Daisy Duck 2.0.
It takes a special kind of artistry to make super model Gisele Bündchen look frumpy. But those talented people at Disney are giving it a red-hot go.
Armed with the latest in digital image manipulation technology and the best animation artists in the business, the rodent-led entertainment behemoth has re-imagined some of their most famous characters, including Minnie, Daisy and Goofy, as supermodels for a Christmas ad campaign for US clothing retailer Barney's.
The results are, politely, truly awful. The emaciated limbs of this menagerie make heroin chic look plump.
The 'new look' Minnie featured in Barney's Christmas campaign.
Gone are the curves and the paunches that gave these characters whatever charm they had in the first place, replaced by more angles than a protractor. Minnie looks like a lab rat that has been used in experimental trials for a weight loss drug, or perhaps a house mouse that got its neck stretched in a mousetrap.
Let us pause for a moment and think what it says about our society when even a mouse is no longer allowed to be short and curvy.
It's not entirely clear who Barney’s or Disney are targeting in their campaign. I'm no marketing guru, but watching emaciated cartoon versions of rodents, waterfowl and whatever Goofy is, doesn't really scream 'fashion forward'. And if they’re going for the children’s market, hoping to get them young, then the whole thing seems both sick and dangerous.
This isn’t exactly new territory for Disney. While its figurehead characters, such as Minnie, have always been curvy, other characters have tended towards the unhealthily thin. And more often than not, in the Disney universe, thin is code for 'good'.
A 2004 study about messages of beauty and thinness in children’s media that appeared in the journal Eating Disorders, for example, looked at the physical characteristics of characters in children’s films, most of which were Disney animated features.
The researchers found that not only were protagonists depicted as more attractive than antagonists, but that protagonists were also thinner than antagonists. Unsurprisingly, this applied particularly to female characters. The less than subtle message of Disney’s animations is that physical beauty = thin and thin = moral goodness.
Other studies suggest that as children get older — especially as they reach puberty — they start to take note of, and prefer, thin characters. In a 2008 German study, for example, researchers took popular children's characters, including one of the Bratz characters, and changed only the character's waist-to-hip ratio (WHR). In one version, the WHR was that of a young girl, while the others had smaller and larger WHRs. The researchers found that 70 per cent of both boys and girls preferred the character in her normal state. Of those who preferred one of the alternatives, boys were more likely than girls to choose the character with the larger WHR, while girls were more liked to prefer the smaller WHR.
Disturbingly, the older the children were — and ‘older’ here means 11 and 12 year olds — the more likely they were to prefer the small WHR, which suggests that children learn to prefer thin characters.
Of course there will be those who claim that we’re only talking about cartoon characters, not reality, so it’s all just a bit of fun. But that’s delusional. The cult of thin is learned and it’s learned from an early age. By putting its characters on extreme diets, Disney is effectively saying they couldn’t give a Donald Duck about children.
Be honest: if you actually saw an anorexic mouse tarted up in Barney, you'd do one of two things — run the other way screaming or reach for the Ratsak.
Kasey Edwards is the best-selling author of 4 books 30-Something and Over It, 30-Something and The Clock is Ticking, OMG! That's Not My Husband, and OMG! That's Not My Child. www.kaseyedwards.com