Buzzfeed has a set of images going around, re-drawing some of the Disney Princesses with ‘slightly’ more realistic waistlines.
They oddly have a separate post with the eyes re-drawn in closer to human proportion.
It seems that while they are trying to point out some evidence for the dismorphic approach to female bodies in the Disney-verse, they continue to perpetuate one of the key practices in objectification themselves: the segmentation and dismembering of bodies for depersonalised evaluation.
Nevertheless, I recognise that they are trying to help (a bit, but not too much, so as not to disturb the thriving ecology of media driven image control, in which Buzzfeed is a significant organism itself ).
Unfortunately, the post simply shows the Disney images alongside some slightly modified figures and leaves it all hanging under the title of ‘IF’. The response from some mothers of girls (which thank God I am not, but still share their concern) has been a fairly frustrated angry whimper of disempowerment. The pictures didn’t actually point out something that these women hadn’t noticed. They all have waistlines of their own, and they know what a real female body is meant to look like, because it stares them, hopefully smiling and full of grace and pride in the mirror daily.
I didn’t actually see any responses from Dads, but I imagine the response would be the same. I’ve seen them turn their heads to watch a real waistline or two on the street, none of them looking like a Disney dish.
In some ways, the post was a bit of a slap into the face to us who live in real bodies but see these images foisted upon almost every possible surface: cups, t-shirts, backpacks, undies, buses…a taunt that says, “We know this is inaccurate, we know this creates unrealistic expecations, we know this is damaging” (because we know how many mornings we don’t face our body in the mirror with admiration, joy and pride as it deserves.)
But what can be done? Disney is not going away. And they are not going to change their physical norms in a hurry. The world is still reeling from Elsa not getting a hook up at the end of Frozen, as if we’d never heard of a single female before! And we know that manufacturing and marketing are going to keep plastering these images onto every imaginable object. Fortunately, our capacity to correct and counter this imagery lies not in protest and shutting it down – though let’s not take it lying down either – but in our own hands, in what we create ourselves.
One of the ways we can help is to recover the practice of drawing in the family. As a child, many of the images I saw on a daily basis were drawn by my own mother. My grandparents sketched and painted, and sent me small gifts of their own art. Drawing with children is lots of fun – it’s something they are usually really happy to join in with, and in doing this, we have the chance to ‘re-image’ the world for them.
A great activity is to choose a page from National Geographic and both try to draw one of the people on the page. Doing this regularly exposes our children not only to alternate visions of humanness from the fake-disney stock, but also provides mounting evidence over time that the world is full of lots of different kinds of beautiful ‘normal’.
Although popular media has a good shot at influencing our kids, they primarily look to those they live with for the strongest clues about what is real and trustworthy in the world. We are not at all behind the eightball in this.
You don’t need to be great with a pencil or brush – it’s the process that communicates most strongly for children anyway. If lines really aren’t your thing, get out the clay and model up some figures with alternate proportions. Get out a tablet and download a drawing app like sketchpad. Sometimes, when you’re in the cafe or stuck in a queue and you would normally let them open a game app with pre-fab graphics, instead open the drawing app and draw/doodle with your children. Or even better, keep a few crayons and a jotter pad handy – something I know plenty of parents already do.
The key step here is to draw with your children.
At the very least, as you begin to draw or paint or shape, you will discover new insights into your own assumptions about beauty, form, body proportions, as you choose how to represent the human form for yourself, and your children. Will you strive for realism? Will you idealise? Will you deliberately exaggerate for fun, to over-correct common distortions? Art is as much revelation as it is representation.
My ipad was initially a disappointment to my young nephews and nieces, being completely devoid of games. Nevertheless, it’s still popular, because of my own love of the drawing apps on it. I am not gifted in making lines, but I am comfortable experimenting to see what happens!
And in the midst of it all, I can draw my superheroes with short legs, thick waists, large noses, flat feet, no cleavage showing and happy smiles. I can even draw un-heroes, and value the ordinary. It seems the children in my life don’t judge me by Disney standards. Our warm love for each other and the social power of being together, of enjoying creating and experimenting is a value we share.
Perhaps, the crayon can be mightier than the pixel.