Now that my six-year-old can read, I find myself answering a lot of questions about slogans on billboards as we walk through downtown Toronto. I often steer her path so that ones that require particularly sticky explanations (“Why is that woman on her back in her underwear? Is she hurt?”) remain out of sight. I wouldn’t have thought twice walking by a billboard promoting a Snow White remake—and as it turns out, I would’ve gotten burned.
The ad campaign for Red Shoes & the 7 Dwarfs that debuted in Cannes this past week showed a tall, tiny-waisted woman wearing a pair of red pumps beside a shorter, heavier version of herself, and was accompanied by the tagline “What if Snow White was no longer beautiful, and the 7 Dwarfs not so short?”
How to talk to girls: 8 ways to improve your daughter's self-esteem Hmm…Never thought about it that way. Here are another couple questions for you: What if a movie aimed at impressionable young girls focused on strength instead of beauty? Why am I so dead tired of always having to provide counter-programming to my little girl so that she doesn’t equate thinness with self worth? What if movies once and for all dropped this body-shaming garbage and we all got on with our lives?
Model Tess Holliday was one of the first to take to Twitter and slam the advertisment.
“How did this get approved by an entire marketing team?” she wrote in a tweet. “Why is it okay to tell young kids being fat = Ugly?”
She also tagged actress Chloë Grace Moretz, the voice of Snow White, in the tweet—and Moretz came out swinging. “I have now fully reviewed the marketing for Red Shoes, I am just as appalled and angry as everyone else, this wasn’t approved by me or my team,” Moretz wrote. “I am sorry for the offense that was beyond my creative control.”
Details about the plot are scarce, but the premise of the film, according to the Hollywood Reporter, is that it’s a parody of the classic Snow White story that casts the dwarfs as seven cursed princes who must be kissed by the most beautiful woman in the world to break the curse. They seek out Snow White and her pair of magical red shoes—without realizing it’s the shoes that keep her slim. In the end, “the once arrogant, looks-obsessed princes gradually realize the true meaning of beauty.” Moretz seemed to back the idea that there is a body-positive message at the movie’s core, tweeting that “the actual story is a powerful one for young women.”
The above trailer for the film, however, doesn’t exactly inspire confidence: It shows a couple of the princes, having been turned into dwarfs, hiding under a table in Snow White’s home, watching her disrobe. (Let that creepy image sink in for a minute.) Jaws hit the floor, knowing elbow jabs are traded—all is looking good for our pint-sized peeping Toms until the heroine kicks off one of her enchanted red shoes, and starts transforming back to her normal size—one that makes the dwarfs recoil in disgust.
Regardless of how it ends, by positioning the story this way, old stereotypes of thin=beautiful have been reinforced. Here’s a radical idea: instead of constantly harping on the fact that “true beauty is found within,” how about just making sure our heroines come in all shapes and sizes, and we don’t talk about the virtues of beauty at all?
Sujin Hwang, one of the film’s producers, apologized for the ad campaign and told CNN that it’s been “terminated.” And whether the film picks up a distributor remains to be seen. So there is one silver lining to this hot mess. Tonight, I can tell my daughter a new story: One about an advertising company that did something really dumb and hurtful, and the people all over the world who stood up, used their voices, and refused to let it stand.