Walt Disney Animation Studios/Screenshot by NPR
Disney, a groundbreaking yet eternally late company, unveiled its first plus-size heroine last month, leaving fans both frustrated and inspired.
Bianca, a young ballerina with no spoken lines, stars in a two-minute short titled Reflect.
The film premiered last month as part of Short Circuit, a series of experimental animated shorts available only on Disney+, but is gaining new attention on social media this week as more viewers discover the contents.
Bianca’s struggles with self-image serve as the film’s plot driver
Reflect opens with Bianca, whose dance lesson is quickly dampened by self-doubt after the instructor berates “tight belly, long neck” and she examines her own stomach in the mirror.
The glass cracks and Bianca is quickly sucked into a dark, eerie space, where (spoiler alert) she must dance uninhibited to successfully fight off her reflection.
Director Hillary Bradfield, best known for her work on Disney films Encanto and Frozen IIsays she based the film on her own experiences with body image.
“I feel like I’m a very body-positive person in principle. But when it’s on a personal level, it’s a lot harder to be body-positive,” she said. said in an interview that aired as part of the episode.
“Sometimes you go in the dark to get to the right place, and that makes the right place so much more beautiful.”
Fans interpreted the film’s mirror iconography as a sign that Bianca might be struggling with body dysmorphia.
The Mayo Clinic, which defines mental health disorder as the inability “to stop thinking about one or more perceived flaws or flaws in your appearance,” says people with body dysmorphia often develop compulsive routines, including a excessive grooming and frequent use of mirrors.
The term was trending on social media platforms this week after Taylor Swift edited the word “fat” out of scale in a new music video, sparking widespread conversation on social media around the unrest. diet, body dysmorphia and fatphobia.
Disney’s 99-year history has been marked by racism, sexism and exclusivity
Disney has historically depicted plus-size female characters as extras or villains in stark visual contrast to the slender princess protagonists.
Some recent heroines, including Moana and the Encanto siblings Luisa and Mirabel, were celebrated for modeling more realistic body types. But the company also caught the eye of others, including a 2016 short film character whose waist was almost thinner than her neck.
Always trying to maintain its mainstream popularity, Disney pledged in 2020 to “consciously, deliberately, and relentlessly champion the spectrum of voices and perspectives in our world.”
Some said the moment of the pledge, which was part of his launch of the “Stories Matter” initiative, was a too little too late approach to racial justice after years of racism in everything from his films to his theme park rides.
And the content that has aired since then could best be described as a give-and-take approach to representation.
Take Disney’s positions on LGBTQ+ issues for example.
The feature film Light year released earlier this year featured an on-screen kiss between two gay characters. Another scene from the show Baymax featured a trans man who purchased menstrual products.
But Disney didn’t rally against Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill until employees started coming out and accused executives of removing queer content. And even then, Disney continued to make donations to some of the bill’s sponsors.
Fan reactions to Reflect have been carefully mixed
Social media users questioned Disney’s intentions behind Reflectclaiming that the two-minute length didn’t leave enough room for nuance, and that the message of body positivity was confused by making Bianca’s self-image the main plot driver.
“Hey Disney, now do fat characters who aren’t tragic and whose stories don’t revolve around their weight?” a A Twitter user posted this week.
Another one dared Disney “put the fat girl on the screens for two hours, cowards.”
But for others, Bianca serves as a stepping stone to the right kind of representation — or at least the conversation starter.
@mollykaynelson #duet with @sarahineorzea As a plus size Disney lover, seeing this short made me cry because I finally see my body type represented on screen in the Disney movie. I did ballet when I was little and I remember feeling so uncomfortable when no one was my size. We need more inclusiveness like this and one day hopefully we can have a plus size disney princess so all the fat little girls can see that we don’t have to be thin to be beautiful , loved and celebrated #plussizeddisney #disneyplussizeprincesses #disneyplussize ♬ After LIKE – Short Ver. -IVE
“I ran to watch this short film,” one Tik Tok user posted alongside a video of herself in tears.
Another thought the film gave her a chance to reflect.
“Growing up, I was always the tallest girl in my ballet classes,” she posted. “I would give anything to show this to my younger self and say it will be okay.”