Frozen: The Power of a Pretty Dress

I’ve been reading a lot about Frozen lately, and not even intentionally. I mean I watched it intentionally, but it was when I was having a slumber party with my niece. Okay, fine. You caught me. My niece is now a teenager and we were watching it in spite of not being the age demographic they were aiming for. Seriously though guys, why are Disney movies so appealing? There are so many things I can hate on in this movie. Like how it features ANOTHER typical white, skinny heroine whose eyes are bigger than her wrists.

Okay fine, I see you Jasmine… and Mulan.. and Pocahontas… and Tiana, but they’re still all skinny!

Or how the head of Frozen‘s animation shared about how difficult it is to animate female characters because you have to keep them pretty all the time.

Man that is tricky. I mean, they’re just all such unique characters.

And yet I am just as happy as the next girl/woman to pop in a Disney flick and sing along. That’s not to say that boys can’t/don’t like princess films, by the way, because there are many who do, including adult men I know.  To be more realistic, it’s girls who are the target demographic of “princes culture”.

Some of my Frozen reading has prompted me to share something with you that I rarely tell people. The reason I don’t usually share this, besides the fact that they probably wouldn’t really care, is because it makes me look like far less of the down-to-earth, non-consumeristic feminist I would love to pretend to be.

The thing I want to share is this, when I was a little girl my favorite movie of all time was War and Peace.

“Now Kat”, you might be thinking, “You wonderfully cultured thing you, why on earth would you be ashamed of enjoying a film based on a classic piece of literature? Why, that film probably planted the seed that inspired you to pursue such an incredibly pretentious useful degree like English.”

Well, the truth is I only watched it for the ballroom scene so I could see Audrey Hepburn in this dress:

Yes, you heard me right. I was watching it for the pretty dresses.

The reason why I was reminded of, and have now shared, this secret of mine is because of an article Dana Stevens wrote called “The Sexy ‘Frozen’ Moment No One Is Talking About”, which was featured in both Slate and HuffPost. I’ve included the sexy moment she is talking about below (you can click ahead to 2:55 minutes if you don’t want to groove out to the whole song).

According to Stevens:

“It’s a moment I recognize from too many movies in my own childhood—Grease was one, The Breakfast Club another—in which the ‘good girl’ goes over to ‘the bad side’ thanks to a quick cosmetic fix-up … These moments always bugged me as a kid, because they seemed to be last-minute reversals of the foregoing movie’s message, which was that the character in question […] was fine just the way she was.”

I totally get what Stevens is saying. I agree that it isn’t fair to constantly force on girls (and boys) the idea that a physical makeover is all it takes to cure their woes. Yet that plot is repeated over and over in our movies. What do we find so appealing about it?

movie-makeovers

Well, I think it just feels really good to know you look good. Let me tell you, I looked mighty fine at my wedding. I’m not even going to pretend I wasn’t checking myself out. I will probably never look like that again, but it felt really great to have that one day to forgive myself for digging into my wallet solely for the sake of looking fabulous. 

Thing is, I never look like that in my day to day. Heck, I haven’t even shaved my legs since sometime before Christmas. I don’t even remember when. 

I realize that I usually write articles criticizing this kind of thing on the blog (like The Problem with Pink, and The Problem with Cute) and perhaps I risk being a hypocrite here, but maybe makeovers aren’t such a big problem. Does it contribute to the way society emphasizes the physical over everything else? Probably, but does that make it bad in and of itself? I don’t think so. There’s a big problem in thinking our bodies are where our identity lies, but maybe there is also a problem with thinking that it doesn’t affect us at all. For better or for worse, when I look in the mirror I think to myself “that’s me.” And every now and then, I think it’s okay if I try to make that “me” look mighty fine. And quite frankly, I don’t want to feel bad about it. I don’t want it to be what comprises my identity, but I’m fooling myself if I think my physical self isn’t part of that identity. Maybe we need to be reminded that, even as feminists, there is still a little room to want to look pretty.  And to belt out “Let It Go” in our living rooms while our significant others are trying to study… or is that just me?

What do you think? Where do we draw the line in our fight to move away from the kind of media that emphasizes beauty as the most important virtue an individual can possess?

* If I haven’t convinced you to watch Frozen yet you should check out this article on the 7 moments that made Frozen the most progressive Disney movie ever. That being said I already included the best part in this article, so I guess you don’t really have to watch it now.

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6 responses to “Frozen: The Power of a Pretty Dress

  1. A couple of comments, some of which I’m sure will be repeats of what you’ve already read. Quickly though, the predominantly white cast line in Frozen ( and by predominantly I do mean all) is loyal to the text. It was written by Anderson in Denmark (see also : Ariel) where diveristy, at least at that time, was essentially zilch. Belle is white because it’s a French tale, Cinderella has roots in almost every written culture but was first seriously handled in Germany and Italy. Snow White was definitely German, etc. The biggest liberty Disney has taken with race changes have been against the text with Tiana rather than artificially white washing naturally diverse texts.
    Obviously they change other things about the stories so I’m not going to beat that argument like a drum but I think it’s a fair point.

    Clearly the looks are absolutely unrealistic and body proportions are a joke. I think in part that has to do with the “doll”: nature of one of their end purposes but I also think it has to do with art. Anime figures are hugely out of proportion, as are most cartoon figures (Picturing the secretary in PowerPuff Girls with legs that went forever). Granted- my goodness I’m tired of looking at that same CGI face. If it’s an art thing they need to get better artists on that.

    Regarding your discussion on makeovers, I think it’s so fun to delight in your own beauty. Those stories are the best because they give us this transformative image of ourselves. Following recent articles and a spike in discussion on how body posture and language informs internal dialogue, I think it’s perfectly reasonable to remember that our “ourter forms” do, in momentous ways, form us. Making a choice to highlight or emphasize things we like about ourselves is good and natural. I think story tellers are laso realizing that it cannot be a sole trigger, Thinking of The Princess Diaries, her makeover didn’t transform her crippling social anxiety and in someways it magnified it. It did give her a chance to evaluate her own worth both by external and internal standards. Makeovers may be one way of tuning the relentless blather of media markets into white noise- “Yes I’ve GOT that beauty thing…now I can test if it is enough”.

    Wow- that was a lot. I enjoyed your post and the lovely chance it gave me to think, and to avoid writing lesson plans! Alas real life- but I might do my hair and makeup first! 🙂

    • I don’t think Kat was implying that Anna [I’m going to assume that’s who she was referring to at the protagonist] being White was a mistake on the part of Disney as far as the original text, merely that she’s another protagonist who fits a pre-established mould.

      That being said, there are Saami people who have criticized the film, with tumblr user selchieproductions probably voicing their issues best:

      “In short there are three main things that particularly bug me; the first concerns the opening song, the second deals with the way our traditional clothes have been re-imagined by Disney and the last beef I have with Disney has to do with the director’s claim that Kristoff is Saami without showing any non-fictional proof whatsoever of this throughout the entire film.”

    • The secretary from The Powerpuff Girls is named Sara Bellum, which I always thought was fun.

    • Evan did a pretty good job responding for me. I wasn’t saying they were white-washing the story, just that they happened to choose another story about white people. I appreciate that Evan brought up the appropriation of Saami culture though… especially because I am part Saami (although my family referred to themselves as Laplander). I know almost nothing about it and dream of visiting family in Norway someday to find out more.

      As for your comment on the makeover plot piece, I like what you said about it still being a version of ourselves, just transformed. And something that can sometimes help us evaluate our perspective.

  2. One of the subtle differences between men and women is how we differ in finding self-worth. Men find value in arbitrary skills (see: sports, competitive video gaming), while women find self-worth in beauty (fashion and body). You could argue that the second is a learned result from society’s incessant focus on this sort of thing, but a stronger argument is that culture DOES focus on female beauty because it appeals to men (who are turned on by the dress) AND women (who are fascinated by the dress).

    One of the worst aspects of gender equality movements is an attempt to erase inherent differences, or at least ignore/don’t talk about them. This was an excellent post from a feminist and feminine perspective, and it’s a good way of showing that “different” doesn’t mean “less than” or “greater than.”

  3. Pingback: Culture War Correspondence: Disney Movies and Gender Roles | Culture War Reporters

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