For many, the animated movies that Disney is known for, are not only a nice way to remember one’s childhood, they are also used to help form bonds between parents/caregivers and their children. However, past the well-known characters and sing-a-long songs lay darker messages. Cinderella is one of the most well known Disney characters; her castle greets guests at Walt Disney World in Florida. Many would easily recognize characters and songs from the 1950 animated classic, but what many would not easily recognize are more nefarious ideas being presented to children. Cinderella presents unrealistic body images as beautiful, teaches children that blended families are evil and that abuse should be suffered in silence because someone will rescue you from it.
Firstly, if one pays close attention to the character portrayals in Cinderella one would quickly see that dainty features were considered beautiful. Cinderella was drawn with small feet and a button nose. Her step-sisters, however, were depicted as having large feet and noses and were considered ugly. Even the mice were used to illustrate negative body image. One mouse was overweight, and he was constantly used as the punchline or to garner a laugh from the audience, from his clothes not fitting, engorging himself with cheese, or getting stuck in a hole in the wall. Children are observant, therefore, seeing someone that has a larger nose, or larger feet, or even overweight, they learn to mock these traits. In addition, they begin to see within themselves traits that they want to change, so they fit more into the description of Cinderella rather than one of her step-sisters.
“Disney Princesses represent some of the first examples of exposure to the thin ideal” (McBride, 2016). When you watch Cinderella you can see she is naturally slim throughout the storytelling. However, when it comes to the storyline of her step-sisters you see them in girdles. In 1950, girdles were more commonplace and therefore easily recognized by girls, but modern girls can see that they are wearing something that Cinderella is not. There is even a reference to Cinderella repurposing a dress that used to belong to one of her step-sisters because it no longer fit her.
Secondly, Cinderella’s father passes away after marrying his second wife. Her life before the remarriage of her father is shown to viewers as idyllic. However, once her father remarries, her life drastically changes for the worse. Cinderella goes from living a charmed life to a life of servitude. This message tells children that blended families are evil, and if your parent remarries you will be treated unkindly. Disney is well known for leaving mothers out of the story that is until recently, where they have begun to add mothers back into the stories.
However, in stories like Cinderella children learn that step-parent is equivalent to evil. This type of depiction harms children, especially because divorce is common. According to one study, researchers found that girls who lose parental contact develop depressive symptoms and low self-worth (Reiter, Hjorleifsson, Breidablik, & Meland, 2013). Cinderella, on the other hand, is depicted as obedient, upbeat, forgiving, loving, and caring. She displays no depressive symptoms nor does she display having low self-worth.
Thirdly, Cinderella teaches children to endure abuse silently, as someone or something will rescue them from their torture. In Cinderella, this comes in many forms. Birds and mice come to help Cinderella, she has a fairy godmother, and finally, the prince comes and takes her away from her life in servitude. In real life, this does not happen. Children who view movies like Cinderella learn that they should not say anything if they are enduring abuse, because eventually they will be freed from it. More than that, it teaches them to endure the abuse with a smile on their face and a song on their lips. “The opening song, “The Dream is a wish your heart makes”, sums this up fully, suggesting to “have faith in your dream” because some day they will come true” (Maity, 2014. pg. 30).
Much like the era in which the movie was made, Cinderella was specifically designed to teach girls how to be society’s idea of the perfect woman. This does not translate into modern times. Girls no longer must be docile in the face of mistreatment. They do not have to find happiness in serving others as a maid. They do not have to wait for a man to save them. However, the harm Cinderella does in terms of body-image, blended families, and abuse is all things that viewers may accidentally overlook when viewing the film.
Children are at crucial developmental stages and cannot understand on their own how these non-verbal statements being made towards them are wrong. No matter how iconic the film, the music, or the character, Cinderella has no place in modern times in regards to being shown to children for entertainment. Cinderella presents unrealistic body images as beautiful, teaches children that blended families are evil and that abuse should be suffered in silence because someone will rescue you from it. These are all lessons that children would be better off not learning because they can do harm not only to self-esteem but in how the children treat others. Children need to be guided and taught that no abuse is ok and that they should speak out to a trusted adult if they are being abused or if they see abuse.