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  • Olivia Luchini

Disney and the "Small is Good" Trope

Salutations! Today, I will be delving into the lack of representation of women who are tall AND thick, or TSCs (tall, strong, chunky). Specifically, I will be analyzing Disney movies and their enforcement of the "Small is Good" trope. Similar to the "Pintsized Powerhouse" trope, the "Small is Good" trope usually circles around a small hero who seems like an unlikely candidate for success. Basic examples range from "The Little Engine That Could" to "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," in which the smaller, weaker characters are those who are destined to come out on top in the end of the tale. Ultimately, these small characters are often pitted against big, tall, fat characters who are characterized as mean, gluttonous, or cocky. The "Small is Good" trope is evident in most popular culture. Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Twilight, and The Chronicles of Narnia all feature main characters who fall under this trope, but we will get to them later.

For now, let's tackle the beast: Disney.

Source: Pixabay

Nothing hurts more than having to explore the flaws of one of my favorite companies. I throw money at Disney like I throw money at self-care, in the sense that I do it like once a month and never regret it. However, Disney undeniably has terrible representation of women who take up space...women who are TSCs.

We can begin immediately with the Disney Princess franchise. It doesn't take much research to discover that none of them are chunky and that none of them are remarkably tall. For evidence of height, I derived from IMDb and casting requirements for Disney parks, which state that women playing princess must be 5'7 or below, making them average height or shorter. By having no Disney characters that are tall OR chunky, Disney immediately excludes a portion of young girls who can no longer see themselves in the heroines of their favorite stories. It's easy to think, "Oh, really? Young girls aren't thinking that hard about Disney movies," but I can say, with confidence, that I thought about this throughout my entire childhood and it still affects me enough to make me write about it NOW. The "Small is Good" trope and the fact that 100% of Disney Princesses have neither of the two traits that best describe my appearance led to a lot of doubt of worth or beauty, and we all know how confidence plummets in young girls already.

It would be one thing if every Disney woman was thin and short. That article would be one sentence. "Disney only has short, thin girls who embody the epitome of society's expectations for women even though their stories encourage viewers to dare to be different and embrace who they are." The post would be over and I'd sit back in my chair.

However, there are big women in Disney. They're villains or comedic relief.

Ah, yes. Nothing makes you love your body more than being labeled as evil or becoming the butt of a joke. Of course, you can also see larger women featured as the grandmothers or grandmother-figures of the smokin' hot princesses. Let's explore. When it comes to tall women, I'll hardly try. Disney still very much follows the stereotype that women are always shorter than men, so you will seldom see a woman, villainous or not, towering over the other characters.

Thus, we move onto characters who are chunky. Ursula. The Queen of Hearts. The Matchmaker from "Mulan." All of these characters are villainous in the plots of their respective films. They prey on the innocene and foolishness of the beautiful main character, and they are by no means good role models for viewers, unless you're in the business of learning how to deceive minors (which I hope none of you are).

So, chunky women can be villains. Is there anything else? Well, they can certainly be elderly. The Fairy Godmother, Nanny from "101 Dalmations," the three fairies from "Sleeping Beauty," Mrs. Potts, and Fairy Mary of the "Tinkerbell" movie franchise are all chunkier women, but none of them are main characters and none of them are of equal age to the main protagonist. Young people cannot see themselves in these characters because their lives are nowhere near adulthood, and certainly nowhere near being elders. Thus, these characters serve as deliverers of wisdom to the protagonists of their respective films, but they do not serve as characters that children can see themselves in. Additionally, all of these characters in some way SERVE the true protagonists of each movie, creating the idea that they are inferior/subordinate to their "beautiful" counterparts.

If you're not evil and you're not old, there is one final option for you: Be funny. Yes, you probably know the exact character that I am about to describe. In one Disney film of 1997, there is a character who is not evil and who is not all that old. Thalia, of "Hercules," is the only character to fall under this category. One of the five muses, Thalia is the muse of comedy. She is portrayed as the shortest of all of the muses and the fattest by far, immediately making her body a prop of the comedy she is meant to portray. Curiously, all of the actual jokes that Thalia sings throughout the movie would have landed regardless of her size, as they revolve more around being bold and unapologetic in speech (two great qualities). Yet, Thalia stands next to the four tall, slender muses looking peculiar immediately. I cannot complain about Thalia too much, as her weight does not directly become the butt of any jokes, though she is visually automatically a joke in comparison to the other muses.

Thalia, far left. Source:

Thalia is the only hope for chunky women. Tall women are still shooting blanks. TSCs are certainly nowhere to be found.

Well...there's one. In terms of characters who are tall, strong, and chunky who MIGHT be of less-than-elder age, there is ONE character. Demeter. She's in the background of "Hercules" in the scene on Mount Olympus. She doesn't have any lines and she probably has a total of three seconds of screen time. Here she is:

Demeter, Source: Disney Wiki

There you have it. The most iconic company in the production of children's movies has approximately zero characters who are tall, strong, and chunky who serve as good role models to young viewers. Beyond the villains, elders, and comedic relief, I hope to one day see a protagonist who speaks that resembles a TSC. I hope that young girls of future generations will actually be able to see themselves in the movies they love, and that they will be encouraged to see the beauty in their bodies the way that they were made.

Tomorrow, I will be exploring women in comic books such as DC and Marvel. I look forward to that post as comic books and the strong women within them are something that I have always held dear to my heart and character.

To conclude, Disney has come a long way in terms of representation, but I believe that I have found an obvious gap in their body positivity that I hope will be filled in due time.

With love,


(EDIT: I've found another chunky woman in Disney! Sadness of "Inside Out." I don't feel that I really need to explain why that might be problematic. Toodaloo!)

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