Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Why My Four-Year-Old Niece Thinks She's Not Skinny Enough

You know there is something wrong with the world when a four-year-old girl tells you she needs a smaller waist.

This is my niece. She's a normal-sized four (almost five)-year-old girl, and in my opinion, a rather pretty one at that. On Father's Day, all of us got together at my parents' house for dinner. Beforehand I was watching So You Think You Can Dance with my mom and younger sister. Niece came in and climbed onto the bed with us.

After laying on me for a little while, she looked up and said, "You have a short tummy."

I laughed. "Short? This way," I gesture from breast to hips, "or this way?" I gesture to my width.

"That way." My width. A compliment, I suppose.

However, my niece then said her tummy isn't short enough.

We chuckled at this, and my sister compared stomachs with her and says Niece's tummy is, indeed, very "short." But my niece stood up and bent over, sucking in her stomach, and said, "No, it has to be like this!"

At first we though she was joking, but she was quite serious and wouldn't hear of it any other way.

This was alarming to me, especially considering my niece comes from a family un-obsessed with body image. There is no way she could be getting this idea from her parents. And for heaven's sake, she's only four!

Later, said sister had a talk with Niece and found the route of the problem:

Like most little girls, Niece adores Disney, and has watched every Disney princess movie more times than anyone can count. She sings all the songs and, when she brushes her teeth, hums the tune the Little Mermaid sings when her voice is stolen away.

Yet it's because of these movies that this precious little girl thinks she needs to be skinnier. A part of my can hardly blame her. Look at how these women are drawn!

Disney paints these ridiculous (and might I mention unachievable?) proportions on every human female protagonist they have--illustrations that take society's extreme need to be skinny to an all new level. In order to be as skinny as Hercules's Meg, for example (pictured above), one would have to remove her rib cage.

Organizations such as Beauty Redefined have tried to put a stop to this unhealthy standard towards women, even taking lengths such as posting billboards and holding fiery Facebook debates with Sports Illustrated's "Hot or Not."

"Industry-standard" airbrushing is one thing, but actually designing a character with such proportions for a movie intended to have a young audience is another. It's absurd, it's demeaning, and it's making little girls think there's something wrong about them before the rest of society even gets the chance to tell them so.

So what's your excuse, Disney? Would it be so hard to draw a chubby princess, or at least one with normal proportions? Who exactly are your tailoring these images to?

I hate that so many women today have body issues because of society's version of the "female ideal," and I hate that, despite being a size 6, I too struggle with not being thin enough. But it breaks my heart to hear that this perfect little girl--and likely others in her age group--already thinks she's not good enough because she doesn't look like her animated heroes on T.V.

Because, unfortunately, every little girl wants to grow up to be a Disney princess.


  1. Don't let them watch Disney movies. I know plenty of parents who do this. Problem solved. :P

    1. Danny formerly NicholesJune 20, 2012 at 4:34 PM

      There is a certain amount of censoring that we parents generally do (and this is my daughter in question, by the way), but we don't take it to the ridiculous extents some others do. Besides, it's pretty hard to completely insulate them from a franchise as widespread and permeating as Disney Princesses. I think having age-appropriate talks early on and focusing instead on being fit and healthy instead of skinny (cuz let's face it, there are plenty of UNhealthy skinny "role models" out there...Kristen Stewart, anyone?).

      And when that fails, pray like crazy.

    2. And boo to this whole verification thing. I have to refresh 'em half a dozen times before I can read one.

    3. I took it off just for you. :) I got some spam mail even with it on, anyway.

    4. *head smack* It's the lack of sleep + mommy brain.

      "think having age-appropriate talks...IS A GOOD THING."

      It's ridiculous how much trouble I have finishing sentences these days.

    5. Another problem with insulating children from such images is that it only works for a very short time. As soon as they start having friends who idolize Disney (or any other popular image, for that matter,) it's all over. Even as young as preschool--or even younger, if you have social circles like playgroups--they pick up on what the other kids like and want to see the same things. I second the age-appropriate talks.

  2. So glad I have little boys. Only 'Princess' movie I have is Mulan (and I want Tangled, dangit) and I am pretty sure my kids don't want to emulate the ladies.

    At least I hope not, lol.

  3. Wow. It's scary that girls this young are thinking that way. I also find it odd that Disney has, over the years, started to write women are more independent and smart, yet they still have to be drawn with these unrealistic proportions. Something's wrong there.

  4. She needs to watch Mulan and Lilo & Stitch, says I. If I remember correctly, Sleeping Beauty also has slightly better proportions... though not as good as the first two.

    Then again, she should scrap Disney and go straight to Avatar: The Last Airbender ;) Though neither Katara nor Toph are the best role-models ever, they are at least more human.

    It's not just Disney, though. Books are written the same way. Any girl with an unfeminine physique is never described as pretty. Ever. I know, 'cause I've been watching out for it since I don't have one. *amused*

  5. I worry about the future generations. Our society continuously sends the wrong message about beauty. I have a friend named Tomeka. She would be considered overweight at nearly 300-pounds. But I think she is beautiful. Accept people for who they are is my motto. I'm tired of all the photoshopped peeps.

  6. Thanks for posting this Charlie. I've been a little disturbed lately as I've been running into my own false dichotomies regarding beauty.

    I know cartoons are highly stylized representations of people and animals and that there is an "Industry-standard" for airbrushing; but when I look in the mirror, that is hard to remember.

  7. Pardon, but I think you've blown this a bit out of proportion yourself. For one thing, these are cartoon characters. They aren't meant to look like real people. For another thing, Ariel is a mermaid, so she isn't even a human girl in the first place, Belle is wearing a corset that would have actually drawn her waist in quite a bit, and Jasmine comes from a culture where women tend to have smaller stomachs than most. I agree that Meg could be thicker, but look at her hair as well, she's clearly a caricature. Cartoons are an art form and works of fantasy. Disney is one of the final sources of entertainment holding on to any sense of morality. I must defend them.

    1. Four-year-olds are at the earliest stages of learning these distinctions between reality and fantasy, and something as pervasive as Disney can have a huge impact on the foundation they're building for their lives. You could say these things to a kid a hundred times, and she could nod her head and agree but still be upset that she doesn't look like her idol.

  8. I grew up on Disney. Not a single one if those movies ever made me feel bad about my thick body type. Disney only ever taught me that dreams do come true if you just wish upon a star. So I'd have to say its more than that.

  9. The body image issue is one of the reasons I was content to have boys. Part of me would still like a girl, but I get scared when I think about how I would navigate them through stuff like this. Princess culture--and Disney in general, for that matter--can be pretty sinister, especially when you consider how much innocence and wonder they exploit to make a buck. Not that there's nothing there to enjoy, but it can be pretty scary at the same time, especially as you watch your children fall right into their little must-have-this traps.

  10. This is utterly heartbreaking. So young. And when she'll struggle with this her whole wish she could have her childhood free of it. I think every girl, no matter how skinny, thinks they're not skinny enough. There's something horribly wrong with that.

  11. There's so much in the news about models and actresses being airbrushed and affecting girls self-image, but no one had ever pointed to Disney. It's so sad she feels this way.

    I've got two boys and they're always talking about how fat they are. In reality they haven't got an inch of fat, but they are both naturally muscular.

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