My Reflections on 'Reflect'—Disney's First Short Film Featuring a 'Plus-Size' Dancer and Her Body Insecurities

This is not a story of a little girl battling a mental illness; it's of a little girl in a fat little body trying to learn how to be confident in a diet culture world.

Ballerina from Reflect looking at her body in the mirror


I've been fat my entire life. I was a chubby baby and I never "thinned out" like everyone promised me I would. I just stayed fat, and now, at almost 38 years old, I'm still round. People have a lot of opinions about it, but I've made peace with my body. Fighting it was making life a misery not worth living. It was time to learn to live and love my life in whatever body I actually have—not wait to live until I could be what society wants me to be.

But it is so, so hard. Choosing to be fat positive doesn't mean I never struggle under the weight of society's expectations for my body. I do. Daily. I have to work to see the good in my body. It's not always automatic. I spend a lot of time and emotional energy choosing to embrace my fat body.

So, when I saw the news about Reflect, a new short on Disney+, I was intrigued. The film is part of their Short Circuit short film series, and as of writing this, is the latest episode in season 2.

The story features Bianca, a fat ballerina endeavoring to embrace her reflection during a dance class with thin peers. Some news outlets used the term "body dysmorphia," so I was a little concerned about how this was going to play out. Nevertheless, I watched it with high hopes and low expectations—my default setting for ingesting any fat-positive content not created by a fat person with lived experience.

And that's what this is. It's fat-centered content dreamed up by Hillary Bradfield, a straight-sized filmmaker with good intentions. That's not necessarily an automatic strike against this film, but I do wonder if there were no actual fat filmmakers who wanted to tell a similar story?

Setting aside the fact that Bradfield is not a fat person, I kept my heart open as the film started.

The first shot, Bianca's thick ankles and chubby calves practicing en pointe, made me smile. As the rest of her body was revealed, I was pleased. Her body is round and thick. She has a sweet little circular face and the slope of her belly is soft and familiar. I was immediately transported to my own days in a black leotard and pink tights. Little Bianca looks a lot like Little Me.

As I watched her journey, I was moved. I loved seeing little Bianca take control of her broken reflection and dance beautifully until she saw herself as whole and good again. I saw a lot of familiar emotions pass through her as she fought to find a way back to the joyful abandon she felt when she was dancing alone before class started.

Of course, I am thrilled to see a fat heroine represented in film. She isn't the main character's funny bestie. She's the whole story. I love that. And as I mentioned, I love how she was animated. Adorable.

But I had a lot of other thoughts as I watched.

I don't quite understand why this short is inspiring discussions about body dysmorphia. Body dysmorphic disorder is a diagnosable mental disorder that has to meet specific criteria that I just don't think Bianca displays.

Bianca dances happily and confidently in her chubby body until the other dancers enter the room. She doesn't go to any great lengths to hide or change her body, and we have no indication that she displays the sometimes-present component of distorted body image; Bianca sees what we see in the mirror.

Taking some time and energy to come around to body acceptance isn't body dysmorphia. The fact that some people watched this film and left with the idea that just because she's fat, she must hate and want to hide or change her body is frustrating.

This isn't the story of a little girl battling a mental illness; it's a little girl in a fat little body trying to learn how to be confident and self-assured in a world that has already begun to tell her that a tight tummy and a long neck are more desirable than her round belly and soft face.

I wish people would just let fat people have this story without pathologizing her insecurity; Insecurity that is a totally understandable and relatable way to feel when you live in a world not designed for bodies that look like yours.

And then there's the little niggling feeling in the back of my mind that wonders why Bianca has to be exceptional at something physically demanding to deserve this story. Have you heard of the "Good Fatty?" If not, fat activist, artist and animator Stacy Bias helpfully animated these archetypes in a succinct way that lends itself to easy education. It's a good read.

In short, a good fatty is a fat person who gets a pass for their fatness for various reason. Basically, you can be fat and accepted in society as long as you either wish you were thin, are actively trying to be thin, make thin people feel good, or can do all the things thin people can do.

That reality is problematic for a zillion reasons, but in this case, it's just slightly disappointing that Bianca's ability to dance beautifully is likely to be the takeaway for so many people. It's not supposed to be, "Look what amazing athletic feat this fat girl can do despite being fat!"

The message people actually need is, "Look how this girl learned to embrace her body and follow her dreams even though society tells her every day that she isn't enough."

In the end, my opinion is that Reflect is a beautifully animated, if slightly flawed attempt to bring a fat heroine into the spotlight. As far as fat representation in art and media goes, as a society, we have work to do.

I'm comfortable saying that Reflect is a good start.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles