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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

12

Elsa’s Coming Out Party

In a world of pretentious dude film critics, Dana Stevens stands out as an acute observer and an approachable intellectual with a sense of humor, and we are grateful for her for all she does. But every once in a while a reader has to say, “WTF?” As in, “WTF? Dana Stevens hates movie makeovers?”

In discussing Frozen, about which she is generally positive, Stevens expressed dismay about the Oscar-nominated power ballad “Let It Go,” during which Elsa transforms from Disgraced Princess to Ice Queen:

“That perfect girl is gone,” she declares as she ditches her old look (a modest dark-green dress and purple cloak, hair in a neatly tucked-up braid) for one that’s arguably even more “perfect.” By the time she sashays out onto that balcony to greet the dawn, Elsa is clad in a slinky, slit-to-the-thigh dress with a transparent snowflake-patterned train and a pair of silver-white high heels, her braid shaken loose and switched over one shoulder in what’s subtly, but unmistakably, a gesture of come-hither bad-girl seduction...

I know I’m not the only one who feels a familiar sense of deflation every time that pulse-racing song (delivered so gloriously by Menzel) culminates in a vision of female self-actualization as narrow and horizon-diminishing as a makeover.

On some level, this feels like Second Wave Feminism wrinkling its nose at the Third Wave. Elsa ditches her “modest” high-necked, full-coverage dress for a flashy high-femme number, and Stevens groans that Elsa feels she needs high heels and a slitted skirt to fit her new identity. As someone who leaves the house in flats and with the minimum amount of makeup necessary to be allowed entrance to the island of Manhattan, I sympathize with her discomfort. But I also encourage Dana Stevens to embrace her inner Cher Horowitz and remember the power a makeover can have, especially for an uneasy adolescent girl coming to terms with herself for her own sake.

The trouble is, Elsa’s old dress is not “fine”; it is associated too strongly with the normal, obedient girl Elsa had to pretend to be for too long (“Be the good girl you’ve always had to be / Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know / But now they know...”). The buttoned up look was appropriate for someone dressing to please her parents and who needs to be protected from the elements. As Elsa confesses, once she starts belting out her real feelings, “The cold never bothered me anyway.”

Elsa’s unusual power adds another element to what could be a straightforward coming-of-age story: it also becomes one of coming out. Her whole life she has been told to hide, to pretend that she is like the rest of us, because her truth is too frightening for the world to accept. She cannot even share her secret with her sister. Sure enough, when she loses control and exposes herself, people recoil in fear. In short, Elsa is a mutant, and this movie, like the X-Men franchise, is a not-so-subtle allegory about sexuality. 

Her whole life, Elsa has been closeted, though since she is a princess, her closet is a vaulted chamber large enough to hold a ball. Once her secret is out, Elsa follows suit, and like many adolescents leaning into something about themselves about which they were previously ashamed, she maybe overdoes it a little in reaction. In the makeover that Stevens finds alarming, Elsa goes for full-on drag queen fabulousness. She experiments with using her clothes to express—rather than repress—her bourgeoning sense of self: she can design and build snow castles, sing about fractals, and look hot doing it. When she lets her hair down, literally, and vamps it up for the camera, our reaction should be to cheer.

The same future EGOT-winners who gave Broadway Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon brought their very gay-friendly sensibility to Frozen. Elsa must be the only Disney princess in history to have no love interest, no man who woos her and wins her heart. When her sister Anna—the “sensibility” to Elsa’s “sense”—shares that she has gotten engaged to an adorable prince, Elsa reacts not with “OMG!” straight-girl squealing but with lesbian pragmatism: “You cannot marry a man you just met.” Tell that to Sleeping Beauty.

By the end of the movie, Elsa has embraced her uniqueness and rejoined society. Does she then make eyes with an alluring sailor, like your run-of-the-mill heterosexual? Uh-uh. She remains happily independent to the last. That is as subversive, gender- and sexuality-wise, as Disney can let itself be, but we know that in the sequel, Elsa will find herself a ladyfriend, possibly on the bobsled team at Arendelle University. For now, we can applaud her freedom and self-actualization.

One more clue, in case we needed it, to Elsa’s true identity: the hairstyle to which Stevens objects, the braid let down and thrown over one shoulder, is a nod to the most famous crypto-lesbian of them all, Katniss Everdeen.

 

Previously: For Emily M. Keeler, Who Interviewed the Prince of Pricks

Ester Bloom can apparently find the gay in anything, #SorryNotSorry. Follow her on Twitter @shorterstory.



12 Comments / Post A Comment

lucy snowe

i'm so glad you commented on this article. i actually hadn't seen the movie, and specifically sought the video to see what she was talking about. i didn't get it. her new outfit is simply more grown-up and womanly than the old (which i think is part of the essence of the song-- embracing adulthood, leaving childhood behind.) particularly since her former outfit was, if anything, more body-conscious than the new, with its emerald bustier-style top and relatively narrow skirt.

besides, she's all alone in her ice palace. you've got to figure she's dressing to please herself. not like she got the makeover because a prince kissed her.

beatrix

Frozen Fun Fact: At the end of the movie, when the window blows open in the castle room where Olaf and Anna are, notice the chessboard. As the icy wind blows into the room, the white queen chess piece falls down, symbolizing and foreshadowing the fall of the Snow Queen. @l

BabbityRabbity

I think you're dead-on about Elsa's "coming out" and how it manifests in her appearance and surroundings, but I'm not sure I agree with her supposed "lesbian pragmatism." A character/person doesn't have to be sexually attracted to women to understand that "you can't marry a man you just met." This is definitely a subversive (and important) stance to take, especially in the romance-centric Disney-verse, but I'm not sure I see anything specifically lesbian about remaining "happily independent." There's a lot about Elsa that makes her a positive role model for girls coming out, but this aspect of her personality seems to be more about rejecting romance as the be-all-end-all of human relationships - something that doesn't seem to me to be related to sexuality. I'm coming at this as a mostly straight/semi-asexual/hates definitions woman who values platonic relationships highly. Thoughts?

de Pizan

@BabbityRabbity I agree. I'm asexual, and I saw Elsa as maybe being asexual--but then again maybe not. She's been shut in the castle most of her life, so never had opportunities for friends, let alone romances. Her not having a love interest makes sense, as does the possibility that she doesn't want to fall into a serious relationship the second she gains her freedom.

pamb

A week or two ago, a Mormon mom posted a very angry rant basically saying the same thing: this is a coming out story. She was angry, while you are proud. She received many angry responses, you will not.

I wonder if those who criticized her on blogs will take back their words now, those who accused her of overreacting. Nah, freedom of speech only works if you are on the 'right' side, no matter which side you determine that to be.

Full disclosure, I lived in CA and got to vote against Prop 8, and now live in MN, where I voted in favor of the freedom to marry. I support gay rights and marriage for all. But the first thing I thought of was all the people who said that the Mormon mom overreacted, sand no one will say that to this writer.

discombobulated

@pamb Let's leave aside that neither Ester Bloom nor Dana Stevens has expressed an opinion about this anonymous Mormon mom. Are you saying anyone who thinks this blogger overreacted is opposed to freedom of speech?

Also: why do you feel the need to tout your Friend Of The Gays bona fides while saying this?

Kevin Knox

@pamb I'm guessing the reason Mormon Mom got the reaction she did was because it was a (to use your words) very angry rant. If she'd laid out her objections in a more thoughtful manner, maybe she would have received more thoughtful responses.

novak

I actually had the same issues with her new outfit. I'm down with fabulousness and newfound freedom, but heels on ice?? REALLY?? How is that logical? Or safe? Her dress is slinky and amazing, but off-the-shoulder and leg slit are details too many surely? The style of it departed a lot from the movie's Scandinavian aesthetics. Idk. I'm in two minds about it now, especially since I can appreciate the experimentation angle, the trying of something new and different.

We see the vampy sexy new look trope a LOT, so it was disheartening that this movie used that too. Frozen is so good in so many other ways, and Elsa is such a great character; to create this cliched look as her coming-out costume was disappointing for me.

As for her sexuality: I'm so glad she's not involved in the usual Disney romance arc. Whether that's because she's still finding herself, lesbian, asexual, bi, more focused on her career, whatever, I don't care. I think she's too ambiguous to slap any label apart from 'subversive' on her. Buuuut who knows what/who'll come out if Frozen 2 happens?

LydiaBennett

this is totally off topic, but when they first announced that Elsa's sister would "need an act of true love to thaw her heart," I bounced up and down on the couch going, "I HOPE IT'S SISTERLY LOVE I HOPE IT'S SISTERLY LOVE!!!!" and then it was. I'm just so proud of Disney for coming so far with their heroines, even if it's not nearly far enough.

Tafadhali

@LydiaBennett I know! I can't say Frozen was my favorite Disney movie (it is based -- SO LOOSELY -- on one of my favorite fairy tales, so it was always going to be a hard sell, and I just didn't care for the music), but I loved that it had two very different female protagonists and that their relationship was central to the movie.

lucy snowe

@LydiaBennett i really wish you'd written SPOILER ALERT before that post. :(

ettasyeager

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