Disney’s First Plus-Size Animated Character Is Here — So What’s Next?

Image courtesy of Disney+
Content warning: This article discusses body image and disordered eating in a way that some readers may find distressing.
Disney has received a wave of praise over the past few days following the release of a new short film, Reflect. While many of us have grown up seeing Disney princesses and characters with narrow waists and slender frames, Reflect represents the animation powerhouse's deviation from this trend as it continues its mission to better represent society's diversity.
The film features Disney's first plus-size animated character, a young ballet dancer, Bianca, who struggles with confidence and body dysmorphia. In a clip that has gone viral on TikTok, we see Bianca practising ballet in the mirror. As she peers into the mirror while her dance teacher says "Tight tummy, long neck", the mirror image of Bianca breaks apart, symbolising the broken way in which she perceives her own body.
@retrocosygamer It’s available on Disney + and shows how she battles body dysmorphia #plussizedisney #disneyprincess #plussizerepresentation ♬ After LIKE - Short Ver. - IVE
Directed by Hillary Bradfield, whose previous works include Frozen 2 and Encanto, the short film explores how Bianca "battles her own reflection, overcoming doubt and fear by channelling her inner strength, grace and power".
The movie has already attracted a plethora of positive responses from young women, praising Disney for not only featuring a protagonist with a larger body, but exploring body dysmorphia which is highly prevalent across the world.
It's undeniably admirable to see Disney tackling an issue like body dysmorphia, which is both sensitive and not nearly explored enough in pop culture, especially in the animated space.
On the other hand, Reflect's release also serves as a reminder that the entertainment industry often created storylines for plus-size characters that revolve around their appearance and body image. We so often see on-screen characters with slimmer frames navigating romance, careers and friendships. Yet when characters with larger bodies are given a story arc in a TV show or movie, they're often related to their plight for physical transformation, their experience feeling othered because of how they look, or how life becomes somewhat easier when they lose weight. Examples include Rebel Wilson in Senior Year and Jillian Bell in Brittany Runs a Marathon.
This denies these characters of being presented as multi-faceted, multidimensional people, and I wonder why Hollywood can't simply let them just be themselves — strong, empowered women going about their life regardless of how they look? Why can't they be the main character simply striving for the promotion or trying to find love in a bustling city — without their appearance being factored into the scenario?
Great representation doesn't need to be confined to narratives where communities are only defined by the adversities they face. Just like a person of colour doesn't need to necessarily face racism or talk about their cultural background in order to be a captivating and entertaining character — the same applies for plus-sized people.
Having said that, the entertainment industry's progress towards better representation of diverse communities is gradual, and any step forward is one worth celebrating.
As the wave of positive social media reactions indicate, Reflect is a great milestone for plus-size representation in animations. It marks a moment for many women — who've felt their appearance doesn't match society's expectations — to feel seen and heard on screen.
Reflect is available to stream on Disney+.

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