Making Minnie Mouse skinny stirs a ruckus
Published: Tuesday, November 13, 2012 at 3:47 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, November 13, 2012 at 3:47 p.m.
If you thought "Skinny Minnie" was just an expression, think again. Luxury retailer Barneys of New York has put a new face, or body, on one of the world's most beloved icons.
On Wednesday, the high-end fashion company in New York debuted its "Electric Holiday" window display featuring a Disney-themed video in which Minnie dreams of becoming a Paris fashion model.
Minnie morphs into a skinny seductress, donning a designer dress to walk down the runway. Other Disney characters including Daisy Duck and Goofy drop a few sizes to fit into designer threads. Even Mickey sports skinny jeans.
Critics of the initiative — mostly psychologists and eating disorder specialists — worry that it will give girls unhealthy ideas about body size.
"They're demonstrating that these characters have lost weight. It suggests that something was wrong with the way they were before, that they weren't good enough," said Diane McKay, the president of the Florida Psychological Association.
The FPA, along with several national groups, wrote a letter to Barneys and Disney protesting the initiative.
Barneys and Disney put out a joint statement defending Electric Holiday as a "lighthearted holiday project." They note that Minnie makes a brief appearance as a model "and then happily awakens as her normal self wearing the very same designer dress from the fashion show."
But the suggestion that Minnie's experience is a "dream" is precisely the problem, psychologists say. "It almost makes it worse that it's part of a dream because what does that suggest ... when you think about Disney being all about making dreams come true. I certainly hope this isn't the dream that parents want for their children," McKay said.
And yet, psychologists worry that some might.
"Even women are watering down formula because of fear of caloric intake. They don't want their kids to get fat cells and get fat," said Joann Hendelman, a psychologist based in Palm Beach Gardens. "Parents are dressing kids in more sexualized ways. Little kids are going into Victoria's Secret."
Hendelman points to statistics underlying how the national obsession with thinness is hitting girls earlier than ever: Even 3-year-olds are concerned with being thin, she said.
Forty-two percent of third-graders want to be thinner, while 81 percent of 10-year-olds are afraid of being fat. The American Academy of Pediatrics reported a 119 percent increase in hospitalizations for eating disorders in girls ages 12 and younger between 1999 and 2006.
Psychologists say the Barneys campaign poses such a threat because media has a big influence on the national thinness obsession: Nearly 50 percent of girls in grades 5-12 want to lose weight because of magazine pictures. Hendelman said one of her patients, a 12-year-old in intensive care for anorexia, couldn't accept that magazine pictures weren't reality.
Even if the Barneys campaign reaches a limited little-girl audience — the flagship store for women and men is on New York's Madison Avenue — psychologists worry about the trickle-down effect from mothers concerned with their weight to their daughters.
Evidence also shows that eating disorders are persisting in women well into adulthood. A recent study in the International Journal of Eating Disorders showed women age 50 and over suffer from eating disorders.
"When one would hope women are released from these pressures ... instead we're seeing these images are continuing to impact women across a lifespan," said psychologist Karen Samuels of Ormond Beach.
To counterbalance the media's influence in girls' lives, the Community Outreach for the Prevention of Eating Disorders has a campaign in Daytona Beach area middle schools called "Being a Girl in Today's World" in which psychologists talk about understanding images.
"The girls are extremely aware about how they are bombarded with the thin ideal," said Samuels, who works with the program. In Florida's beach culture, the pressure to be thin might be "slightly higher" than elsewhere, Samuels said, adding, "I feel this added sense of awareness and responsibility.
"Being from Central Florida, I remember very clearly when Walt Disney announced they were building Disney World when I was a little girl and how excited I was ... it was supposed to be the happiest place on earth," Samuels said. "It just seems tragic to take these iconic images and subject them to a fashion unideal that has nothing to do with Disney."
For its part, Disney plans to roll out headbands, T-shirts and mouse ears to support Barneys' holiday show.
"This collaboration is in line with, and a great extension of, the relationships that Disney has had with other fashion partners such as MAC and Dooney and Bourke," Disney said in an email.
Contact Kristine Crane at 338-3119 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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