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Skinny Minnie: Threat or Menace?

Friday, November 16, 2012

Barney's deparment store unveiled its "Electric Holiday" windows in New York City last Wednesday. For the uninitiated, this is a thing in the fashion world; Barney's windows are high-profile enough that the concept for this year's windows was announced last August. And as you may recall, last August the internet was ablaze with outrage over the "Skinny Minnie" featured in these windows, and her impact on the psyches of young girls.

Now, it's not just Minnie who gets super-skinny for this fashion turn. As you can see in the video released by Barney's and Disney in conjunction with the windows, a number of Disney fan favorites get stretched out like Silly Putty by Tinkerbell's magic fairy dust as they take their turns on a fashion-show catwalk. Minnie gets all the attention since her image was the one leaked in August, but Mickey, Goofy, and a host of others are on the catwalk as well. Snow White was the most disturbing to me, perhaps because she starts out looking like a real person, and winds up looking like a malnourished caricature of herself. Cruelle De Vil is perhaps the least changed; I had to check back on reference photos to notice that the only real change is to her hips.

I'm not unsympathetic to the problem of eating disorders in young women, or the argument that popular media influences how people view themselves. And I can't help but think of this Skinny Minnie in the context of the (now-closed) Minnie's Country House in Toontown, where Minnie wrote herself a reminder to "Have a nutritious, low-fat breakfast" and "Bake a cake for Mickey." Whereever Minnie lives now, let's hope she's spending a bit more time thinking about what she wants, and less time obsessing about Mickey. (My friend Eliyanna was kind enough to join Those Darn Cats for a feminist analysis of Minnie's Country House back in 2008 -- I promise you, it's worth a listen.)

And at the same time I'm not convinced that Minnie's temporary transformation into an emaciated 5'11" dress size zero fashion model is in and of itself particularly threatening to the well-being of young girls. What troubles me more is a related point raised by the "Leave Minnie Alone" petition: The problem is "with a dress that only looks good on a woman who is 5’11 and a size zero." And we're really not talking about just one dress here, people; we're talking about an industry. Haute couture is designed for runway models. And at the far-lower price points where most of us spend our clothing dollars, many mass-produced clothing lines stop at a size 11 or 12, while the average American woman wears a size 14. Millions of women are trying to transform themselves to fit the dress, when really it's the dress that Tinkerbell should be sprinkling with the magic pixie dust, to fit the woman who will wear it.

I don't think any major or permanent damage will be done by Skinny Minnie. But I do wish that Disney had used its corporate muscle to encourage the designers who created those high-fashion outfits for the Barney's video to stretch their own imaginations by creating couture for the characters as they are. Work with Cruella's wide hips, with Minnie's soft curves, with Snow White's slim yet not emaciated figure. Show off your whimsy and fashion prowess in a different way. Give us fashion that works for a variety of shapes and sizes. 

And I must say, I'd be just fine with never seeing that Skinny Minnie again. She kinda gives me the creeps. I was glad to see that Minnie was back to herself for the unveiling of the windows, and dressed in a custom Lanvin. See, that wasn't so hard, now was it?