Body shapes in animated female characters have become more complex and varied in the last several years, according to a new study by University of Connecticut graduate researcher Rebecca Rowe.
Rowe, a doctoral candidate in literature, studied 239 female characters across 67 films from large American animation companies and found that, contrary to popular belief, there are four different distinct body shapes as opposed to just the hourglass figure, according to a press release.
“They all talk about how these women are very slender, which is very true. A lot of people talk about the hourglass figure of these princesses,” Rowe said in the release. “What I found is that as we get further into the 21st century, that is shifting.”
Rowe used three criteria to assess which characters she would be studying. The subjects had to be mostly humanoid, identifiably female and separate from other characters, the release said.
The four shapes Rowe discovered were the hourglass, pear, rectangle and inverted triangle shapes. Different well-known animated characters fit across the spectrum, she said.
“Now instead of the hourglass figure, the predominant figures are the pear figure, in which the woman has proportional bust and waist and a larger posterior (Tiana from “The Princess and the Frog”), and the other really frequent shape is the rectangle (Penny from “Mr. Peabody and Sherman”), shoulders, waist, hips just straight down,” Rowe said. “The inverted triangle shape, with shoulders wider than hips, can be seen with Calhoun in ‘Wreck-It Ralph.’”
Recent studies about the effects of body shape of animated characters on young girls have only focused on young adult characters and not prepubescent female characters, Rowe said.
“In the 21st century, there has been more and more younger characters in animation, and studies just have not caught up with that yet,” Rowe said. “These animation companies are getting a lot better at giving young bodies to the children who are watching — they (children) can see girls the same age as themselves on screen.”
Rowe emphasized there are now two different routes researchers can explore with the new information they have about the changing trends of animated female bodies.
“One direction is to actually start studying real girls in the real world and how they understand these shapes because no one has done that work yet,” Rowe said. “No one has been talking to these girls to see if they are noticing the difference in shapes because everyone is focused on body size.”
Rowe also said it is vital to start looking at other identities when analyzing the body shapes of these animated characters.
“Race is a really important one, ability is a really important one,” Rowe said. “But the problem with that is that there needs to be more representation in animation before any of those studies can really be done successfully.”
Taylor Harton is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.