Why Women of All Ages Should See Moana
It’s a tale as old as time – a little girl, wide-eyed, staring at a movie or TV screen as she discovers her favorite Disney princess for the first time. I had this moment myself when I was young, first with Ariel and later, when I was older and longing for adventure far away from my small rural town, with Belle. For the last decade, Belle has remained my favorite princess.
So imagine my surprise when I saw Moana, a movie I knew of but not much about, and ended up falling in love with an entirely different Disney heroine. I cannot truly call Moana a “princess”. In fact, she herself rejects that title in the film, and her identity goes against the very stereotype of a typical Disney princess. I’m still fond of Belle, whose love of knowledge and refusals of Gaston’s sexist advances I view as exceedingly feminist. But after seeing Moana, I realized how far Disney needed to come with female representation – and what a great beginning it has made with this film.
Not to discount previous princesses such as Mulan, Tatiana, or Merida, who were promising steps for creating inspiring Disney women. But Moana, more to me than any other Disney film, makes it clear that being a feminist – and being confident in yourself – is something women of all ages, ethnicities, and body types should aspire to.
Why do I believe women of all ages can benefit from Moana? Because of the film’s:
As of late, there has been a huge push for Disney to represent a greater variety of body types, with many artists creating their own interpretations of how princesses would look with “realistic” bodies. While Moana does not entirely solve this concern, the film made a clear effort to step outside of the typical impossibly small waist, Barbie doll body type of many Disney princesses. Moana was created with thicker arms and legs, along with a wider waist that is fitting to her curvier hips.
While Moana cannot be considered a plus size character, nor represent every woman’s body type, her build is not only more inclusive than past Disney princesses but also more realistic. Her body is portrayed as strong, which would be needed for her to sail on a boat alone as she does in the film. With Moana, Disney shows they recognize not all female bodies are thin. Some women have curves, some women have muscles, and young girls can learn from the character of Moana that this is entirely okay.
The first moment the film introduced me to child-aged Moana, I almost cried. Why? Not only because the animated little girl was adorable, but also because I was looking at me. The big brown eyes, the curly hair, the curvy hips and dark skin. Moana is Polynesian, and I am multiracial. But the little girl inside of me, remembering how I had always wished for this type of representation – a Disney heroine with a firmer body and darker skin and wilder hair – was inspired.
If I was so touched by the minority representation Moana stands for, think of all the other women my age and older – and, most importantly, women of Polynesian descent – who finally have a Disney female to represent them. Little girls who are just starting to grow up now, seeing Moana as one of their first female-centered Disney films, will have a character to admire who looks like them – or a minority character who pushes them to look past the color of others’ skin.
The film is named Moana, so it should be no surprise that the plot is entirely centered around her personal journey. Moana has no love interest, nor a man who controls her decisions. In fact, she defies her father to follow her dreams, and she stands up to a male demigod who attempts to derail her mission of saving her island. Throughout the story, she doubts herself often, and she makes mistakes. Moana isn’t perfect, but she does not let her imperfections or others’ expectations for her define her identity. At the end of the film (don’t worry, no spoilers), Moana discovers who she truly is – no husband necessary.
Of course, I appreciate a good love story. But when female Disney characters are diminished to only their love story – Ariel spending all of The Little Mermaid chasing after Eric’s affection and Aurora from Sleeping Beauty not being able to wake up without a kiss from her prince – women are taught that their worth lies within their relationships with men. But Moana teaches self love, as the character works to achieve her goals not for true love’s kiss, but for the happiness of her subjects and herself.
And in the end, that self love is what Moana teaches – a love of your body, your skin color, and yourself. Lessons which all of us women, no matter our age, can learn from.