Let’s Be Honest: Disney Has Been Sexualizing Characters for a Long Time

Entertainment shouldn't be feeding young kids the message that love, sex and romance are what defines them.

Six Disney princesses from L to R: Snow White, Aurora, Jasmine, Ariel, Belle and Cinderella

By Liberty McArtor Published on March 6, 2017

Ever since Beauty and the Beast director Bill Condon told Attitude magazine that the highly-anticipated Disney remake would feature an “exclusively gay moment,” Christian pundits and parents have been up in arms. Pastor Franklin Graham called for Christians to “watch out!” and “say no to Disney.” LifeSiteNews is sponsoring a petition to tell Disney “that children’s entertainment is no place to promote a harmful sexual political agenda.” This Red State columnist wonders why Disney can’t just keep its “hands off” children’s entertainment. Many people are rallying their Twitter followers to #BoycottDisney

The list goes on.

For Christians who believe the homosexual lifestyle is something to be delivered from and not celebrated, it is disappointing to see the push for homosexual acceptance reaching into the realm of children’s entertainment. But let’s be honest with ourselves. Disney has long been in the business of sexualizing its movies and characters. They just now expanded their sexualization to include a gay character. 

Disney and the Sexualized Princess 

Let’s take a quick walk down memory lane.

Disney’s original princess movies centered nearly exclusively around romance and marriage, even though all of the princesses are only in their teens. 

For years, Disney’s female characters (and especially Disney princesses) were hyper-sexualized (tiny waists, big busts, heavy make-up), from their animation to their look-alike toy products. Disney’s original princess movies also centered nearly exclusively around romance and marriage, even though all of the princesses are only in their teensPerhaps parents should think about the message it sends their little girls that when they are 16, a man they don’t know will save them with a kiss on the lips (Sleeping Beauty), or that it’s okay to run off with a prince on a magic carpet when they are only 15 (Aladdin), or that they should be the “fairest of them all” when they are only 14 (Snow White). (Speaking of Beauty and the Beast, Belle is only 17.)

To be clear, I don’t think Disney princesses are inherently evil, but I do think that parents should be wary of the message their daughters are receiving when they constantly watch portrayals of teen girls who are hyper-sexualized and focused on Prince Charming. 

That’s not to say that many parents haven’t been wary. Many have been complaining about these traditional Disney princess traits for years, with feminists and liberals often leading the way. 

A New Kind of Princess

Disney eventually got the message, creating some new Disney princesses that weren’t focused solely on romance, like Merida in Brave and Elsa in Frozen. These movies were a huge breath of fresh air for girls like me, who preferred dressing up as Frodo and conquering Mount Doom to dressing up as Cinderella and going to the ball. 

When I saw Brave in 2012 and Frozen in 2013, I can’t tell you how much I wished I’d had those movies — focused on adventure and familial love instead of romance — as a little girl.

Merida would have been my hero with her horse, her weapons and her independent spirit. Even though Frozen contains a romantic subplot, it’s much more realistic; Anna’s infatuation with a prince she just met proves to be unwise and misguided, unlike other Disney movies where young couples jump directly from meeting into happily ever after. In the end Anna falls for a faithful male friend in a sweet, not-in-your-face sort of way.

Bringing Back Romance — With a Twist

LGBTQ pride is currently at the forefront of secular culture. Disney is a secular company. So of course they’re starting to feature gay characters. This really shouldn’t surprise us.

What should be more concerning is that Disney is willing (or so it seems, from recent events) to swing the spotlight back on romance just so they can celebrate homosexuality on screen. For instance, many liberals have asked Disney to #GiveElsaAGirlfriend in the upcoming sequel, since some thought Elsa’s story in Frozen represented coming out of the closet (I didn’t see it this way, but whatever).

Aside from the fact that putting little girls’ favorite princess in a lesbian relationship would be troubling to Christian parents, what bothers me about #GiveElsaAGirlfriend is that people want to insert main-plot romance into a movie franchise that was perfectly fine without it! Why not make Frozen 2 about Elsa’s adventures as the independent ruler of her kingdom, or another story on the virtues of sibling love and working together? Why make her fall in love at all? 

As for Beauty and the Beast, it’s already a romance, and a rather complicated one. There is no need to add another layer, except to have, as the director said, a Disney movie’s first “exclusively gay moment.” 

A Better Boycott

Boycotting or petitioning Disney over the presence of gay characters will be largely ineffective. The only way to really change culture is by fulfilling the Great Commission and introducing sinners to Jesus, which must be a neighbor-out, not corporation-down initiative. Franklin Graham suggested that Walt Disney “would be shocked at what has happened to the company that he started.” But Disney has hardly been a paragon of Christian morality in the past, from their hyper-sexualized teenage cartoons to the child actors they’ve graduated into rehab. Collective actions can sometimes make a difference (as it may have with Target) but in general we can’t use boycotts to browbeat secular entities into following our Christian code of conduct when they lack the very foundation for that conduct.

Entertainment shouldn’t be feeding young kids the message that love, sex and romance are what defines them.

So like it or not, it’s probably best to get used to more gay Disney characters in the near future. I suspect that some (if not much) of the homosexuality portrayed in upcoming Disney films may go over little children’s heads anyway, just like the numerous sexual innuendos placed in Disney films throughout the years (some have supposedly been debunked).

That said, I think there is a better boycott or petition that Christian and non-Christian parents alike can join in when it comes to Disney films. Why not ask Disney to focus less on romance and more on innocent adventures that kids will enjoy? Love, romance and sexuality are delicate subjects that parents themselves should be responsible for broaching with their kids at the right time.

Entertainment shouldn’t be feeding young kids the message that love, sex and romance are what defines them, whether that message comes from a hyper-sexualized 16-year-old princess or a gay man exploring his attractions.

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  • moztake

    Great article. All of these hyper-sexualized films in our culture encourage kids to find their identity in their sexuality and create the “rape culture” that those on the left complain about. It’s so strange to me that they see no connection between the two.
    I wonder what Disney will do when polygamy becomes legal. I know,
    how about…..Beauties and the Beast!!

    • Triple T

      How about “The Dwarf and Seven Snow Whites”?

      • moztake

        Or Snow White could practice polyandry and marry all seven dwarves!

    • Jim Walker

      Someone wrote in another article, Cinderfella, Snow White and the 7 Syrian refugees, Dr Jekyll and Ms Hyde…

  • BTP

    Marriage is a vocation, is it not? Adventure stories are great, but a story about finding a vocation seems more important, not less important, than an adventure. Even “Beauty and the Beast” is a Christianization of a story as old as Enkidu.

  • Irene Neuner

    We heavily censor how much and what our young children watch. Media whether news or movies or tv shows are very powerful. I would like to suggest cancelling cable to defund the left. Many conservative families have already done this. It’s not that hard — there really isn’t that much on. We buy old tv series or specific movies through Apple.

    In any case I have a bigger issue with the clothes that most people purchase or allow their daughter’s to wear. They are actually worse than what Disney princesses wear but the girls don’t have the Jessica rabbit figure.

    I instruct my 5 year old girl now that some clothing is appropriate and some is not. She will understand before she becomes a pre teen what modesty means and that it is imperative.

    • moztake

      Great idea. We don’t even have a TV. We computers, tablets and phones which makes it easier to choose the content that comes into our home.

  • Esther O’Reilly

    Liberty, I like your articles, but I have to be honest, this one is rather weak. As a little girl, I loved Snow White. I walked around the house singing “Some Day My Prince Will Come” all the time. You were more of a tomboy, which is fine, we’re all different, but there was absolutely nothing sleazy or sinister or “hyper-sexualized” about those innocent older Disney films. I’ve known of successful, loving relationships that began when the woman was only 16 or 17. It happens. The fact is there is a fundamental asymmetry between heterosexual and homosexual romance. Introducing kids to a certain amount of (innocently portrayed) romance when they’re children need not be harmful at all. It can be a perfectly sweet and innocuous thing. To try to turn Sleeping Beauty into something mildly creepy or predatory by imagining it as “a man Sleeping Beauty doesn’t know coming and kissing her on the lips when she’s 16” is, frankly, pretty tin-eared and ridiculous. I think you’re straining for a parallel where there just isn’t one. Homosexual behavior/business/romance, on the other hand, IS inherently twisted and perverted.

    Sorry, but I had to offer some pushback here. Keep on keeping on, I still look forward to your next piece.

    • Liberty McArtor

      Thanks for your opinion, Esther! I have several friends who loved Disney princesses growing up too (and I actually did like Beauty and the Beast – mostly because Belle had brown hair like me and liked to read books!). And you’re right, I was a tomboy growing up so I didn’t have the natural interest in Disney princess movies that many other girls had.

      I do want to reiterate that I don’t think Disney princess movies are evil, or that romance should *never* be portrayed in movies for kids. I do still hold that parents should be careful when letting their daughters watch the old Disney princess movies, however. Your parents obviously did a fantastic job raising you with confidence and godly expectations about relationships and marriage. But many little girls don’t get that counterbalance, and so they can (and often do) develop harmful, unrealistic expectations through an over-obsession with Disney princesses, barbies, etc (which can turn into an obsession with models, touched-up magazine covers …)

      Another thing I will note is that Disney has been getting better about portraying realistic body images in their teen girl characters. I, for one, think that portraying characters who are supposed to be 15 or 16 as tiny-wasted, cleavage-baring sexy figures (which is what they are) can be harmful. No real woman looks like that, and few young teen girls are that fully-formed. Back in the day of Sleeping Beauty, LGBT pride was not at the forefront of popular culture. But sexy female figures were. Disney, as a secular company, can be expected to continue portraying what’s popular in secular culture.

      I agree that homosexuality is a sin. It ought to be addressed with compassion and truth, both of which are found in God’s Word. I just don’t think boycotting Disney over gay characters is the way to win this cultural battle (and I don’t think Disney’s gay characters should be the sole reason for Christian parents’ concern when it comes to Disney).

      Anyway, thanks for reading! The discussion is healthy. I think a bottom line we can agree on is that parents need to be involved in their kids’ upbringing, from talking about love to watching movies. And Christian parents should always remind their kids of God’s standards for love, romance, sex, adventure – everything – regardless of what is on TV.

      (Also I just want to agree with you that true love can be found at 16 or 17! I have a number of friends who got married as teens, or met their future spouse at a very young age. And for what it’s worth, I met my husband at 18. But I don’t think little kids should *always* have romance pushed in their faces by entertainment, or that early marriage is always the best option. Let young kids focus on something else, and if God brings their true love along at an early age, so be it. 🙂

      • Esther O’Reilly

        I may write at more length about this, but to make a bit more precise why I’m concerned by the potential takeaway from your article, I believe innocent romance is one of the most potent weapons we still have for combating the onward march of the gay lobby. There is a danger that feminism can leave a vacuum by moving away from it. Your bottom line is that Disney should take the focus off of romance, but I say that’s exactly what we need more of, in its proper context. Bring on the princes and princesses. Bring on the first kisses. Bring on that “dweam wiffin a dweam” that is true love in the stories we tell our children.

        Maybe this wasn’t your intention, but it seemed that you were making concessions to a framework that views sex as dirty, rather than something that is beautiful and to be celebrated within the confines of a loving marriage. When the prince kisses the girl, there’s a reason we instinctively say “Awwww,” rather than “Ewwwww!” Yes, as adults we know it’s the ramp-up to intimacy, which obviously Disney never showed us, but that’s the perfect stopping-point. I agree that parents in a certain subculture could instill unrealistic expectations in their daughters, but that’s entirely the fault of the specific notions in that specific sub-culture, not Disney princess movies.

        Another point is that the youth of the girls in some of these older classics makes sense in the cultural contexts of the stories, which are often medieval or rooted in some other era where girls frequently formed stable marriages from a young age. This makes an attempt to find something troubling about their age even less relevant–young people just were more mature in older times, which is something we millennials can have a hard time wrapping our minds around in this day and age.

        • Liberty McArtor

          Full disclosure: I was always the kid to say “ew” and not “aw” at the kissing scene. 😉 That said, I definitely did not intend to promote the framework that sex is dirty or marriage bad. I didn’t want to think about love as a kid, but I quickly fell in love when God brought the right man along. So while I think sex, love and romance should be talked about more, especially by Christians, I just don’t think that movies aimed at 5-10 year olds are the best place for that. Differences of opinion I guess.

          But I do see your point – entertainment impacts culture. My issue though is that entertainment also reflects culture. How do we get Disney to focus on wholesome romance without changing culture first? I don’t think we can. So maybe the answer is not changing Disney, but working through other avenues, and most of all, reaching out to our neighbors. I look forward to reading more of your thoughts on this if you decide to write them!

          • Esther O’Reilly

            Well, I certainly agree that 5-10 year olds don’t need to be talking or thinking about sex. I also am opposed to letting them pretend to have “boyfriends” or “girlfriends” at that age. I also know that boys in particular (and yes, the occasional tomboyish girl) will check out of kissing scenes until puberty. But even though little girls can’t and don’t need to grasp all the complexities of romance, many of them have a dim and sweet idea that it’s a good thing (and that it’s somehow connected to BAYYYYYBEEEES, which are of the utmost importance).

    • Low Cover

      Back in the days those stories are set in, girls married in their teens.

      • Alantar

        Yes, outside parts of modern Western Europe (and its colonies), age of marriage for girls has typically been 13 or 14 until very recent times. An unmarried 16 year old would have been considered an old maid. For that matter, from cultural references we can deduce that Mary was probably about 12 or 13 when she gave birth to Jesus. Focusing on the age of the Disney princesses seems a bit silly to me.

  • Darkclaw

    Walt was Jewish, so not sure what Christian morality you’re talking about

    • Low Cover

      Darkclaw is a troll. The Disney family were and are Christian. And Walt Disney talked about America’s Christian values in The Wonderful World of Disney television shows in the 1950’s and 1960’s.
      Darkclaw is Hell bound and Justice will be dealt to him by God.

      • Darkclaw

        Low cover is prude. Get off your high horse. I’ll ask my cat for forgiveness cause that will have the same effect as waiting for god to deal me justice

      • Meryle J Looney

        So right!

  • Nels

    Women’s fertility peaks in their early 20s, and is drastically lessened by the time they are established in a career in their 30s. Far better for a woman to marry in her late teens than in her late 20s, if she wants to be a mother. Women can’t have it all, unless all they want is a bitter, lonely, cat-filled old age.

    For decades Disney has been promoting the destruction of society and families. This is a new low, but it’s a low they’ve been building to for a long time.

    • Low Cover

      Since Walt Disney died and his idiot jock son-in-law nearly bankrupted the company. Then it was taken over and saved by Michael Ikner. But then began the slide. What devastated Disney the most was when the homosexual organizations sued Disney and won because of a Leftist Liberal Democrat judge. Disney was forced to hire x-amount of homosexuals. Some of them have risen to executive positions where they now promote their deviant agenda. Only thing that will save America is blood.

  • Rick20033

    The idea that most girls in their teens should want to marry is biblical. The idea of dressing like a boy hobbit is not. It is a byproduct of the impact feminism has had on the women of the west.

    And there is certainly no comparison between portraying attractive, thin 18-year-old princesses who fall in love vs. portraying homosexuality. One is natural and the other is anti-nature.

  • Amanda

    Yes! And let’s go even further and point out the very obvious: when has magic ever been OK according to Christianity? I know we minimize it and justify it’s presence in storytelling constantly, but we need to be honest with ourselves. No one seems to want to face that, but God was very clear about it. There is no such thing as good spells and bad spells, white magic and black magic. It is all the same. We shouldn’t be teaching our kids any different. Disney has been in the business of normalizing magic in our culture for decades. What do we think primed the world for Harry Potter? Honestly, I can say it helped to prime me for my foray into the New Age realm. Thankfully, God got me out of that. But once he did, I saw it all for what it was. Gotta talk to our kids about magic in our culture! The influence is becoming much stronger, too. It should worry us.

    • Heidi Kasel

      I for one second the above; my first exposure to the occult was through a Disney movie. It is not harmless and innocent.

  • adrefs

    Sorry, but I couldn’t disagree more with your position on Frozen. Just because Else doesn’t get married what about Anna? What about their very curvy, sexy bodies with bulging breasts, swinging hips and long flowing hair? They couldn’t have POSSIBLY made those two look more like pin-up girls if they tried!

  • Knowledge Transfer

    Walt Disney himself was a strange dude. Check him out. The best deceivers often tell the truth.

  • Charlie Sutton

    When the fairy tales upon which the classic Disney movies were based were developing, it was common – indeed, expected – that girls would marry at 16 or so, and boys at 18 or so. And they wrre ready, emotionally, physically, and practically, to do so.

  • Even as a kid, I found myself mesmerized by Ariel’s and Jasmine’s navels. And of course, there’s Tinker Bell’s leg-baring. Sexualization’s been par for the course for Disney for quite a while, albeit in “moments” as opposed to flat-out “routine”.

    Worth noting: LeFou was arguably stereotypically gay even in the original Beauty & The Beast, acting QUITE flamboyant in the “Gaston” song, to the point of twirling around girlishly and whipping a guy’s belt away so his PANTS FELL.

  • stumpc

    There is truth here regarding the immodest presentation of many of the Disney princesses especially in later years. But to even suggest that we are improving the situation by blurring the God created differences between the sexes is equally harmful.

  • pearl87 ✓ᴰᵉᵖˡᵒʳᵃᵇˡᵉ

    BOYCOTT YES! Discouraging the boycott is protecting the corporations who are openly waging war against Christian culture. I emphatically encourage everyone to boycott ALL businesses that offend our values. The cumulative effect of such action would be greater than anyone can imagine.

  • Bruce Bates

    What a disgusting article. You would dare to use Christianity as a podium for your bull crap feminist agenda? Every real christian can see this for what it is – complete propaganda to force Christianity to accept things it aught not accept.

    Lets really get to the base of this topic. Its not about sexualization, its about feminism and that can easily be proven in a few simple sentences.

    Would you approve of cartoons suddenly existing that show little boys dressed in dresses, playing with barbie’s, having tea parties with their other little friends, putting on makeup, fantasizing about their weddings? Is that acceptable?

    Thats the arguement being used here. “when I was a little girl I was a tomboy so I should have had shows that showed little girls doing tomboy things… otherwise its sexism and sexualization” but I bet you ten to one odds you don’t want to believe or accept “some little boys go up into the attic as children and put on grandma’s lipstick and put on dresses and other such things so we should have shows that show little boys doing these activities”.

    Of course you wouldn’t want that – as it would play directly into the hand of transgender, a minor movement which piggybacks on homosexuality.

    So why do you want it for girls.

    Screw feminism. There is a difference in boys and girls, and girls traditionally get to find a rich guy and dream of fantasies from the time they are children because… it IS a real possibility if thats what they wish to find…. for guys… thats not so much true. Guys are still tought they must be bread winners.

    See this isn’t a christian topic… and its clear from the comments I am making – it is ENTIRELY about the feminist agenda trying to paint itself as Christianity. Do you want to know what the bible said about such matters?

    “He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.””

    Note it doesn’t say “ignore God’s plan and go start a career and be a strong independent person before seeking out a marital partner”.

    In fact it promotes EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE of what this article claims “Perhaps parents should think about the message it sends their little girls that when they are 16, a man they don’t know will save them with a kiss on the lips (Sleeping Beauty), or that it’s okay to run off with a prince on a magic carpet when they are only 15 (Aladdin), or that they should be the “fairest of them all” when they are only 14 (Snow White). (Speaking of Beauty and the Beast, Belle is only 17.)”

    So the article says God was wrong…. let that sink in… very Christian-like *rolls eyes*

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