For a while now, content aggregators like Buzzfeed have been earning clicks by publishing list articles involving images of popular Disney characters edited to portray a realistic body image. The complaint against Disney is that the art styles of their most popular movies, like Frozen, promote unrealistic body expectations, particularly for the young women who watch them. This focus on body positivity may be well-intentioned, but it undermines artistic expression.
While unrealistic body image is a problem, particularly in advertising and lifestyle magazines, the difference is that the airbrushed and computer edited version of Kate Upton on the cover of Cosmopolitan is created with the intent of promoting a false image as real. The message it sends says, “if you don’t look like this, there’s something wrong with you.” But Frozen’s Queen Elsa, with her sparkly eyes as big as her 10 cm waist, or Ariel with her thick, voluminous hair despite living in salt water are presenting fantastic images as pure fantasy.
Similar to Marvel superheroes with their insanely defined muscles, and anime’s wild eyes and hairstyles, Disney features a stylized form of art work that is not meant to be taken seriously. Most children in the movie theater are intelligent enough to know that the characters on the screen don’t represent how people are supposed to look in real life.
The stylization of the human form has been around as long as humans have created art. Neolithic paintings and sculptures discovered in France depict the human body as widely disproportionate from reality. The simple reason why is that realism is boring. Art and animation should be free forms of expression, where the stylized, goofy and downright absurd are accepted as standard to this new reality that the viewer is introduced to.
The assumption that Disney is promoting an unrealistic body image to corrupt people’s minds misses the point of stylized art completely. Contrary to what Buzzfeed’s clickbait introductions say, Disney characters with realistic proportions do not look “stunning.” They look ordinary.