People with Eating Disorders Relate to Elsa from 'Frozen', Professor Says

By Victoria Kim 05/14/15

Dr. Su Holmes said that the online pro-ana community has found inspiration in the hit Disney movie.

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Leading media experts gathered for a one-day “Symfrozium” dedicated to the Disney film Frozen on Tuesday at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England. The academic conference had a packed schedule of talks on topics from the representation of gender roles, to the music of the film to its impact on people with eating disorders.

One of the speakers, Dr. Su Holmes from the UEA School of Art, Media and American Studies, presented her research into links between the film and people involved in online pro-ana communities.

Holmes, who struggled with anorexia herself, discovered a community of people online with eating disorders who identified with Elsa’s experiences, BBC reports. She said Elsa’s song Let It Go “parallels” her own recovery.

A blogger behind the site True Healthy Me, a blog dedicated to a balanced and healthy recovery from anorexia, broke down in great detail how the film can be interpreted as a message about eating disorders and how to conquer them. “To me, the whole story seemed to accurately parallel the path I and many others have taken to suffering and recovering from an eating disorder,” the blogger under the moniker, peaceloveandsmoothies, wrote.

In Frozen, Princess Elsa is born with powers to control ice and snow. Her parents discover this power and worry she could be dangerous. Elsa is encouraged to hide away both emotionally and physically. “It is hard for people who don’t have eating disorders to accept and understand those who do,” peaceloveandsmoothies wrote.

Elsa, who is fixated on control and perfection and can only achieve this in solitude, runs away into the mountains after a dispute with her sister. She finds release in isolation, where she can “let it go” and embrace her true self, creating “lavish structures of frozen fractals all around.”

Bee Wilson, writing for The Telegraph, compared Elsa’s ice castle to rehab, “where Elsa learns that the ‘fears that once controlled me can’t get to me at all.’ She can finally be honest about her condition: ‘so now they know.’ Many eating disorder sufferers have described how cathartic they find the song.”

Holmes described “two key groups” of people who identify with Elsa. “The first circled around Let It Go because in the song, Elsa talks a lot about the pressures around being the perfect girl and the need to break free from those repressions," Holmes said. "There’s been a long history about anorexia developing in so called ‘good’ or ‘perfect’ girls, and that it’s associated with societal and parental pressures.”

One poster on the online forum MyProAna, a site dedicated to the support or recovery of those suffering from eating disorders or body dysmorphic disorders, who has been in therapy for “3 years or so,” wrote about her connection to Elsa: “It was impossible to me not to link Elsa’s personality with the stereotypical personality of anorexic girls.” The poster, dubbed Anaberry, wrote about how she identified with Elsa “always suppressing her desires to be the good girl” and a “control freak.”

While many who responded to the discussion agreed with Anaberry’s observations, others brought up their own theories, suggesting Elsa’s powers are “actually a metaphor for some mental or physical issue” or “closeted bisexuality.” Another poster responded: “A lot of different groups of people (those who live in hiding about their issues, those who face inner turmoil, etc.) relate to Elsa for the same reasons you mentioned. That’s why she’s such a successful, realistic character.”

When Holmes first noticed the similarities between the film and her own experience with anorexia, a simple Google search proved she was not alone. "What I really found from working on this site is that what people were looking for was identification," she said.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr