Thin privilege is being able to watch nostalgic childhood movies without realizing they are actually fatphobic.
I recently saw Disney’s The Little Mermaid re-release being advertised at my local cinema. It was one of my favorite movies as a child, so I decided to watch it to see if it still held up by today’s standards. Unfortunately, I started noticing problematic things right away.
Ursula is fat. We all know this. But when I was little, I never really noticed the way her fatness was animated. In the opening scenes, we only hear her voice so we don’t know what she looks like….yet. The intent is that we (the audience) are supposed to come up with our own ideas on what Ursula looks like before she is finally revealed.
So when she is finally revealed, her body slowly comes out of the shadows. Oh no! She isn’t a slim little mermaid like the other characters in the film. She’s a big, fat octopus! Oh, the horror! *rolls eyes*
Then she slides down the wall and lands like a…well…like a blob. As she moves, her butt jiggles. Her boobs jiggle. Sometimes her arms jiggle. And we (the audience) are supposed to be repulsed by this. There is even a moment in her “Poor Unfortunate Souls” song where she shakes her breasts in a dance, and her previous victims all cower in fear. They’re meant to be cowering at her, but the way it is animated/filmed makes it look like they are cowering at her breasts.
Then, later on in the film, she needs to seduce Eric the prince. So she turns herself into a thin human. Because fat people can’t be seductive or beautiful, amiright? *rolls eyes again*
I never noticed these things when I was little, but it made me wonder if these sorts of subtle images in the media are what created fatphobia in small children. It isn’t just the fact that Ursula is fat that’s a problem. It’s fine for a villain to be fat (even though it bothers me that fat people are portrayed as bad guys far more than they are portrayed as heroes). But was it really necessary to over-animate her body so that it jiggles while she moves? Was it really necessary to treat her fatness as some sort of “surprise!” moment when she is finally revealed? Was it really necessary for Ursula to turn into a thin woman to be considered sexy? Ugh.
Mod note: We can love Ursula, and love that she bounces like us, and still recognize that her fatness and jiggling was clearly portrayed as a bad thing. -MG