CW: This shows a lot of bodies and talks a lot of ratios and trends. This can be triggering for some folks.
Diclosure: I started this in March 2021 and am just now finishing it in November 2021 — turns out finishing an MS, moving across the country and starting a new life, all with COVID in the background, does things to your brain and you get behind on life. Something about eventually peeling yourself off the ground to do things again.
Over a year ago I published a short visual data essay called A Pictorial Analysis of Disney Female Characters.
It was centered on taking classically animated (2D animated only) female characters and computing different body ratios of them. This was based on my own curiosity to previous enragement I had seen.
One thing that everyone has always been enraged about is the way that women are portrayed in Disney movies, not only in plot but also in looks. Disney princesses are usually the battleground for this. Big eyes, thin wrists, invisible waists, impossible boobs. Buzzfeed and other sites have done write-ups on this. — Nina Lutz, A Pictorial Analysis of Disney Female Characters.
However, there aren’t a *ton* of articles about the unrealistic standards of male Disney characters. Here are some good ones though:
The Deconstruction of Disney Princesses
Disney's characterization of men and women, especially in the early stages of the Disney Princess films, was shaped by…
The Trouble with Disney's Teeny Princesses: Disney's Depiction of Male and Female Bodies Is…
A culture populated by absurdly small princesses and hulking male heroes can change the way men and women see…
So for this article, I wanted to focus on men but also some timely reflections within these quarantine times.
Section 1: Character Selection
Anyways, here we go. We are going to use a similar timeline as with the last article and only do protagonists and princes.
And yes, this is not an extensive list. No, I still don’t know a ton about Disney. Also, I didn’t want to do the villain thing for this article, mostly because I think Hades is fabulous and I refuse to shade him.
Section 2: Color Trends
Color trends of skin:
Honestly, there is a lot of similarity from the last set, but overall most princes and male protagonists are tan compared to their princesses especially. And overall they are much warmer and neutral-toned in terms of colors, instead of pink or cool-toned. This of course is probably related to the idea of paleness being related to beauty and virtue, all important for a princess, while tan-ness could be associated with athleticism and adventure.
Along with majority white, I believe there is probably a threshold of tanness for the princes. If you were wondering, yes this is colorist. And we’ve seen from the concerns around Meghan Markle’s child, some folks think that not even real princes can be over a certain foundation shade.
Additionally, the undertones are usually related to their princesses, such as Philip and Aurora, who both have pinky warm undertones to their skin in the same color family. This probably just comes from the same animators doing both characters.
There is of course more diversity within protagonists and other characters. Part of this, I will say, is also due to lighting — more of these characters aren’t in dominate imagery and bright lighting. Some are dramatically cool-tone or warm-tone lit for storytelling purposes.
This really does beget the idea, though, that visually princes and male protagonists are lit in very purposeful hues and color spaces. This makes sense from a visual communication side as well.
Section 3: Insights
Overall, I don’t think any insights are outstandingly surprising.
There is a lot of diversity in supporting characters, etc. This is on track with other things we saw in the previous article.
Heroes/protagonist tend to be more muscular and princes all tend to be a slim-fit(?) type.
I mean, admittedly Tarzan lives a more active lifestyle than a prince (what does Philip do — go to court? live off inherited wealth from exploiting the underclass?), so it sort of makes sense. But why is he so cut? Do trees focus muscle development that much? And Shang is a career military man, so him being strong also makes sense, I guess.
Overall though, there aren’t any shocking insights but there are nuances in some of these main measurements.
Section 4: Jaws and Faces
There are people in the world with jawlines that could cut butter. And there are people like myself, who are slowly learning to romanticize our soft jaw lines and stop caring about what they look like in pictures.
The jaws of these drawings are interesting as they obviously vary between animation styles, but princes and leading men seem to have a signature square jaw, in contrast to supporting characters, including good ones. Such as the types of jaws, as defined by Mulan. These patterns come up again and again in other films.
I think Mulan is an interesting jaw case study because all of these men are protagonists in the story. This case study shows how “less attractive” jaws add to the lack of threat and the hilarity of her friends in the film. This is primarily done in two ways — with more traditionally “feminine” jaw on one character, and rounded jaws on heavier set characters. This expresses a clear visual currency that the romantic interest has.
It’s really a visual communication stance of: here are friendly male jaws (friend and father jaws) versus here is the jaw of a romantic interest.
Jaws are a significant feature within male beauty standards and thoughts around them. Particularly to their status as currency of male attractiveness in our society.
This status was partially born out of phrenology, a pseudoscience regarding brain capabilities based on the physical skull, developed in the 18th century. It was later served as a tool for scientific racism and gender-specific discrimination.
As Natalie Wynn discussed in her video about Incels, there is both historic and present phrenology around skulls. Skull phrenology even appears in the film Django Unchained. And today, there is rigorous visual communication and standards that prioritize a strong jawline in men. Incels, or involuntarily celibates, have their own methods of phrenology.
These metrics, part of the “looksmax” idea of the incel community, are often born of toxic masculinity. Personified by an “ideal” masculine archetype “Chad”, who is tall, muscular, and with a very strong chin.
Additionally, jaws are a marker of weight on the human form. People who carry more weight on their bodies will usually carry it in their jaws. The incels also point this standard out with their “double chin” point — spelling out that fat men are less attractive by their, and much of society’s, model — and that the jaw is a clear indication of this.
But these metrics, of course, are not limited to jaws and skulls.
Section 5: Ratios
In my article a year ago, I did a lot of ratios between different body parts.
I will say — the waists of Disney men are nt nearly as concerning as some of their princess counterparts. For men though, I think a relevant ratio is a shoulder and waist one. For princes, the average shoulder to waist ratio is 1.63 — or shoulders almost twice as broad as their waist.
There is a large body building and sculpting influence within male fitness influencers. The “dorito”, a form of body type, is often sought after with targetted training. It is popularized within many actors, like Chris Evans as Captain America.
The “dorito” figure also comes from an illusion used in human visual communication — this frame creates a visual flow across the entire body.
However, men in many weight lifting and strongmen competitions do not often represent this “dorito” frame. Muscle build varies between individuals depending on their training and bodies.
Just for fun, and in the spirit of my princess article, here is a scatter plot of princes’ Shoulder to Waist and Shoulder to Wrist ratios.
Overall, wrist ratios are quite arbitrary, as one can tell from the ridiculous plot above. Wrists, unlike shoulders and other muscle groups, are much harder to control in size. Yes, significant amounts of weight loss or gain can change wrist size, but overall the wrist size is something determined by your skeletal structure. This is something incels have grasped to as well.
All of these are often ratios that vary greatly between different body sizes and show the pressures to not be too small or too large, but also to add definition through targeted routines.
These targeted routines can reach unhealthy extremes, in very extreme disordered eating and exercise patterns present in gym culture in men. Unfortunately, the discourse around disordered eating is still extremely gendered. One content creator I really like in this space is William Hornby on TikTok — he is an advocate for male eating disorders and for facilitating conversations to remove the stigma of discussing mental health and body image issues in men.
Section 6: Height
Height is another thing that I have seen in the discourse regarding men’s bodies, between jokes for one red flag per inch over 6 foot, and in the short kings vernacular in media. The short kings discourse in particular has opened a variety of conversations around male body image and the systemic consequences in both social and professional lives for not fitting within a desired aesthetic.
We obviously don’t know exact cartoon heights, but if you want to be a character actor at Disneyland for any of the princes you have to be between 5'10" and 6'2" (apparently — this seems to vary and be sort of disputed). Most princess actresses are between 5'4" — 5'7". I will say, in the animation, every prince is taller than his princess counterpart, by a range of half his head to a whole head.
Overall, men face a standard of height, yet another immutable characteristic around which toxic masculinity preys.
Section 6.5: I don’t want to talk about penises on cartoons made for children no no no whyyyyyy
A few years ago this article was published on Jezebel. I hate it for so many reasons, but it is a poignant example of how visual communication interlinks with harmful stereotypes (often incredibly racist ones) and weaponizes them. I want to be clear it’s extremely problematic at best.
There is a weird double standard in body positivity where penis size is still…free game? I remain terribly confused from content uplifting larger bodies but still critiquing and weaponizing penis size.
It is as if toxic masculinity has enabled the creation of a hierarchy around immutable characteristics — skulls, wrists, height, etc. This can be weaponized both by men and women, and creates a hard problem to solve.
I think this weaponization of these particular characteristics, and how common and acceptable they are in jokes, also speaks towards the suppression of male emotions.
For example, satire, a common humor driven by many male creators, is an emotionally detached way of unpacking social issues. But this commentary is often lost, leading to more memes that continue the onslaught against certain physical characteristics.
Section 7: Conclusion
Honestly, I wasn’t going to do this article. I am critical of the use of Disney allegories in these spaces. This is also going to be the last Disney article I do. I have also been super busy with my MS thesis. And with life I suppose.
I also didn’t super want to include this section, but I thought it was important.
You see, during this pandemic, I have gained weight. Statistically, you probably have to. And part of me is terrified of leaving my pandemic at home lifestyle because I know it.
The other part of me hates that part of me because I am supposed to be this woke, confident person who shouldn’t care about those superficial things, especially in the face of a global pandemic.
But my lizard brain, conditioned by magazines and fad diets of the early 2000s and tankinis (if you know, you know), just cannot stop.
And I think in a world so oversaturated with visual messaging, it is impossible to stop caring about appearance. It’s in the water and it’s something that has to be extraordinarily unlearned and reckoned with.
And a lot of men I talk to seem to be stressing more about their quarantine weight than women, at least out loud. Often in the context of the gym, their gains, and losses, but also definitely their quarantine weight.
Maybe it’s because socially women tiptoe around this more to avoid triggering each other because it’s just an assumption we all have disordered eating and body issues?
The biggest catch-all that I have encountered while writing this piece is that men are told to not care about their appearance, at least not in the same way as women. And yet, they still have standards to meet.
I think there is a conflicting discourse a lot of us are exposed to:
- Diet culture, getting thin, workout/gym culture, beauty standards
- Self confidence/acceptance/body positivity/body neutrality/anti-diet/fat liberation, etc
- Camp 2 is actually bad and so is Camp 1 because it’s too restrictive and it’s actually super easy to make sustainable life choices to look and feel exactly how you want — just buy this product and go for a walk, you hot mess.
I think somewhere there is a truth but I think it varies person to person and circumstance to circumstance. And the truth for me at least is — the water is up to my nose and that’s why I’ve literally just started working with a professional nutritionist to start sifting it out in my brain and its relationship with food, body, and movement.
And I am not here to argue too much on any of these points, but I will say for those of you who have gained weight during this and totally hate themselves now but also hate themselves for hating themselves: it’s ok.
Especially, I guess relevant to this article, the men in the room — it’s also ok that you are maybe just now thinking about issues of body and weight for the first time after your lifestyle changed in COVID.
I am not a sociologist, dietician, or anything really. But I do know that when we talk about anything beauty related we often leave out a large majority of men.
And while I am maybe not the number one advocate or the most in touch with the inner workings of men, I can’t help but think about videos I’ve watched about communities such as incels and fitness influencers who, if they were women, would be diagnosed with severe body dysmorphia.
I think that when folks bring up the “What about MEN” argument in issues that do overall disproportionately effect and target non-men, it often comes from a place of trying to detract from the harm done to others or as a devil’s advocate moment.
For this, though, I want to offer a space to at least contemplate it. After all, toxic masculinity truly does harm us all. And it starts young, with things like Disney.
I don’t have a good way to finish this article out, so if you are struggling with body image or food or exercise or anything related, I’ve listed some resources below, particularly targeted at masculine individuals, but many for all gender identities.
Catch more writing coming soon.
As always, these articles take a village — special thanks to Ben Johnson for helping consult and write and edit this article.
Nina M. Lutz is an interdisciplinary researcher who uses computational and artistic methods to explore visual communication and culture at scale. She recently finished her MS at the MIT Media Lab in August 2021. By day she fakes being a half-decent product manager, by night she eats cheese and thinks about the world. She is reachable at @ninalikespi on Twitter.
Ben Johnson is a software developer living in Lexington, KY. He graduated MIT in 2020 with a degree in Computer Science and a minor in Writing. He wants to believe he will publish a book by 2030 and his spirit animal is a sleeping mountain lion.