For too long now, The Walt Disney Company have provided the world with young, white heroines with unrealistic features (massive disproportionate eyes and tiny waistlines) to front their most iconic animated films. From Snow White to Anna and Elsa of Frozen, the corporation have failed to fully dive into diversity and regularly make non-white, realistic Disney Princesses that millions of girls around the world can aspire to be. There have been exceptions to that statement of course, in the form of princesses like Mulan and Pocahontas, but even they still have those ridiculously tiny waistlines. Meanwhile, the vast majority of Disney Princesses have conformed to the same trend of whitewashing that the rest of Hollywood is still unfortunately stuck in.
At the recent D23 Expo, Disney revealed more details about their next up-and-coming animated musical, starring Dwayne Johnson, to follow on from the 2013 box office smash hit, Frozen. Moana will be Disney’s 56th animated film and will feature the corporation’s first Polynesian princess. But her heritage is not the only amazing thing about this character – she also looks properly kick-ass with early images depicting a realistic body composition, with thick calves and a realistic waistline that are no doubt similar to the vast majority of young girls who will go to see her in action at the cinema.
But why is providing the world with a realistic role model important? Why does Disney feel the need to break from tradition?
There are so many reasons. But the most prominent ones are of course; the reflection of body image and opportunities for ethnic minorities. Now, I know I’m not a girl, and I therefore cannot claim to know the difficulties surrounding what it’s like to grow up as one first hand, but I can contribute to the conversation based on general knowledge and the opinions I’ve gathered from people I know. I am fully aware that growing up as a female in today’s modern society is incredibly difficult. From a very young age, girls are exposed to “ideal body type” and “what you should look like” articles in hundreds of magazines and on thousands of websites – all of which are so easily accessible. And this trend of inspiring lack of body confidence continues all the way through girls’ adolescent and teenage years, right up to and throughout womanhood. So to think that when these girls sit down to watch a Disney princess or heroine in action, they are still viewing an unrealistically slim and unattainable “perfect” body, it makes it seem almost impossible for girls to see themselves as beautiful or confident as their own heroine.
Then there’s obviously the problem with ethnic equality. Hollywood is full of young, beautiful white women, with only a handful of black, Latin, Asian or other stars, and unfortunately the same rings true in Disney films; Snow White, Belle, Ariel, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel etc. are all young, beautiful and white. The likes of Mulan (who was of Chinese descent) and Pocahontas (who was Native-American) proved to be massive box office hits and have remained extremely popular since, yet Disney have waited 18 years to provide the world with another blockbuster with a non-white heroine at it’s centre (some of you may argue that the African-American Tiana in 2009’s The Princess and the Frog is a more recent example, but I don’t class that film as a major blockbuster by Disney’s standards). Yes, those two still conformed to the tiny waist ideals of all other princesses, but on the other hand they were both gutsy heroines who never shied away from the action and were role models for girls of distinct ethnic minorities in a predominantly white Western society.
So, for Disney to finally give the world a non-white princess with a realistic composition, who also looks like she is going to be really bad-ass, is a massive step in the right direction. Providing young girls with a role model who is not necessarily the media ideal in terms of looks and skin colour will hopefully provide every girl, no matter what culture or background they come from, with confidence – making them feel that they too are capable of achieving anything they want to.