Too Fat For Fashion: The Minnie Mouse Edition

From the reed-thin neck to the protruding clavicle all the way down that wispy torso to mile-long matchstick legs: she’s every bit the supermodel.

Top off her towering, lanky frame with heavy-lidded, come-hither bedroom eyes, and she’s got the makings of a runway diva.

She’s Minnie Mouse 2.0. And she’s a fashion victim.

Barney’s New York, the legendary luxury department store and spiritual sanctuary of Carrie Bradshaws everywhere, is launching a Disney-themed campaign called “Electric Holiday” next month.

Before you melt into a puddle of “awww” at the thought of your animated faves all gussied up in red and green, take a look at the slimmed down, stretched out, sexed-up versions of Minnie, Daisy, and Goofy.

Still feel like spreading joy and good cheer, or would you rather drown in a bottle of eggnog?

While it may have seemed like a cute idea to have beloved childhood icons hawk high-end designer threads, Barneys’ team sucked the fun and sweet sentimentality out of the deal by deeming Minnie and crew too short and fat for the job.

“The standard Minnie Mouse will not look so good in a Lanvin dress,” Barneys’ creative director Dennis Freedman told Women’s Wear Daily last month. “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.’”

Take note, everyone: the only way to tackle the fashion industry’s impossibly strict beauty standards is to conform to them. Animated rodents included.

Okay, let’s be honest for a minute: we’re talking about cartoons and high fashion—two worlds rooted in imagination, creativity, and illusion. It would be easy to chalk this up to fun, frivolous marketing and call it a day.

But the campaign is articulating something fundamentally creepy and wrong in our society. The fact that no one can escape oppressively specific beauty ideals—not even child-friendly fictional characters—is frightening. No one at Barney’s or Disney thought the unforgiving Lanvin dress in question might need tweaking. No, Minnie needed the makeover and it was up to some quick-thinking pros to modify her familiar figure to fit a profitable fashion mold.

Given my usual outrage surrounding society’s general suckiness about body image, it’s a bit surprising that Barbie doesn’t really irk me. Despite evidence suggesting that the plastic paragon of unattainable perfection is responsible for body dissatisfaction and lowered self-esteem in young girls, I tend to think that’s an oversimplification of female psychology. Sure, playing with an alarmingly out-of-proportion doll might plant a seed of self-doubt in a living, breathing girl capable of actually standing upright, but I don’t think it’s enough to trigger lifelong feelings of inadequacy.

And similarly, young girls who catch sight of skinny Minnie may not commence a downward spiral into body dysmorphia. But Barney’s appropriation of Disney’s darlings isn’t intended for a young audience, is it? It’s mostly grownups who will be sizing up the Vogue­-ed-out versions of their childhood staples, and adults are immune to silly marketing ploys, right?

I’m not so sure. I couldn’t confront this issue without first consulting New York Times-bestselling author and personal hero, Peggy Orenstein who’s book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter is a brilliant expose on pink, pageants, princess culture and other aspects of the “girlie-girl” world.

When I posted on Peggy’s Facebook page telling her I couldn’t tackle this topic without wondering, “What would Peggy think?” she replied, “Peggy would think that somehow Barney’s and Disney think it’s ok to present Minnie as anorexic to adults because by the time we’re grown up we should have accepted that everyone should aspire to an unattainable, Photoshopped ideal whereas we still allow little kids to have the illusion that it’s ok to be normal sized. Unless they are princesses or Barbies. Then they have to aspire to be skinny.”

Wow. There’s more to this seemingly silly debate than meets the eye, right?

“Skinny Minnie,” she continued. “She looks so unhappy, doesn’t she? Poor mouse. Bad enough that she has to wear a dress and walk on her hind legs.”

Peggy followed up with some examples of other revamped Disney stars, and I was left wondering whether the Minnie redux might be having an even more profound impact than I originally thought.

And maybe you’re not yet convinced that Barney’s has a legitimate reason to pull the plug on its waify new models. But over 127,000 people are. That’s the number of signatures to date on a Change.org petition titled, “Barney’s: Leave Minnie Mouse Alone.”

Austin, Texas resident and self-proclaimed “dancer, choreographer, writer, speaker, fat person” Regaen Chastain started the petition in hopes of persuading the department store that distorting the Disney mouse’s body could have deleterious effects. She cites numerous eating disorder statistics and asserts that 81% of 10-year-olds are afraid of being fat, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“The problem isn’t with Minnie’s body,” she writes. “It’s with a dress that only looks good on a woman who is 5’11 and a size zero.”

Chastain hopes that with enough support, she can lead an industry revolution and inspire would-be shoppers to embrace their bodies as they are so that arbitrary fashion rules no longer set the standard. “Then maybe enough girls will get together and demand dresses that look good on their actual, non-digitally altered bodies,” she writes. “And designers will just have to become talented enough to design a dress that looks good on them.”

And I hope Chastain hits her goal. Because suddenly we’re living in a world where the beauty “norms” are so far from normal, pop stars, athletes, actresses, new moms, models and fake cartoon mice can’t even keep up. So let’s try to reel in the insanity and usher in a little more body acceptance and filter out some of the industry-induced body antagonism.

And while we’re at it, let’s let Minnie off the high-pressure, high-fashion hook, too.

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