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Skinny Minnie? Our Culture's Bizarre Obsession With Stick-Thin Women

An impossibly thin Minnie Mouse shows that the assault on healthy self-image continues. But so does the pushback.

Fashion-forward, notoriously pricey department store Barney’s New York has “embraced” pop culture by unveiling plans to present Disney characters in haute couture for its holiday window display. But these iconic cartoon bodies are now stretched so thin and tall that they resemble unrecognizable cartoon toothpicks rather than the corporate but cute Minnie, Goofy and Daisy Duck beloved by the children of the world.

The problem, apparently, was that the folks at Barney’s (and Disney) thought adorable little Minnie Mouse was way too chubby. Barneys' creative director Dennis Freedman told Women’s Wear Daily that Minnie wasn’t cutting it, style-wise.

"When we got to the moment when all Disney characters walk on the runway, there was a discussion. The standard Minnie Mouse will not look so good in a Lanvin dress. There was a real moment of silence, because these characters don't change. I said, 'If we're going to make this work, we have to have a 5-foot-11 Minnie,' and they agreed."

Okay, so Minnie is a cartoon, it’s true. As a result of her new image, anthropomorphic mice across the nation will not all of a sudden be stricken with self-hate, playing with the peas on their plates and declaring they just can’t eat another bite, while visualizing the numbers on the scale dropping rapidly.

Disney's evil consumerist influence on the world aside, Skinny Minnie epitomizes our society’s whacked-out relationship with body image, doesn’t she?

Besides, these kinds of absurd campaigns do have an effect on young women (and everyone). While cartoon characters can be whittled, stretched, and made over, people can’t.

That’s why a petition on to urge Barney’s to reconsider the image already has over 122,000 signatures. From its text, by petition creator Ragen Chastain:

There is something wrong with changing a beloved children’s character’s body so that it looks good in a dress that almost nobody looks good in -- adding to the tremendous pressure on young girls and women to attain photoshop perfection. The problem isn’t with Minnie’s body, it’s with a dress that only looks good on a woman who is 5’11 and a size zero.

That little girl who is going to become a 5’4, size 12 woman can’t just become a 5’11, size 0 woman when she wants to fit into a dress that was designed by someone who couldn't be bothered to make a dress that looks good on someone who is not a model.

Statistics show that over 80% of 10-year-old-girls in the US have already been on a diet and as many bloggers have already noted with rueful irony given the Disney connection, that much of the young female population would squander a hypothetical magic wish on becoming thinner.

Many of these girls responding to such surveys will suffer agonies over their weight and body images for at least a decade, maybe two, as they internalize messages like Skinny Minnie and Photoshopped images of celebrities and models.

The Skinny Minnie fiasco is just one of a handful of recent high-profile controversies over weight, diet and body image issues for women.

Pop star Lady Gaga has responded to photos of her looking like she gained weight--and accompanying vicious comments-- with a “Body Revolution 2012" campaign and an admission that she has struggled with eating disorders since she was a teenager. She encouraged her fans to post pictures of themselves celebrating their "triumph over insecurity." Many "little monsters" have done so, in addition to thanking Gaga profusely for her honesty.

Eating disorder experts were quick to weigh in, telling MTV that they thought Gaga was taking a positive step by being open about her own issues and the painful criticism she has received about her looks, and especially by creating a supportive space for her fans.

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