Is Disney Succumbing to Girly Thoughts?

April 10th, 2014 | Posted by Patricia O'Gorman, PhD in Adolescents | Body Image | Women's Issues

Disney is an iconic producer of many of the stories that make up the stuff of childhood. But have you ever stopped to consider the impact those gorgeous, svelte princesses have on the developing attitudes of young girls?

Whether you’re of the generation that embraced old-school princesses like Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, or the more recent generation that fell in love with Jasmine (in Aladdin) and Ariel (in The Little Mermaid), you likely received the message loud and clear that thin is beautiful.

In signaling out this Disney example, I am in no way disparaging everything the company does.

Yes, there was perhaps a professional artistic team that should be congratulated for portraying Ursula the Witch in The Little Mermaid as a size 24, as she went against the prevailing notion that only ultra-thin female characters could be depicted. But now this witch has been literally “down-sized,” and she looks like a fashion model. This reimagining forces us to consider the perhaps unintended consequences of always portraying female characters as ultra thin.

Being heavy is supposed to be unhealthy. But . . . maybe not always.

Is Heavy Always Bad?

We know we have lots of heavy girls of every age. We have heard that being heavy carries with it other health concerns. Some of you may have experienced this firsthand.

But there are some big women in the world who are healthy, and there are many little girls in the world who are heavier in pre-puberty than they are going to be post-puberty after they have their growth spurts. So maybe being heavy isn’t always bad.

But hating yourself for being heavy is definitely always not good.

Disney on a Diet

This is where the con of Disney changing one of the few role models for young girls who are not super thin comes in. There are few example of “leading ladies”—even those of the villain variety—who are plus-sized.

I invite you to watch the following video that provides another take on being heavy and the joy of actually accepting yourself, all in graphic detail.

Heavy and sexy—yes!

More Fuel For Girly Thoughts

Yes, girly thoughts, those messages you receive that tell you your worth is tied to how close you can come to an ever-more-elusive digitized ideal.

This message was not lost on the eleven-year-old I just saw clinically, who is purging herself after eating pizza and French fries. And she takes her weight issue one step further: She hates herself for being heavy.

“All my friends are thin. What’s wrong with me?” she asks.

I could have reminded her that she hasn’t yet reach puberty, and that when she does, she will probably become taller and thinner (as her pediatrician who referred her to me shared with her and her family), but that isn’t the essential message that is getting her stuck.

The Power of Girly Thoughts

She got the message, all right: She is less deserving as a human being if she is heavy. And who can blame her for feeling this way? Like the rest of us, she is constantly bombarded with reinforcement in media—even in sweet Disney movies—that only thin girls are desirable.


  • If you feel you need to hate yourself to be thin, it’s not worth it.
  • Since you may be triggered to eat by the thought that you need to be thin, consider getting rid of the girly thought that says “I need to be thin to be desirable.” Doing this will actually help you lose weight.
  • Self-love: that’s what this is all about. How about loving the person in your body, instead of buying into being judged because of your body? See what projecting this self-love does to your self-image. It may just be contagious.

By Patricia O’Gorman, PhD

author of

The Resilient Woman: Mastering the 7 Steps to Personal Power (HCI 2013)


The Girly Thoughts 10-Day Detox Plan: The Resilient Woman’s Guide to Saying NO to Negative Self-Talk and YES to Personal Power

 (publication date, October 2014, HCI)

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Patricia A. O'Gorman, Ph.D., is a psychologist in private practice. She is noted for her work on women, trauma, and substance abuse and for her warm, inspiring, and amusing presentations that make complex issues accessible and even fun. She has served as a consultant to organizations across the country in preventative and clinical strategic planning. Dr. O'Gorman is a cofounder of the National Association for Children of Alcoholics, and she has held positions ranging from director of a rape crisis center to clinical director of a child welfare agency, and director of the division of prevention for the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). She is a veteran of numerous television appearances, including Good Morning America, Today, and AM Sunday and is the author of eight books including: The Girly Thoughts 10 Day Detox Plan (2014), The Resilient Woman: Mastering the 7 Steps to Personal Power (2013), and Healing Trauma Through Self-Parenting (2012) 12 Steps to Self-Parenting.

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