A 'Frozen' response
There is a moment in the song “Let It Go” — arguably the most famous sequence in Disney’s “Frozen” — when main character Elsa gives herself a drastic makeover. It’s a memorable scene: she loosens her hair, somehow applies a full coat of makeup in two seconds flat and transforms her dowdy gown into a dazzling, shimmering one, complete with a shocking slit down the thigh which made mothers gasp nationwide.
For Dana Stevens, a Slate magazine film critic who recently wrote an article about these crucial 10 seconds in the song, this makeover is unwelcome, “narrow” and “horizon-diminishing.” Why change a character who was, as she argues, “Just fine the way she was?”
There is a lot to unpack in this. But to begin, I’ll pose a question: why are makeovers treated with such disrespect?
This may sound shallow, but it’s an important question. What is it about a change in appearance — one performed by one’s own volition, for the purpose of self-satisfaction — that makes us so nervous? Why is it we treat external transformations as less valued than internal change?
By the time she sings “Let It Go,” Elsa is certainly not “just fine the way she is,” and the costume she wears for the first half of the film reflects that. Unsightly gloves cover her hands, a stuffy cape and dress hides every inch of her skin and her hair is tucked tightly into a prim bun.
These wardrobe choices are not Elsa’s own, nor are they warm clothes for everlasting winter. These are signs of what Elsa’s parents have forced her to wear to hide her powers. When Elsa chooses to do away with this constrictive clothing in favor of uninhibiting, looser apparel, she is shedding the commands of her parents and peeling away the burden of the past.
We can see a similar instance happen in another recent Disney film, “Brave,” when Merida, choosing to compete in an archery competition for her own hand in marriage, forcibly tears through the seams of her tight, restraining dress in order to allow freer physical movement. She performs the same act of denial Elsa does — a denial of what others dictate of her.
This is an encouraging trend that I hope Disney continues to embrace in future films. Outward transformations are expressions of huge inner shifts, representing significant moments of self-actualization. With a flick of her magical fingers and a change in dress, Elsa turns her back on the judgment of others and finds comfort, confidence and self security.
Truthfully, I’d wager what really makes Stevens nervous is the overtly sexual manner by which Elsa presents herself after this makeover. A form-fitting dress that displays curves? An outrage. Off-the-shoulder sleeves? Scandalous. Lipstick? Heaven forbid.
Stevens connects Elsa’s “sexy” makeover with falling into a typical “come-hither bad-girl seduction” — a claim I find rather nonsensical. It’s time for the sexualization of Disney protagonists to stop being seen as dangerous.
In past Disney films, the overtly sexualized heroines tend to be either associated with wanton professions (as with Esmeralda in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”) or exoticized, placed just far away from us to remain comfortable (see: the eponymous Pocahontas or Jasmine from “Aladdin”). Elsa’s makeover marks perhaps the first time a Disney heroine recognizes her female sexuality without any immoral baggage attached, of her own free will, without a single male present.
To be clear, I’m not advocating for blatant sexual behavior in every Disney heroine we meet. I would hardly find it appropriate for the awkward teenagers of the Disney princess clan, like Rapunzel or even Anna, Elsa’s sister, to follow suit. After “Let It Go,” though, Elsa is not a girl — she is a woman, and it’s about time we started treating her like one.