Healthy Body

The Powerful Way We’re Seeing Ourselves in Disney’s New Short About a Larger-Bodied Ballerina

Photo: Disney/W+G Editorial
Disney finally has a larger-bodied heroine, and for many of us, she’s exactly who we needed to see.

On September 14, Disney+ debuted the second season of its “Short Circuit” collection of experimental animated films. One of the shorts is Reflect, which is about a young ballet dancer named Bianca. It tells the story of a dance class in which she first shrinks from her reflection in the mirror, and then, in a fantastical mirror-world, learns to conquer her fears and doubts with confidence and dance.

“The idea for this short began with thinking about my own body philosophy,” says creator Hillary Bradfield in the introduction to the film. “I feel like I am a very body positive person in principle, but when it’s on a personal level, it’s a lot harder to be body positive.”

The challenge of putting body positivity into practice certainly strikes a chord, as has the depiction of Bianca. The film came out over a month ago, but conversation around Reflect has been building as fan reactions on Instagram and TikTok raised awareness.

That’s unsurprising, since the film is a welcome change from Disney’s typically thin, homogeneous heroines. It’s also beautiful and emotionally affecting, including for many of us at Well+Good who have grappled with body image, and the world of dance.

While watching Bianca’s exuberance when she’s dancing alone, and then her dismay when her lithe teacher walks by and says “tight tummy, long neck,” I got a lump in my throat. My neck will never be long, my tummy is round and soft. It’s the body I’ve lived in since I was a seven-year-old and quit dance because I looked different in my leotard from all the other girls in class. Does that mean I can never spin and leap with grace and joy?

Luckily, we now have Bianca’s story to help us process those emotions, and hopefully put those body image doubts to bed. Many of us see ourselves in Bianca, and just getting representation on the Disney screen means a lot to us now, and we can only imagine how her example feels to young dancers. Hopefully, we can all leap into a more inclusive world of both dance and film just as Bianca leaps out of the mirror and into the classroom.

Here’s what the Disney short Reflect means to some of us at Well+Good.

"Watching this immediately makes me think mirrors in ballet, and the vulnerability of staring yourself down in a leotard and tights. And of how much energy I wasted as a teenager worrying about the 'fat mirrors' or 'skinny mirrors' in the studio, even when I logically knew it was all just an illusion. But my self-worth as a dancer (and human) was so tied up in body image that getting stuck in front of the wrong mirror could completely distract me, and mean my thighs were all I could think about for the rest of the day." —senior fitness editor Jennifer Heimlich

"I’ve dealt with poor body image for most of my life. As an adult, I’ve learned to change and redirect lines of negative thinking when they arise, but as a child, those negative thoughts ruled my world. At age 9, I—like the heroine in Disney’s new short— was the ‘bigger’ ballerina in my class. I was the tallest of the bunch and had to wear adult-sized dancewear while my friends got to choose the pretty, neon-colored leotards offered in children’s sizing. For Nutcracker season, I was separated from my ballet friends; petite and cute, they got to be cherubs, but I, the bigger ballerina, was told to join the other girls as an angel. Reflect transported me to the cold, mirror-lined dance studio of my hometown, awkwardly tugging on my leotard, wondering why I couldn’t look like everyone else. I think my younger self would have loved to see herself in a Disney film, and maybe it could have helped her see how beautiful of a dancer she was. I can’t go back in time, though, so instead, I rejoice with the other ‘bigger’ dancers today." —editorial assistant Amelia McBride

"While I was never a ballerina, Reflect resonated with me. There were physical expectations that were ingrained my brain either by what I read in a magazine or watched on TV as a kid. When I watched Reflect, I realize I robbed myself of the joy I inherently wanted to experience because I was working towards an end of becoming a person I believed I needed to be before permitting myself that joy." —SEO writer Danielle Calma

"The part that really hits home for me—and probably all of us—in Reflect is the moment when the main character realizes their body doesn’t look like the other kids in class. It takes me back to a painful time in my own life—going through puberty before all of my peers—and suddenly noticing that I looked very different from everyone else in my own ballet class. I also wasn’t emotionally mature enough to understand why I was being treated differently because of it. In Reflect, we get to see a transformation. Shame and sadness ultimately turns into confidence and body positivity. I wish I’d seen more of that message when I was young, perhaps my journey to self-acceptance would have been a lot less rocky." —senior health editor Alison Tsai

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