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Disney’s Unrealistic Representation of Women

By Ainsley Benbow

Disney. What comes to mind when you hear the word ‘Disney’? Is it the characters? Your favourite movie? An experience from one of their massive and junk-food-filled amusement parks?

To many people, Disney’s main idea is that of a young princess falling in love with a majestic and rich prince who, let's be honest, is always a little too hot for the young viewers that Disney’s main audience is aimed at.

For me, Disney is the basis of my entire childhood! If I ever re-watch a good and classic Disney movie, I am taken back to a younger, more innocent me watching it and thinking of a future with a handsome prince with all of my dreams coming true! - But as my sister said when she read through this, “is that really what you think of when you watch Mulan!?” Which is utterly true but we’ll get back to that a bit later.

For many others, some of the things that might come to mind are castles, singing (and let's face it… we all loved the cringiness of Sofia the Firsts’ theme song), fireworks, justice, happiness, and the true values of family… so I thought.

Many who know me, know that I have an oddly childish and profound love for all Disney movies whether it be Cinderella or even 101 Dalmatians - I love them all!!! But, besides the fact that this article is a little controversial because of my love for Disney, I have to change the topic… I am not here to talk about how amazing Disney is, but honestly, the complete opposite.

Am I the only one who sees Disney's disgusting and untrue depictions of women throughout all of their movies? I can’t be the only one who sees their unrealistic representation of women???

I searched how Disney precisely impacted society, and do you know what came up from the Culture Magazine in 2022? As stated in the article: “the influence of Disney on modern society is undeniable. It has helped promote creativity, reinforce positive morals, and support local economies.”

If the life lessons of love and positive morals mean that Disney has objectified and devalued women and their body types since their first film in 1937 then yes, I completely agree.

Disney has created an unrealistic representation of women through their movies and entertainment since their first film Snow White over 80 years ago. Did you know Snow White was only 14 years old when she ran away, lived with strangers, cooked, and did everything for them while they were out at work, gets kissed by a Prince (who’s 31 by the way!) and then left? I did some research and after they leave together, they later arrive at the prince’s castle, get married and live “happily ever after.”

First of all, CREEPY! I’m 15 and I haven’t even had my first kiss how am I supposed to marry someone twice as old? Second of all, what does this promote to small children? That true love is waiting out there, for us to be swept off our feet while we’re in a coma? No! It shows us that you don’t need consent from any relative to say you can marry a complete stranger at the ripe age of 14 might I add! Lastly, this demonstrates that women are needy and vulnerable creatures who have no boundaries in order to find a man.

This is still happening today in their movies by talking about how they should be presented to society and creating their bodies to make them seem the same with their shockingly small wrists and corset-fit waists that will literally take your breath away. Not only this, but Disney has made it seem that beauty is the only thing necessary to find true love, affection, and the only way to fulfil your life goals as a woman.

The majority of Disney Princesses like Snow White and Cinderella, have similar facial features and believe in the same notion that they "need" to find a handsome prince charming who will take care of them, to live happily ever after. Women are always portrayed as weak, emotional and neurotic while men are expected to be strong, aggressive and dominant, which are depicted from both their external appearances and internal qualities.

Beauty and kindness are related in 31% of stories and 94% of fairy tales and princess movies address physical appearance, with the princess most frequently described as ”innocent”. In relation to this, 6 out of the 11 Disney Princesses’ eyes are larger than their waists! What are girls supposed to learn from this?

Another example of this is shown in Snow White’s “evil” stepmother who coincidentally is trying to kill her. Snow White’s stepmother is seen as intelligent, independent, and sure of what she wants. However, throughout the entire film, she is ridiculed, mocked and labelled as the antagonist, while Snow White is compliant and naive making her the ideal woman to be. How is this okay? How are young girls all over the world supposed to view this?

Children from all over the world from watching these movies from a young age are sucked into this alternate reality that men and women cannot be equal, that they cannot be together if one of them is ugly, and most certainly they cannot be with one another if the woman is indifferent from society's expectations. We need to come to the realization of how many of us have been affected by Disney, we need to know that these expectations are; not what you need to find your prince charming, happily ever after in real life today… God forbid a Knox boy. Being beautiful, being innocent and being helpless. This is not what you have to be satisfied with in life, this is simply describing a person. We are all different. We are all shapes and sizes. We are all beautiful in our own ways. And we do not need Disney of all things to tell us what our bodies should look like to find true love, to feel good about ourselves, and to be satisfied with life.

Remember when I mentioned Mulan? Well, in contrast to some of Disney’s other movies, although Mulan is represented as yet again another woman who is slim but healthy, Mulan is a responsible young woman, a fearless warrior, a leader, and a beloved role model for both men and women even though she had to deny her femininity in order to be taken seriously and save her fathers life by taking his place. Nevertheless, she is also an optimistic and fun-loving individual, especially when seen with Shang, with whom she had developed a strong, romantic relationship by the start of the second film. Besides this relationship not being based on looks like all the other Disney princesses, Shang and Mulan make a relationship built on trust and care showing what a healthy relationship would look like in reality.

Disney has a lot to work on when it comes down to the representation of women and thinking about how this affects the younger generation, but as seen in Mulan, Disney has started to show progress in making female characters not always being characterised as a heroine and instead making them more independent and realistic.

As independent women, we need to consider our own life choices whether it will be the impact of unrealistic standards and the overwhelming stress of society's expectations, or one of inspiration in the notion that anything and everything is possible with a little bit of faith.

Before you click out of this tab and go back to your very stressful school and social life and I urge you to consider the impacts that Disney has had on your life and what impact you will let it have on you forever, in your future.



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