How Disney Got “Sexy” Right

(This post is written in response to a piece which appeared on Slate and Huff Post Parents.)

I admit it. When I first saw this moment (2:54 minute mark above) in the movie Frozen, I had a very strong reaction.  As Elsa slammed the doors, boldly declaring that the cold never bothered her anyway, I leaned over to my husband and barely managed a simple whisper.

Whoa.  Disney.

During this scene near the end of the powerful (Oscar-nominated) anthem, “Let It Go,” I also found myself fighting back some strange wetness accumulating in my eyes.  The moment stirred something within me.  Something of awe and wonder, and a little confusion, too.  Confusion because initially, I didn’t know what to think about my own reaction other than to note that it happened.

There is one aspect of this scene which is not so confusing, however.  Elsa – as she tosses her crown, takes down her hair, and trades her long-sleeved winter dress for one with sparkle and a hard to miss thigh-high slit – is sexy.  That is hard to deny.  And she knows it, too, by the way she struts her stuff, proudly basking at long last in the light of day.

And although Frozen appears to have won over many adults (this one included), it is first a children’s movie.  Perhaps because of this, the “sexy” Elsa scene has bothered some parents.

For example, in this well-written article entitled, The Sexy ‘Frozen’ Moment No One is Talking About, author Dana Stevens paints the scene in question as somewhat of a letdown since the hugeness of the moment is reduced to a mere makeover.  While I agree that this might be the takeaway in the other films referenced in the article, (Sandy at the end of Grease, for example) I don’t see this as the message in Frozen.

Why not?  Consider the circumstances.

In this climatic moment in Frozen, Elsa is not pressured into changing.  Unlike Sandy who changes, becoming “sexy” for Danny and his buddies in the closing scenes of Grease, Elsa – for the first time – removes the cape of pressure she’s been wearing all her life.  While Sandy succumbs to the pressure of society, Elsa finally breaks free.  She is the antithesis to Sandy in this sense.

Further, during the makeover scene, Elsa is not being watched or “ogled” by anyone.  There is no external judge determining whether she is attractive/sexy based on her appearance. (Despite the audience being privy to this otherwise private moment for the character.) She is alone and celebrating her own liberation.  I think it is critical to remember what we, the audience, do not see.  We do not see others watching her in this moment.  We do not see a group of onlookers whistling with their over-exaggerated character eyes bugging at her appearance.  (Think, Jessica Rabbit.)  And we do not see her seeking the approval of others.

I think that last one bears repeating.  We do not see her seeking approval of others to be attractive or “sexy.” 

Instead, Elsa is “sexy” when she lets down her hair and dons a flattering, sparkly dress, alone and free and finally accepting of herself.   And the message is that this is sexy.  Confidence.  Loving yourself.  Not hiding or changing who you are or what you look like for the sake of others or society.

Though Grease was released nearly 40 years ago, how often do we still see this opposite “Sandy” message?  How often do we see the portrayal of a character, “real” or animated, who is “sexy” when they are putting on an appearance for others?  When they choose their attire based on what others will think of them?  When they are not expressing their true selves, but the self they want others to see and accept based on some unrealistic image of beauty?

Sadly, too often.  We see this less than liberating image of “sexy” in movies, TV shows, and commercials.  We see it in magazines, video games, and even, yes, in cartoons.  Adults and children alike are inundated with what society deems sexy whether we like it or not.

Consider how many of us passed a Victoria’s Secret storefront on the way to the mall movie theater.  Now consider the image of the Victoria Secret model next to the image of Elsa.  Same message?  I don’t think so either.

(A quick side note here, but the only time we do see a man, Kristoff, really fall for a woman, Anna, in this film is not when she is scantily clad, but rather when she is covered head-to-toe in winter gear.  I guess that can be sexy, too, when there is a strong, smart, and courageous woman inside the parka.)

So, Bravo, Disney.  Thank you for suggesting what “sexy” can be – courage, confidence, self-expression.  That is it something from within ourselves.  Something empowering.

Because while ideally my 3-year-old boys would grow a little older before they know that word in the first place, I would much rather they view and begin to internalize the idea of “sexy” that is suggested in Frozen than the “sexy” that is just about everywhere else.

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Comments

  1. robinlauderdale says:

    Since when does a thigh-high dress slit end at a woman’s knee? Everyone describing this scene needs to rematch the film. Or the clip above, at the 3:15 mark

  2. I agree, and honestly, I never thought of this scene as being sexy at all. Sure her dress is a bit tighter in the hip and you see some leg, and a little more bared chest, but that is about it. Like you said she was freeing herself of being hidden. That strut is a power walk. THis part of the movie brought tears to my eyes as well. Lots of parts did. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on it.

  3. I haven’t seen the movie yet (I don’t have a little one to use as an excuse, ha), but I want to. I like your take on what sexy is. I’ll watch for the moment in the movie when I see it.

    • My little ones do love this movie, but I’ve been blown away by the impression it has had on adults, too. So many people seem to be able to relate to Elsa in so many different ways. It really is a powerful story/message.

  4. bluecottonmemory says:

    I don’t have girls – but I so love what you said. I agree with the contrast you make between Sandy in Grease and the heroine in Frozen. I enjoyed the song, too! Yes – sometimes we have to fling off the raiment others around us tell us to wear (figuratively) in order to reveal the raiment we were designed for!

  5. I love what you say here and it’s precisely why women react so well to the sequence. My daughter had exactly the same reaction as you – the same words. “Whoa. Disney.” Ha ha. This song is so powerful. And the sequence was breathtaking. Literally, I don’t think I breathed through the whole thing.

    Another tidbit: my older daughter told me Elsa was a villain in the original script. When they received the song, they changed the whole script to fit the song. It’s that powerful. I also loved that Disney stuck to traditional values of men pursuing women in courtships. I’m not a huge Disney fan because I think they go for popularity rather than values, but I loved this movie and think they got a lot right.

    • Wow…that is amazing about the song! I heard that it took a long time before they got the story just right. How awesome that the song was the turning point. And, yes, I also loved the mix of traditional values with an expanded (and in my opinion, healthier) idea of what a woman/princess/queen can be.

  6. Ashley Moore says:

    So many people have posted sooo much about why this moment is terrible in the movie, and I (as a Christian parent) like you disagree. I see her breaking free from society to be herself which is actually a positive message. I guess I see it that way because I have been there and felt that same way. Always the good girl, living up to people’s expectations; it has taken me so long to find out who I really am. And when my girls are old enough to think about it as more then a catchy song, that is how I will explain it.

    • Great thought…my boys are also too young to really understand the meaning behind the song now. I hope we do get the chance to discuss it when they are older. I think there are a lot of great conversation starters in the movie.

  7. Nicolette Springer says:

    I saw Frozen for the second time this weekend after reading your post and I have to say I couldn’t agree more. The scene is powerful. I’m not so sure my four year gets how powerful but I’m excited that Disney is starting to feature more characters and moments like this one.

  8. Nicolette Springer says:

    Also, congrats on the BlogHer feature. That is a huge deal and you deserve it :)

    • Thanks, Nicolette! I’m also excited about how Disney is starting to broaden their characterization of women and “princesses”…I guess technically Elsa is a queen, but you know what I mean. Thanks for the kind words.

  9. Oh yes. That last point for sure. I think there is such an over emphasis placed upon this which, yes, often backfires or leads to some complex and/or awkward (or worse) issues. I think we could do such a better job of helping to foster a healthy idea of human sexuality while still respecting ourselves, relationships, etc. Thanks for sharing your thoughts here!

  10. Breaking free from the burden of other’s expectations: good. Wearing a sexy dress and moving provocatively in a movie geared toward 3-9 year-olds: bad. Why would Disney choose to portray power and provacative as synonymous? A woman loses a lot of power when dressed in exactly the way Else was dressed in her castle. She becomes an object. Her opinions, her politics and her beliefs become second to her appearance. How much more beautiful she would have been had her garb been transformed into a sparkly, wonderful, MODEST gown. Disney has truly missed the boat on this one. The message of breaking free is lost in the sexy make-over. Come Halloween, we will see dozens of little girls imitating Elsa’s sexy hips-forward walk and wearing high slits and low necklines. If we want our girls to grow up to be women who are respected for their values and virtues, they need to be shown role-models who reject societies dictates that beauty and sex equals power.

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  1. […] from Joy is the Grace wrote a wonderful piece entitled “How Disney Got Sexy Right” about a powerful scene in Frozen. She was also featured on BlogHer for this post. Great read and […]

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