Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Why Do All These Disney Heroines Look the Same?

A Tumblr user compared the facial features of animated female characters from the past decade and found a narrow standard of beauty.

(Photo: DisneyFrozen/Facebook)

Mar 23, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

When Disney’s Frozen made its debut back in 2013, plenty of parents tired of stereotypical princesses waiting to be rescued by a guy breathed a sigh of relief. But while the main character, Elsa, wasn’t waiting around to be saved, she has plenty in common with her damsel-in-distress predecessors: big eyes, a round face, and a tiny button nose.

That’s the narrow standard of beauty Disney and Pixar seem to be promoting to the masses, according to the creator of the Tumblr blog Something Classy. The blog’s author, a woman named Alex, shared a post late last week detailing the similarities of the facial features of animated female characters from the past 10 years.

Alex stumbled on the gigantic eyes, round face, and small nose phenomenon while looking at a promo image for the new Pixar film Inside Out.

“Now everyone has read about the Elsa/Anna/Rapunzel face debate,” wrote Alex, referring to the “same face syndrome” that Elsa from Frozen, Anna from Tangled, and Rapunzel seem to be victims of, “but I wanted to see just how far this face thing went.”

(Photo: Cartoon Brew/Twitter)

To see how pervasive the lack of diversity in animated heroines’ faces is, Alex created two different collages—one of images of female characters and one of their male counterparts—from Disney and Pixar films over the past decade and then traced the images. What she found is pretty astounding: If a character is male, his facial features are allowed to be more diverse—jaws, noses, and eyes are, for the most part, distinctively shaped.

(Photo: Disney Youtube/Every Flavored Bean/Tumblr)

In comparison, Alex’s tracings of the female characters are nearly identical.

(Photo: Disney Youtube/Every Flavored Bean/Tumblr)

“Apparently every Disney woman is a clone/direct descendant of some primordial creature with huge round cheeks and a disturbingly small nose, because there is no other explanation (yes there is (it’s lazy sexism)) for the incredible lack of diversity among these female faces,” she wrote.

“Disney, why does every woman that you have created in the last decade have the exact same face shape?” wrote Alex. And she’s not accepting the controversial excuse that Lino DiSalvo, head of animation for Frozen, gave back in 2013 as an answer.

“Historically speaking, animating female characters is really, really difficult, because they have to go through these range of emotions, but you have to keep them pretty and they’re very sensitive to—you can get them off a model very quickly,” said DiSalvo. “So, having a film with two hero female characters was really tough, and having them both in the scene and look very different if they’re echoing the same expression, that Elsa looking angry looks different from Anna being angry,” he said.

This isn’t the first time the relatively un-diverse standard of beauty in animation has been called out. Last fall artist David Trumble satirized the wide-eyed look by depicting real-life heroines, such as Hillary Clinton, as Disney princesses.

Meanwhile, Alex has some sage advice for Disney and Pixar: “Stop assuming every woman has a round baby face and a short cute baby nose,” she wrote.

“Boys in animated movies have faces that are square, round, skinny, fat, alien-looking, handsome, and ugly,” she continued. “The only face that girls get to have is some round snub-nosed baby face. That’s not right.”