Are Disney Films Responsible for Poor Millennial Body Image?

In recent years there has been a lot of outrage regarding the appearance of characters in Disney films. Many people believe the slim figures corrupt the minds of young children, and the famous hourglass image leads to body image issues.

Disney Style Princess

A study conducted at Brigham Young University tested whether Disney princesses affected the behaviour of 200 pre-school children. The results showed that girls with body-esteem issues were more likely to engage with Disney Princesses, and this engagement increased over time. Girls as young as aged 3 believed that women are thin because of these films.

Disney Merida

This issue is not just linked to the portrayal of characters in films. Dolls also have a significant, if not more dominant impact in communicating the wrong messages about body image. The most famous example of this is Barbie dolls, boasting a thin waist, prominent bust and curvy hips. The dolls of the Disney character Merida from ‘Brave’ also received a lot of negative attention. In the film, Merida was a realistic and average figure, with an indefinite bust, and a plain face devoid of make-up. However, the Merida doll had a much more pronounced bust, thinner waist and a lot of make-up on.

Here, Disney missed out on their chance to have a positive impact on body image for their young audience. Instead, they conformed to the unrealistic image that so many dolls adopt. Furthermore, researcher Sarah Coyne pointed out the ‘feminisation’ of Merida detracts from Merida’s fierce strength and independence in the film. Her strength is what the younger generation should aspire to, rather than wanting to have a certain look that is unhealthy and unattainable.

Disney Body Image


Fortunately, Disney’s ‘Moana’ in 2016 is better than the traditional Disney Princess films. Moana is much more average looking so audiences identify with her. As a result of this, children idolise her heroic traits rather than her appearance. Interestingly, in a study conducted by Dr Maya Götz for the International Central Institute for Youth and Educational Television, 70% of 1,055 children said they wanted to watch an average character, rather than a thin or chubby one. This corroborates with the idea that children need to see characters they relate to, and whom they see themselves in.

This is a great opportunity for the media and toy industry to have a positive and constructive effect on their young audience. By reducing the focus on body image, children idolise or copy traits and behaviours. Interestingly, a blogger for the Huffington Post argues that parents should openly discuss body image with young children. This helps children to understand there are a range of body types, and there is a difference between what is realistic and unrealistic. Either way, it is vital that the media and toy industry stop producing these unrealistic images. A better way to use their influence is to teach children how to love themselves, and that everyone is unique in their own way.

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