Disney is making an effort to bring more and more inclusive themes and characters to the screen after decades in which its heroines were all white, skinny, and primarily blonde. Examples include Red, the company’s first feature film about menstruation, and The Little Mermaid in live-action, both of which feature a black actress. The second season of the experimental video series Short Circuit, which addresses the problem of body image and the value of self-acceptance and self-esteem, features the brand-new Reflect. Bianca, the 13-year-old lead character in this short film directed by Hillary Bradfield, a narrative artist who is now working on Frozen 2 and Encanto, has a passion for ballet. She is, in essence, a young girl like many others, with the exception that when she performs the barre exercises in front of the mirror while the other students are all thinner than her, she feels inadequate and wrong. As a result, while the teacher repeats “Narrow belly, long neck,” she notices that her reflection has broken, signifying the way that she perceives her own body is broken. Bianca has a mental health issue called bodily dimorphism, which the Mayo Clinic describes as “a syndrome in which you cannot stop worrying about one or more perceived flaws or imperfections in your look – a flaw that seems insignificant or cannot be seen by others.”
She constantly body-checks and looks in the mirror every day. The image she sees is not only drastically different from the strict standards set by the school where she studies, but it also magnifies her perception of her own alleged flaws to the point where they turn into a toxic and occasionally paralyzing obsession. However, Bianca refuses to give up and keeps dancing while battling her skewed image and overcoming her doubts and worries by drawing on her inner strength, grace, and power.
The initial scenes of Reflect became popular as soon as they were posted online, especially on Twitter and TikTok where many viewers shared them, left encouraging comments, and also revealed their own personal experiences. Some submitted notes like “I just saw Reflect on Disney+ and it represents body positivity and precisely how I felt as a child and now so I hate the way I look, but viewing it can help me realize it’s OK to be myself” after witnessing Disney’s first plus-size heroine fight against body dimorphism; She reminds me so much of me when I was her age! It is incredibly nice to see that this issue is finally being depicted as someone who has encountered and still encounters it; I found myself in the same circumstance during dance lessons; or I wish I could have seen this when I was younger! But I am so glad that change is happening!All of us have developed unhealthy body expectations as we were growing up, and for many people, this discomfort has manifested as actual body dysmorphism, a demon that is made even more dangerous by the digital era (which compels us to constantly compare ourselves to others and with frequently ‘perfect’ images) and can only be vanquished through extensive self-reflection. Because of this, Reflect conveys a message of body positivity to all people and is a significant first step for both the representation of non-standard bodies in animation and for many women who thought that their appearance did not meet social norms.