Tall, sleek Minnie Mouse may challenge how girls see their bodies

Published: Thursday, Oct. 18 2012 2:37 a.m. MDT

New York's Barneys is launching its holiday campaign with a skinny Minnie Mouse and a similarly sleek Mickey. But critics are wondering what it will say to young kids about their own bodies and how they should hope to look.

"Super-sexy Minnie Mouse has health advocates squeaking mad" is the International Business Times' take on the flap, which includes online petitions in protest.

The change comes with a holiday runway-themed display featuring Disney characters. But as Thinkprogress.org's Annie-Rose Strasser notes, "to make the mouse duo more 'appropriate' for the runway, the characters will be taller and skinnier than their actual size — a decision that has some people outraged because of the message it sends to young children about body image."

According to Women's Wear Daily, Barneys and The Walt Disney Co. teamed up for what's being called "Electric Holiday," a riff on Disney's electric light show. The campaign centers on Minnie's dream to go to Paris for the fashion shows. The magazine said it will feature a 3D light show and a moving short film in window displays, with an original score by composer Michael Giacchino.

The creators worked hard to keep the concept true to the fashion show world. Dennis Freedman, Barneys creative director, told the magazine, "When we got to the moment when all Disney characters walk on the runway, there was a discussion. The standard Minnie Mouse will not look so good in a Lanvin dress. 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,' and they agreed."

Disney notes on a blog that Minnie passes through a magic portal to become thin. "In the end, the video concludes with Minnie returning back to her classic self happily wearing a Lanvin designer dress."

But critics of the project note that body image issues are being recognized as problematic across a broad range of publications and experts. Glamour magazine recently conducted an experiment, asking young women to keep track of how often they had negative thoughts about their bodies. A whopping 97 percent noted moments of real anxiety or unhappiness with their bodies.

"That is a lot, yet I'm not totally surprised," Ann Kearney-Cooke, a Cincinnati psychologist who specializes in body image and helped Glamour design the survey, told the magazine. "It's become such an accepted norm to put yourself down that if someone says she likes her body, she's the odd woman out. I was in a group discussion recently, and when one woman said, 'I actually feel OK about the way I look,' another woman scrunched up her face and said, 'I have never in my whole life heard anyone say that — and I'm not sure I even believe you.' That's how pervasive this negative body talk is. It's actually more acceptable to insult your body than to praise it."

And it's a problem that begins at a young age and appears to span the globe. The BBC reported in May that Britain's parliament was recommending all school-age children participate in body image and self-esteem classes, after finding that girls as young as 5 struggle with the issue.

Change.org launched an online petition asking Barneys and Disney to reconsider the campaign. There's a similar online petition drive at sumofus.org. Change.org cited numbers from the National Association of Anorexia and Associated Eating Disorders website, including that nearly half of girls in fifth through 12th grade say they want to lose weight because of magazine pictures, while more than two-thirds that age say magazine pictures influence their idea of a perfect body shape. And 42 percent of kids in first through third grade said they'd like to be thinner, while 81 percent of 10-year-olds say they are afraid of being fat.

And the Daily Mail recently presented similar numbers from a campaign by a group called Miss Representation, which also noted that the top wish of tweens is to be thinner.

EMAIL: lois@desnews.com Twitter: Loisco

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