This year, it looks like it will be a Disney Christmas. In a strange twist of fate, Disney characters are the focal point for not one but two renowned department stores’ holiday campaigns. Cinderella, Minnie Mouse, and even Goofy will appear in windows at the London department store Harrods and Barneys New York in Manhattan—each wearing virtual clothes designed by some of the world’s top fashion designers, including Oscar de la Renta and Lanvin.
They’re the same Disney characters we’ve grown to love over the years—except for one alarming difference: they’ve drastically slimmed down. For the occasion, Minnie Mouse has traded her signature polka-dot garb for a fashionable plume of feathers, a Lanvin ruffled dress, and stick legs. Goofy has shed his passé pants and turtleneck for a sleek military jacket and combat boots by Balmain. And Ariel, of The Little Mermaid, has exchanged her wide-eyed innocence for a cleavage-baring Marchesa gown and a suggestive pose.
Perhaps Harrods and Barneys have retooled the characters to reflect a new worldwide reality: a societal obsession with thinness and sexualized youth. “I’d say that less than 5 percent of women actually look like this,” said Abigail Saguy, vice chair of UCLA’s sociology department who specializes in body image and the social pressures surrounding thinness, explained to The Daily Beast. “The majority of people who look at these images are seeing an image of beauty that does not reflect themselves.”
Barneys New York was the first department store to riff on Disney, sparking outrage with the reveal of their “Electric Holiday” campaign in late August which featured thin drawings of Minnie Mouse, Daffy Duck, and company. The skinny Minnie even had some critics asking if the famed mouse had binged on celery and cocaine over the summer. Actress Virginia Madsen, who signed an online petition against the campaign along with True Blood’s Kristin Bauer and Walt Disney’s grand-niece Abigail Disney, told the New York Daily News, “Whether they want to admit to it or not, they’ve made a statement that Minnie Mouse is fat and Minnie Mouse doesn’t look good in a designer dress, so we’re going to stretch her out and make a completely different, sexualized image of her.” The petition, filed on Change.org, now boasts more than 140,000 signatures. “No human form could embody this image and stand up and be alive,” Saguy said of the renderings.
The highlight of the campaign, which will debut at the store’s Madison Avenue flagship on Nov. 14, is an animated film in which Minnie Mouse attends Paris Fashion Week among some of the industry’s rich and famous. “The standard Minnie Mouse will not look so good in a Lanvin dress,” Barneys’s creative director Dennis Freedman told WWD, “There was a real moment of silence because these characters don’t change. I said, ‘If we’re going to make this work, we have to have a 5-foot-11 Minnie.’” But like an elastic, Minnie was only stretched in one direction. Her newfound lanky limbs were extended vertically, without the addition of some extra weight.
Following the Barneys brouhaha, Disney and Barneys released a joint statement to the Daily News saying that they’re saddened at the negative media attention surrounding what was meant to be a lighthearted celebration. “They have deliberately ignored previously released information clearly stating this promotion is a three-minute ‘moving art’ video feature traditional Minnie Mouse in a dreamlike sequence set in Paris where she briefly walks the runway as a model and then happily awakens as her normal self wearing the very same designer dress from the fashion show,” they explained.
By October, things finally seemed to settle down. But then, last week, Harrods revealed windows decorated with fashionable interpretations of Disney princesses—taking a weed whacker to their waistlines in the process. And it’s worth noting that in their original animated form, Disney princesses are already incredibly thin on their own. The Harrods-provided drawings reveal princesses’ goofy smiles replaced with modish glares and jutting collarbones. Belle of Beauty and the Beast lies lifeless on a fainting couch in Valentino, while Pocahontas struts in custom Cavalli with a skirt slit worthy of Angelina Jolie.
Fashion sketches are known for being incredibly exaggerated and operate on a proportional rule of nine heads’ length to reflect the figure of a lanky model. But when the same principle is applied to a children’s tale, a sense of inappropriateness results. “When you are making a drawing there are no constraints of biology and that is what we see in these images,” Saguy says. “These are not realistic in many ways—you could say they are not life-affirming,”When Harrods revealed their window fronts to a riveted sidewalk audience on Thursday, it was a surprising sight: Jasmine from Aladdin writhes on a magic carpet in Escada while Snow White appears to seduce a poisonous apple, in Oscar de la Renta no less. The combination of hypersexualized figurines matched with exceeding thinness was shocking, especially considering that the displays are routed in childhood tales. “I still think we are in a state of idealized thinness,” says Saguy. “I don’t see it abating, I see it getting worse.”