Dear Disney: we’ve found comfort, joy, laughter, and sometimes even sadness in your films, but we didn’t grow up seeing the diversity, inclusivity, or representation we should’ve been consuming as kids.
Between the strictly Eurocentric princesses and the small-figured girls destined to be rescued by a big strong man, Disney didn’t show much body inclusivity, representation of BIPOC characters, or female strength absent of a man until recently.
Frozen gave us sisterly love and female empowerment without needing to be rescued by a prince. Soon to come is a live-action Little Mermaid starring Halle Bailey, a black woman, as Ariel. And now, Disney has gifted us with a plus-sized heroine who overcomes body dysmorphia and embodies body confidence and empowerment in a short film titled Reflect.
Released on Disney+ in September as part of Disney’s Short Circuit series of experimental films, “Reflect” provides the body inclusivity all young girls deserve to see.
The film follows the story of Bianca, Disney’s first plus-sized heroine, a young ballet dancer navigating body image and self-esteem struggles.
Bianca is seen at the beginning of the film happily dancing and confident in herself. That’s until she stands between smaller women, sadly comparing her body to those around her while her teacher says, “tight tummy, long neck.” She looks in the mirror, only to see it shatter and create a barrier around her, illustrating the ruptured image she has of herself based on her body image.
Scared, she tries to run, but there’s nowhere to go, so she takes a breath and begins to dance. In doing so, the mirrors around her not only disappear, but burst into beautiful sparkles. At the end of the film, she overcomes her insecurities by drawing on her strength, power, and grace, breaking through the last piece of glass. The film finishes with her smiling at her reflection in the ballet studio.
This representation of a plus-sized heroine is hopeful and inspiring to see. Younger generations are growing up with body positivity and images of beauty breaking beyond the conventional standard—something we never grew up seeing in Disney movies.
Plus-sized characters were either always side characters or villains. Larger body types were represented in a way that confirmed the insecurities we had around our self-image. Kids growing up with body image insecurities didn’t want to see body similarities in Ursula; they wanted to be represented as Ariel.
That’s what makes this short so special. It shows a beautiful ballet dancer, expressing herself confidently and proudly, pushing past her insecurities. It gives girls with larger body types someone that looks like them in a strong, confident way—someone to assure them they’re just as beautiful as the smaller girls in the room.
Girls need to see this inclusive representation of beauty and empowerment, especially at a young age, when the media is constantly attempting to do otherwise.
The reactions to “Reflect” have been overwhelmingly positive, and deservingly so. Many viewers were happy to see inclusivity, some joyfully overwhelmed and crying, and others saying they wish they could show the short to the younger version of themselves as reassurance they’d be okay.
In contrast, some felt angered and disappointed this was the first showing of a plus-sized character, it was a short film, and the character was confined to the parameters of her body image, rather than being normalized and playing a standard Disney role like that of a princess.
I would’ve loved to see this short growing up. Being represented as pretty and strong despite your body type would’ve been great to see and is essential for younger audiences now. Would I have loved to see Bianca as a princess as well? Of course. But I also believe a small step in the right direction is still a step—Rome wasn’t built in a day; no need to be bitter.
“Reflect” portrays a sense of hope for the inclusive, representative direction Disney is headed in, and I couldn’t be happier for the younger generation of girls who are going to grow up watching princesses’ who look like them—empowered, body-inclusive, BIPOC princesses.
Disney, please don’t let down the new generation of strong, beautiful, young girls.
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