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 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.

  • Heidi Schellman Stock
    • Michelle Konstantinovsky

      Those girls are my heroes. :)

  • Rebecca Kennedy

    I love this article and I’m appalled at what barney’s are attempting to do to such a cultural symbol. I’m a woman who I can safely say will never be tiny – torso’d with long thin legs. Even if I became unhealthily thin (god forbid) my big bone structure and modestly endowed chest means I can never really fit into fashion unless designers cop on and stop warping women’s mind’s to think being thin is all it is. In saying that, I have a friend who has all the traits that fashion is aimed at, and she still wishes her breasts were bigger (the age old wish) but if she did, she can take it from me, shopping would become a million times harder. If clothes fit one thing, it doesn’t fit another.

  • Rüdi Aker

    These characters are excruciatingly close to the uncanny valley. Euh.

  • Emily Kreider

    I worked at Disneyland and let’s just say I was VERY close with Minnie Mouse, almost like we were… the same person (mouse). I’m 4’11”, therefore, Minnie was 4’11”. When Minnie and I would hang out, she would remind me that she is curvacious, sweet, smart, and kind. Not to mention, super adorable. This disgusting image is not Minnie Mouse. This is some sort of alien trying to be Minnie and it makes me incredibly sad. For heaven’s sake, that doesn’t even resemble a mouse. Mice are plump. How sad is it that they are taking a precious and pure icon and feel the need to change her.

  • Grace Rulloda

    Nooo! Those are unacceptable! And downright creepy!

    I’m not the biggest fan of Disney, but do they really have to ruin it for kids who do love them?

  • Ruth Haeyoung

    the crazy thing about it, too, is that Disney and Barneys has come out with statements saying that THEY are disappointed by FANS who are twisting a light-hearted ad campaign. seriously?! And then they keep pointing out that the Skinny Minnie is part of a dream sequence and she actually wakes up as her usual self, wearing the same Lanvin dress. They seriously aren’t getting it.
    how about a dream sequence where they all look like their usual selves, wearing the fabulous clothes and doing glamorous things?

    • Michelle Konstantinovsky

      Look for my follow-up on HuffPost Women tomorrow – the Barney’s/Disney statement actually angered me far more than the original issue!

  • Annalisa Klein

    As a “real” woman, I think it’s unjust that we are saying that a mouse, duck, and a dog are actually comparable to any woman anywhere. I understand the sentiment behind the anger. I can appreciate that some women feel that it can be unfair to say expensive things only look good on skinny people but that isn’t what this ad campaign is saying. I think we need to re-evaluate what we are actually upset about. Is it the Disney menagerie or the societal emphasis placed on the female shape? There is an African Proverb that says “when there is no enemy within, the enemies outside cannot hurt you.” I strongly believe that no person’s thought or dream of beautiful would ever be able to change your belief on your worth. If someone “makes” you feel unhappy with you, it is surely insecurity. The emphasis on “big is beautiful” is lovely and encompassing to a size of women that were at one point ostracized for being too shapely, however that does not give any one the right to diminish thinner people. We all know cartoons to be greatly exaggerated and though I may be a woman of distinctive curves, I find it offensive to see this kind of outrage over the small waist of a mouse. Surely, we are not comparing my actual curves to the cartoon rendition of a mouse in a dream.

  • Mara Sandroff

    I’ve been following this in the news, and I’m so glad someone from Hello Giggles tackled this. Very nicely done. I’ve been really trying to figure out why I am so riled up about this, and I think your quote from Regaen Chastain really says it all: “The problem isn’t with Minnie’s body. It’s with a dress that only looks good on a woman who is 5’11 and a size zero.” That’s what I really take offense to, and even though on the surface this is about a cartoon mouse, I do think this speaks to the larger issue at hand.

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