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Sum of Us protests Disney/Barneys’ ‘Skinny Minnie’ campaign

by  in Comic News Comment

This may not technically be comics-related, but Disney’s Mouse and Duck characters are almost as well-known for their comics incarnations as for their animated short films. And the issues raised by corporate watchdog movement Sum of Us are related to concerns that get discussed in the comics community.

What’s going on is that Barneys department store has partnered with Disney to create a holiday campaign called “Electric Holiday.” The store will host window displays that will turn classic Disney characters like Minnie Mouse, Daisy Duck and Goofy into runway supermodels. Of course, there will be exclusive, Disney-themed designer fashions in the store as well.

The creative problem, as Barneys creative director Dennis Freedman describes it, is that “the standard Minnie Mouse will not look so good in a Lanvin dress.” He adds, “If we’re going to make this work, we have to have a 5-foot-11 Minnie.”

That’s not cool with Sum of Us, which describes the designs as “stretched out, unrealistically skinny, and aimed at young women.” The group writes, “Young girls are already bombarded with waif bodies and impossible figures, contributing to soaring cases of anorexia, bulimia, and other dangerous eating disorders. Now Disney is using children’s cartoon characters to promote the least realistic, unhealthiest body image yet.”

While I appreciate Sum of Us and groups like it, I also wonder whether this is a fight worth picking. I don’t question that young women have a huge struggle with media images of unrealistic physical standards; I know that’s true. My initial question is how much the Barneys campaign is actually aimed at children. It reminds me of the situation when Mattel released a Black Canary Barbie and protesters claimed it promoted S&M. Just because it’s a superhero or a Barbie doesn’t mean that it’s targeted at kids. In fact, the Black Canary Barbie was specifically priced and marketed as a collector’s item for grown-ups. Is that what Disney and Barneys are doing as well?

Casting doubt on that, some of Barneys’ merchandise will include “ornaments, edible sweets and children’s toys,” so at least part of the campaign is intended to be attractive to children. And reading Sum of Us’ statement again, I see the group’s not just concerned about kids, but also “young women.” The group’s mention of “children’s cartoon characters” is misleading, because its not just the very young who are susceptible to this kind of imagery. Teens and young women, who are very much part of Barneys target audience, deal with it as well. With that in mind, Sum of Us has a point. But it’s a point that can be made about the entire fashion industry and I wish they hadn’t played the “children’s characters” card to make it.