Last month, actress Kristen Bell told an interviewer that she was about to begin recording her role as Anna in Frozen 2, the sequel to Disney’s wildly successful animated movie, Frozen. Upon hearing the news, I wondered how Frozen 2 could possibly meet the standards and expectations set by the original. I also wondered whether Anna would have smaller eyes and a bigger waistline than she did the first time around. More on that in a minute.
Like many four-year-old girls, my daughter is completely obsessed with Frozen in general and Queen Elsa in particular. She has Frozen dolls, Frozen nightlights, Frozen coloring books, and a wall covered in Frozen stickers. She breaks into impromptu renditions of “Let It Go” at the breakfast table, at the lunch table, at the dinner table, at the playground, on car rides, in the shower—pretty much anywhere she can hear her own voice. This past winter, she would often justify her refusal to wear a jacket by declaring, “The cold never bothered me anyway.”
If you have a daughter of a similar age, I’m sure this sounds familiar.
What you may not know is that, ever since Frozen debuted on the big screen, people have complained that its female heroines promote unrealistic beauty standards.
For example, after the release of the first movie, British film critic Anna Smith wrote,
Both Elsa and Anna have the kind of proportions that would make Barbie look chunky: tiny nipped-in waists, no hips, long legs, skinny arms, pert breasts, small feet and eyes three times the size of the male characters’.
More recently, Glenn Boozan of the comedy website Above Average cited Elsa and Anna as two of the many Disney princesses “whose eyes are literally bigger than their stomachs.”
It’s the same kind of criticism that prompted Mattel to launch its new Barbie “Fashionistas” line, which includes a “curvy” Barbie. “By introducing more variety into the line,” the company tells shoppers, “Barbie is offering girls choices that are more reflective of the world they see today.”
All well and good. But the question remains: Do the body types of plastic dolls and animated Disney characters really make young women unhappy? Both empirical research and common sense tell us the answer is no.
One study, conducted by researchers at Texas A&M International University, found that “only peer competition, not television or social media use, predicted” body dissatisfaction and eating-disorder symptoms in a sample group of teenage girls. (It also found that “social media use had a small predictive relationship with peer competition, suggesting that social media may be one arena in which peer competition for potential mates is carried out.”)
There’s no doubt that many young women strive to be as thin as possible. But are they trying to keep up with movie stars and other celebrities? Or with their friends, colleagues, and family members?
Rather than fret over the sylphlike bodies of Elsa and Anna, women should focus on all the positive messages that Frozen imparts.
Born with magical ice powers, Elsa loses control of her magic—with dangerous consequences—whenever she feels afraid. She initially tries to protect Anna and others by hiding in her bedroom. Later, after her powers are exposed, she runs away to a distant mountain. Yet Elsa discovers that she cannot solve her problem through self-isolation. Indeed, she conquers her demons only after returning to her kingdom and witnessing an act of true love by her sister.
Elsa isn’t the only character to learn valuable moral lessons in the film. In the course of searching for Elsa and eventually saving her from the villainous Prince Hans, Anna learns that true love should not be confused with superficial attraction or momentary infatuation. She also learns that the ultimate act of true love is not a mere kiss, but a genuine sacrifice you make for another person. And you can’t make such a sacrifice until you love someone more than you love yourself.
In our hyper-individualistic age of selfies, online “friendships,” and technology-induced loneliness, these are important lessons for everyone. They help explain why Frozen has achieved such iconic status all around the world, and why Elsa and Anna richly deserve their place in the pantheon of Disney’s greatest characters—even if their eyes are literally bigger than their stomachs.