Beyond "Let It Go"
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Beyond "Let It Go"

Little girls love to dress up like the Disney ice queen, but are they getting the right message?

Beyond "Let It Go"

Earlier this summer, I did a stint as a counselor at a day camp for preschoolers, which was half hard physical labor and half paid entertainment. I noticed that many of the little girls came to camp dressed in "Frozen"shirts and backpacks. Almost two years after the release of the hit Disney movie, its popularity hasn't slowed down much, at least not with kids. When "Let It Go" came on the radio, the lunch table erupted into a heated argument over the movie. "Be quiet!" one girl hollered. "I need to hear Elsa!"

I'm not embarrassed to admit that I loved "Frozen"when I saw it in theaters, and I still love it now. I grew up on a steady diet of Disney musicals: my brother and I used to bond by singing off-key duets from "Mulan"and "The Lion King," and the film gave us a whole new set of catchy tunes to belt out. I was especially captivated by Elsa, the queen whose hidden powers plunge her kingdom into an endless winter—and I quickly found I wasn't alone. Although Anna is ostensibly the heroine of "Frozen," Elsa is blazoned on every piece of merchandise, her ice dress covered in sparkles and a carefree, confident smile on her face. When I ask adults why they like Elsa, I tend to get similar responses: she's independent and in control of her fate, a good role model for young girls, unlike Disney princesses before her who lived only to find true love. Inone YouTube videowith almost a million hits, she leads the other princesses in an empowering musical number, declaring, "Why keep on assuming men will save the day? I can be the hero and do it my own way!"

There's just one problem: this character doesn't actually exist.

In the movie itself, Elsa is an anxious wreck who uses her cold, aloof demeanor as a defense mechanism to hide her crippling fear and insecurity. She spends most of the movie running away from her problems, isolating herself from her kingdom and her sister because she thinks they're better off without her. She might not need a prince to sweep her off her feet, but she doesneed her sister to save her: from the villain's attempt on her life, yes, but mostly from her own despair. This is a complex, sympathetic character, but hardly strong or independent in the traditional sense. I was drawn more to her weaknesses than to her strengths, because they made her real. Most of all, I related to her. As an introvert with an anxiety disorder, I never saw myself reflected in the spunky, headstrong heroines of my childhood movies. A Disney princess (or queen) who panicked, who shut others out and who needed the support of her family to learn to love herself, would have meant the world to me growing up.

I would guess that media and advertising portray Elsa as a powerful, self-assured ice queen because female characters are expected to be "strong" in a homogeneous and easily definable way, which involves being tough and competent, not depending on anyone, and preferably being able to throw a punch. This pressure is especially strong in media geared toward children, where female characters are seen as role models for young girls. But characters, male or female, don't have to be role models. We don't even need to like them. It's most important for them to be compelling and believable—and that means having flaws as well as virtues. For that matter, it's time we stopped equating "Has no love interest" with "Strong and independent." Anna is often seen as the weaker of the sisters, but her romantic nature and interest in boys don't cancel out her courage and determination.

I can't say with any certainty why Elsa is such a popular character. Maybe it's largely because she has a pretty dress and an awesome musical number. But I think a lot of people appreciated her struggles and her hard journey to overcome them. We don't need to justify that by holding her up as a feminist role model. It's enough for her to be human.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

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