Disney’s Beauty Ideal

14 Nov

Disney Stars

Carol Lieber and Temple Northup wrote a very insightful summary of their research on Disney Channel programming, titled, “The Good, the Bad and the Beautiful: Beauty Ideals on Disney and Nickelodeon.” They gathered information on the characters starring in these shows, and what types of messages they are sending to young children –girls in particular. The ways that most of the popular shows are set up reiterate the “beauty is good” ideal. To begin, they found that most characters were white and thin. They did not report even one overweight white character. The creators of the show did not hold African-Americans to the same ideal. (1) Lieber and Northup write, “An exception to this ‘thin ideal’ is found in portrayals of African Americans, with television characters revealing a much larger range in body sizes.” Reflecting on the Disney shows I used to watch, this is completely true. Raven-Simone in the television program, “That’s So Raven” represented a larger African-American teen girl. Aside from this, most of the main characters were roles played by thin, white teens.

Another division of their research included breaking down the characters on these shows into different categories like valley girl, girl next door, brainiac, athletic and classic beauty. Most of the characters fell under the categories classic beauty and girl next door. Both of these categories do not have any valuable positive traits. They are both sort of average, pretty girls. On the other hand, brainiac attributes the person with intelligence and athletic attributes the person with talented physical ability, agility and fitness. These were the two least rewarded categories through the lens of the show.

Of course it is difficult not to be influenced by the images that tweens are being bombarded with today. Lieber and Northup summarized this point perfectly, “in this media drenched world they are growing up in, it is difficult if not impossible to escape certain media messages”. The Disney franchise is especially persistent with cross-marketing and guerilla tactics which make their images of beauty far too available by the most vulnerable people in today’s society. Like everyone else, young girls develop values and ideas of the real world as they grow up. Looks are very important to most people today. It is reinforced by the media; then people internalize the values and spread them. It is a vicious cycle that can be very dangerous. Eating disorders and anti-social behavior can arise from these types of societal strains. For those being marketed to, these images can turn into serious problems because of the pressures to fit in. It is worthwhile to consider the beauty ideals promoted in th classic Disney movies: thin, primarily white, and lacking a dynamic personality. Disney’s beauty images are now being carried through to real, more relatable starlets. The photo featured left shows two of the most popular Disney stars – Miley Cyrus and Ashley Tisdale. They both represent the beauty ideal of being thin and white teens.

(1)   Lieber, C., & Northup, T. (2009). The Good, the Bad & the Beautiful: Beauty Ideals on Disney & Nickelodeon Channels. EMBSCO Host. Retrieved November 14, 2010, from http://web.ebscohost.com.silk.library.umass.edu:2048/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=4&hid=107&sid=fb8508ac-f31b-4b60-89d7-17acec080af8%40sessionmgr104

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