Disney audience places harmful, idolized pressure on female stars

Christina Coleburn, Contributing Columnist

Ever since “Lizzie McGuire” ushered the coronation of Disney Channel as the unofficial king of youth television, the relationship between corporation, consumer and character has never been the same. With Disney’s production of shows like “Lizzie,” which featured a famously green Hilary Duff acting from a deliberately chaste script, consumers took it upon themselves to turn such actresses into role models by the inherent virtue of the Disney brand. Though this relationship appears to be one that could only be conjured by Disney magic, some silently suffer under this reign — the female stars. They are the young actresses who play your favorite secret pop sensation and friendly neighborhood wizard. They are Hilary Duff, Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez, their predecessors and their contemporaries.

Although the Disney corporation cannot be faulted explicitly, the public’s unwillingness to accept these actresses’ adult status reveals the disturbing truth that Disney’s intrinsic label is toxic to the personal and professional development of its female stars. When these young women attempt to break away from their juvenile careers, whether by experimenting with artistic nudity in a music video or celebrating a 21st birthday with alcohol, they are subject to public chastisement and resounding online declarations of disappointment.

After the debut of “Wrecking Ball,” the public quickly dismissed the depth behind Cyrus’ song. Michael Hann, associate editor for The Guardian, flawlessly encapsulated the ignorance when he disparagingly suggested that Cyrus’ musical message was that the “best way for young women to be noticed is to sexually objectify themselves.” Instead of concentrating on the song’s poignant lyrics, Hann and his constituents focused on Cyrus’ supposed hunger for attention. Selena Gomez, who recently turned 21, also drew criticism for partaking in a natural expression of adulthood. On “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” she revealed she had a shot of Jack Daniels to commemorate her legality, inspiring several users on a Yahoo blog to voice their disappointment in her separation from her Disney Channel image.

Artistic nudity and celebratory drinks are obviously not behaviors befitting to Hannah Montana or Alex Russo, nor should they be. Though Cyrus and Gomez assumed these famous roles when they were teenagers, they are now young women in their 20s, and have earned the right to pursue adult lives after years of bowing to the demands of the Disney brand.

The backlash for these actresses’ experimentation with maturity cannot be blamed on the characters they portray or even on the Disney corporation. Hypocrisy falls on the idolizing public and its sickening demand that these starlets remain immaculate in all endeavors. For former actresses, the intrinsic Disney branding has proven to be a double-edged sword, its powers are far from magical.

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Sept. 30 print edition. Christina Coleburn is a contributing columnist. Email her at [email protected].