The shape of fairytale princesses

‘Let Down Your Hair’ is clearly of its time. Hollywood seems obsessed with fairytale retellings at the moment, what with ‘Into The Woods’ and yet another Cinderella remake. With a promo poster featuring a fairytale princess photoshopped to resemble the shape of her animated forbears:(

When it comes to animated princesses, I confess I’m on the fence. On one hand, I can see that heroines with huge eyes and waists smaller than their necks aren’t a shape you want a little girl to aspire to. On the other, I’m not entirely convinced that little girls *do* aspire to be the shape of their cartoon characters or Bratz dolls or whatever. I haven’t read any decent research on this, but I’ve certainly heard stories about four-year-old girls who’ve cut off well-meaning reassurances with comments like “Barbie’s only a doll, Aunty Sue. She’s just pretend.”

Part of the problem is my Inner Scientist getting in the way and waffling about super stimuli. These, for those who’ve never heard of them, are things where the features that appeal to people (or other creatures) are exaggerated. They did these experiments with chicks in the 1970s or something. They found that seagull chicks actually pecked more at a fake-looking beak that was long and thin and stripy than they did at a realistic model of an adult gull’s head. Disney princesses are drawn along the same principles. Large eyes and small waists appeal, so they’ve exaggerated these features until the eyes are about as long as the waists are wide. You’d think they’d look gross and distorted, but they don’t, do they?

My feeling is that a doll or cartoon character isn’t nearly as powerful as a Photoshopped photo of an actual woman. The message then is that this is a shape someone real has achieved, therefore even inadequate you can attain it too, if you try hard enough. So sign up and pay us lots of money for these diets, gym memberships and operations!

I explore notions of beauty and status quite a bit in Parts II&IV of ‘Let Down Your Hair’. Terrible business. But it is, indeed, business, and big business, so the images keep coming, and with them the myth that the closer you get to that shape, the “happier” you’ll become. “Happier” being the advertiser’s way of saying “higher status”, i.e. envied by more women and pursued by more men. Never mind that envy can be toxic and men who want a trophy might not be what you want.


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