Tag Archives: anorexia

Planting the Seeds of Eating Disorders at the Most Vulnerable Age

Lynne Murray says:

When I heard about the Minnie Mouse makeover (which also includes Daisy Duck and other characters) by Barney’s and Disney World, I couldn’t help thinking about the day I tried to fly.


I was pre-school-age–too young to read, maybe five–but I could watch TV. I was watching a television commercial where children ate a breakfast cereal called Sugar Jets and flew around like little jet airplanes. That was the 1950s, when cigarettes were still refreshing, and cereals had no need to shy away from openly calling their brand “Sugar this or that.”

My flying plan was just eating the cereal then running and trying to jump into the air. The flying never worked and I gave up (as I recall, I didn’t even like the cereal that much). But I still remember being open to the possibility that I might take off and go zooming around the neighborhood.

I was in just the vulnerable age group that Disney cartoon characters appeal to. The “fashion cartoon” characters Disney is creating to walk the fashion catwalk will be merchandised just as all Disney creations are. These designers created a 5’11” size 0 “Fashion” version of Minnie Mouse, drastically thinned down and elongated in order to “look good” in a Lanvin dress in the Barney’s window this holiday season.

Barney’s chief executive officer Mark Lee expressed his certainty that the “new” Disney characters will bring as much joy to the holiday season as [an earlier collaboration with Lady Gaga] did. Lady Gaga appeals to an older demographic than Minnie Mouse, a group that is a at least  little able to sort out achievable reality from bizarre fantasy. As Lee put it, “The legendary characters and world created by Disney live in the active mind and memory of virtually every citizen of the world.”

Women’s Wear Daily describes the process:

The short film centers around Minnie Mouse’s fantasy to be at the Paris shows. There she comes across key Disney characters — Mickey Mouse, Goofy, Daisy Duck, Cruella de Vil, Princess Tiana and Snow White — all decked out in unique designer clothes as they make their way down the runway.

“When we got to the moment when all Disney characters walk on the runway, there was a discussion,” Freedman recalled. “The standard Minnie Mouse will not look so good in a Lanvin dress. There was a real moment of silence, because these characters don’t change. I said, ‘If we’re going to make this work, we have to have a 5-foot-11 Minnie,’ and they agreed. When you see Goofy, Minnie and Mickey, they are runway models.”

More scary pictures at this link.

I agree with Ragen at Dances with Fat. She has organized a petition to shine a spotlight on the dangers in what some (not me!) would call harmless fantasy

In her petition, Ragen points out:

There is nothing wrong with tall thin women. There is something wrong with changing a beloved children’s character’s body so that it looks good in a dress that almost nobody looks good in – adding to the tremendous pressure on young girls and women to attain photoshop perfection. The problem isn’t with Minnie’s body, it’s with a dress that only looks good on a woman who is 5’11” and a size zero.

That little girl who is going to become a 5’4″, size 12 woman can’t just become a 5’11”, size 0 woman when she wants to fit into a dress that was designed by someone who couldn’t be bothered to make a dress that looks good on someone who is not a model.

Meanwhile, hospitalizations for eating disorders in children younger than 12 years old rose by 119% from 1999 to 2006 according to a report issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) published in the journal Pediatrics.

According to sources sited on the non-profit National Association of Anorexia and Associated Eating Disorders website:
•  47% of girls in 5th-12th grade reported wanting to lose weight because of magazine pictures.
•  69% of girls in 5th-12th grade reported that magazine pictures influenced their idea of a perfect body shape.
•  42% of 1st-3rd grade girls want to be thinner.
•  81% of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat.

Girls have enough pressure to be thin, now the beloved Disney mouse of their childhood has to add to the message that the only good body is a tall, size 0 body? Enough already. Let’s give girls a chance to celebrate the actual bodies they have instead hating them for not fitting into a Lanvin dress. Then maybe enough girls will get together and demand dresses that look good on their actual, non-digitally altered bodies and designers will just have to become talented enough to design a dress that looks good on them.

There is such a hunger for positive role models among young fat kids and former fat kids now fat adults that many embrace the assertive fat villains such as Disney’s Ursula the Sea Witch from The Little Mermaid

The Disney wiki says:

Ursula is based on the “sea witch” character in Hans Christian Andersen’s story “The Little Mermaid”. In the original story, the sea witch is a neutral enabler, but for Disney’s animated adaptation, the character was modified into a full-fledged antagonist and plays a larger role in the overall story. Ursula is a cecaelian sea witch who “helps” unfortunate merfolk to achieve her own goals. Her appearance is of an obese purple-skinned, white-haired female human and from the waist down has black tentacles.

Withoutscene on Bad Ass Fat Ass blogs about how Ursula was inspired by Divine and many are empowered by her fabulous in-your-face fatness.

Myself, I’ve recently renewed my affection for the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella–a rare positive fat Disney character whose cartoon image actually resembles the big beautiful actress who voiced her in the 1950 film, Vera Felton.

No matter how you feel about the magic words (Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo, of course) I can’t help loving the way the unapologetically fat, gray-haired Fairy Godmother swoops around in this clip:

She really can fly!

May all your cartoons lend you power, if not wings!

One Sugar Plum too Many: Critics, Ballet Theory, and Anorexia

Laurie and Debbie say:

On November 28, Alastair Macaulay, dance critic for The New York Times reviewed the New York City Ballet production of The Nutcracker. For whatever reason, he felt the need to criticize the size of two of the principal dancers, saying that Jennifer Ringer (dancing the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy) “looked as if she’d eaten one sugarplum too many,” and that Jared Angle (dancing the role of the Cavalier), “seems to have been sampling half the Sweet realm.”

Ringer and Angle on stage in the Nutcracker, looking thin and fit

Outcry ensued, especially since Ringer has gone public about her struggles with anorexia. Chloe at Feministing (where we found the story) says, gently enough, “calling a recovering anorexic fat in the pages of the New York Times is a cruel and hurtful thing to do.”

Macaulay was struck enough by the responses to his review to write an article in his own defense. (Don’t do that; it never works out well.) He makes many classic mistakes in this article: he calls the people who responded sexist for caring more about his comments about Ringer than about Angle, he puts in some (incomplete and insufficient) historical data to defend his comments about size, and he commits the sin of trying to claim that he understands the issues from his own experience.

My own history makes me intimately aware of what it is like to have a physique considerably less ideal than any of those I have mentioned. Acute asthma in childhood gave me a chest deformity that often made me miserable into my adolescence. (It was ameliorated by major thoracic surgery at age 20.)

Whatever that intimate awareness gave him, clearly compassion wasn’t on the list. He also ducks the question of whether or not he knew about Ringer’s anorexia by saying: “Some of my correspondents feel I should know this history of hers …. I think otherwise. Dancers do not ask to be considered victims.”

To which we say two things: One, it’s never foolish to believe that a ballet dancer has struggled with eating disorders. In fact, it might be a wise first guess. Two, if dancers do not ask to be considered victims (does anyone?), where does he get the license to victimize them?

The utterly fabulous response, however, comes from New York City Ballet corps de ballet dancer Devin Alberda, in his blog Golden Perseid Showers (we’d love him for the name alone). In an open letter to Macaulay, Alberda says:

This summer you wondered what the future holds for ballet as an art of modern expression. Noting the heteronormativity of story ballets, replete as they are with regressive gender roles, you greeted their current resurgence with trepidation. I took refuge in your analysis. Being a young gay man dancing in a large classical ballet company who is deeply invested in issues of gender and sexuality, the fact that someone was finally subjecting this rapidly obsolescing art form to contemporary gender standards gave me hope for the future.

Months later you meet public outcry over snarky remarks you made about a ballerina’s weight in a review of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker™ with charges of reverse sexism? If you’re mystified by the lack of protest your criticism of male bodies has received, you’re forgetting the centrality of the female form. Do you really need to be reminded that classical ballet, especially as Balanchine quotably promulgated it, emanates from Woman? The wealth of historical context with which you supply your readers on a regular basis suggests that you do not. No one really cares what you have to say about the men’s bodies because no one’s really watching them during the pas de deux anyway.

No one is challenging your right to zing; we expect you to say that we dance “without adult depth or complexity.” You’re a dance critic, it’s what you do, but saying that it looked like a ballerina had “eaten one sugar plum too many,” without explaining how her size hampered her dancing exposes the facile nature of your snark. You contribute to the objectification of the ballerina’s body further by divorcing her appearance from her movement quality entirely. You can’t ponder the representational struggles of contemporary story ballet in the summer and then fail to acknowledge your injurious participation in the construction of the ideal female form in the winter.

The only thing we can add to Alberda’s trenchant analysis is to point out just how well he draws the point away from Ringer’s figure and toward the heart of the issue. The objectification of women’s bodies is a necessary building block for stereotypical heteronormative love stories, in ballet and elsewhere. Macaulay, like so many others, is shoring up and protecting the structures he wants to despise.