peggy Orenstein highlights what it’s like to raise a daughter in America’s girlie-girl culture. It really got me thinking about all the subtle images and expectations that are ingrained in women from a young age. I related to many of the cultural phenomenons Orenstein talked about. Obviously, there is the Disney Princesses, but there’s also Barbie, American Girl Dolls, and Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus, just to name a few. All of these I enjoyed at different stages in my childhood.
When I was younger and loved the Disney Princesses I never thought about the fact that all of them were stick thin and beautiful. And more importantly unrealistic. I just accepted the images that were presented to me. But, by simply accepting this to be the norm, society is setting girls up from a young age to be unhappy with how they look. Orenstein comments that girls have to do it all and at the same time “please everyone, be very thin, and dress right.”
The thing is that the Disney Princesses would be just as beautiful even if they had more normal sized waists. Don’t believe me? Just look here. Not to mention most of them are white as well. These princesses do not represent diversity, both in race and in body type. Why can’t Disney make a princess with some flaws? Or who is Hispanic? Or who is not skinny? That would sure make the rest of us who aren’t Princess material feel better. There are many other issues feminists have with the Princesses that Orenstein comments on, such as their service to men and the fact that they don’t really do anything, but that is for another day. The real issue concerning me is the body image being taught to girls. Even Frozen, which has been viewed as a very progressive movie because the Prince doesn’t save the day, still has two Princesses who are a size zero!
It’s not like it’s just the Disney Princesses though. They are not the only ones contributing to an unrealistic female body image. Everywhere we look in the media there are skinny, beautiful women who make it seem like that is the only way to be successful. Young girls may not pick up on it right away, but by the time they are teenagers they will know thinness is desirable. Orenstein writes that “according to the American Psychological Association, the girlie-girl culture’s emphasis on beauty and play-sexiness can increase girls’ vulnerability to the pitfalls that most concern parents: depression, eating disorders, distorted body image, risky sexual behavior.” All lot is at stake here, folks.
I did not get anorexia just because I watched Disney Princess movies. I know plenty of people who watched them and turned out fine. But each little piece of our girlie-girl culture that girls are brought up in contributes to the ideal of a perfect body that almost every woman compares herself too. That is part of what it means to grow up in our society. Orenstein points out that “the standards of female beauty are so punishing that even should a girl miraculously fit them, she may still believe she falls short.”
I’m not saying do not watch Disney Princess movies. I’m not saying throw all your Barbies away. What I’m trying to say is be aware of how unrealistically women’s bodies are presented. If we teach young girls they are so much more than their body, we can start to change our culture. And if we ourselves look at such images with a critical eye, then creating a more positive body image within us is possible. I’m not saying it is easy; I know as well as anyone that it is definitely not. But lots of small changes can have a lasting impact.