Disclaimer: This drawing was NOT traced, contrary to what my parents believe 🙂
During Unit 3, our course covered the topic of how our bodies are socially influenced by gender roles and constructs that are also perpetuated through media representation. The idea of a normative feminine beauty is not an uncommon theme. Since 1979, author and speaker Jean Kilbourne has been documenting the objectification and dehumanization of women in the media. As she points out in her series of documentaries, the average American is exposed to over 3,000 advertisements every single day (Kilbourne, 2010). Consider how many children are exposed to gender stereotypes propagated by these ads. These advertisements can encompass movie trailers and toy products as well. Researchers Dawn England and Lara Descartes noted the significant goal of advertising campaigns regarding the Disney Princess Line created in 2001. The campaign’s objective was to attract a wide audience of girls with the ultimate goal of encouraging children to personally identify with the characters so that they will purchase the associated products (England & Descartes, 2011).
The standard of beauty is often overlooked in the powerful influence it carries over the young developing mind especially in the gendered material in Disney films. Disney princesses in particular have been consistently portrayed within their gender role since the film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was first released in 1937. Studies have shown that children who have recognized gender stereotyping in animation began to have similar gendered expectations for themselves and for others (England & Descartes, 2011). When I read this study, I was reminded yet again of why I chose to strongly reiterate this topic on Disney princesses and their unrealistic waistlines. During week 3, I had received a shocking comment on my blog post regarding this matter. My fellow classmate had shared an experience of gendered expectations arising from 8 year old girls who criticized a fellow playmate for being fat, and thus unable to play the role of Rapunzel. This kind of gender-stereotypical behavior can lead to problematic situations for girls growing up who might believe their opportunities in life are different as women (McBride, 2016).
How can we educate the young minds of the next generation to a world of possibilities where gender stereotypes and roles do not exist? We can begin by realistically portraying animated characters instead of perpetuating myths of thin ideals that do not exist. Although I was intimidated by the idea of drawing a Disney princess, I felt emboldened to challenge even my perception of what a princess should look like. I chose three princesses from different time periods to emphasize what change can and should look like with their bodies. The first princess I drew, that I also considered to be the easiest to draw mentally and physically, was Moana. As Disney’s first Polynesian princess, there was scrutiny surrounding how accurate her body would be drawn and how true it would be to her heritage. I personally found the rendering of her body to be accurate. To me she represented the independent, healthy, empowered woman that Disney has slowly been working toward.
Snow White was the second princess I undertook to draw because of her origins as Disney’s first princess (excluding Disney’s trial run with a short film starring Greek-mythology based goddess Persephone). Lori Baker-Sperry and Liz Grauerholz point out the popularity of Snow White in how often it was reproduced in books and movies since its original publication as a story. Their findings even suggest that because Snow White and Cinderella were reproduced often, they essentially promote the feminine beauty ideal that alludes specifically to their physical appearance and attractiveness (Baker-Sperry & Grauerholz, 2003). While I drew her, I envisioned that she would have a rounder and fuller stomach. Her soft and gentle character, as depicted in film and stories, gave way to this rendering of her new body.
As the last Disney princess to draw, Belle was chosen for personal and logical reasons. Rationally, Belle was an appropriate choice because of her role as a “Renaissance” princess who supposedly progressed from outdated princesses like Aurora and Cinderella. However, her physical attractiveness still remained an important ideal to uphold for Walt Disney despite her ingenuity, activity, and independence (Baker-Sperry & Grauerholz, 2003). I personally struggled to draw Belle the most because she had been my childhood role model. In my mind, there was an internal battle to draw her realistically not only for others but also for myself. At one point, I had a completely irrational thought that my rendering of her realistic body would detract from her intelligence and curiosity for life. It was extremely helpful to find images of real women wearing the belle costume (see below) in order to reinforce my goal in creating a realistic waistline for Belle.
While I could have drawn more pronounced bodies in size for these three princesses, I also wanted to stay true to reality. Being healthy and strong can certainly equate to having a body with a slightly smaller silhouette but it can also be vice versa. Different body shapes and sizes should be celebrated in our society. This is the primary and sole reason I chose to use a variety of colorful crayons at the top of my painting. Rainbows often represent diversity and equality, as seen in the LGBTQ campaign. I hope my artwork can serve as a reminder of the heavy influence social media has the self-esteem and development of children. While it is virtually impossible to avoid the media in today’s technologically favored society, we can provide opportunities for children to engage in a variety of interests (McBride, 2016). In the documentary “Killing us Softly,” Kilbourne states the body type that we see as acceptable or desirable is one that fewer than 5% of American women have (Kilbourne, 2010). Many women don’t come to the realization that models who have a thin body are genetically born that way. As part of the 95% of women who don’t have that body type, we have a responsibility to educate children at a young age on acceptance and appreciation of their body. Disney princesses have the potential in the future to shape the next generation in a positive and empowering way.