Corporate giant Disney and luxury department store Barney's are firing back at attacks from body-image activists against their holiday ad campaign, which features an anorexic-looking Minnie Mouse.
"We are saddened that activists have repeatedly tried to distort a lighthearted holiday project in order to draw media attention to themselves," Disney and Barney's said in a joint statement Oct. 23, 2012.
The companies came under fire after giving popular cartoon characters Minnie Mouse, Daisy Duck and Goofy the Dog dramatic makeovers that rendered them super-tall and rail-thin.
Critics say Barney's is unnecessarily sexualizing beloved children's cartoon characters and is encouraging eating disorders by promoting an unhealthy body image.
"Young girls are already bombarded with waif-like bodies and impossible figures, contributing to soaring cases of anorexia, bulimia, and other dangerous eating disorders," said one consumer-rights group.
"Now Disney is contributing to that pressure by using cartoon characters to promote a body image that is both unrealistic and unhealthy."
The controversy picked up steam after Barney's creative director said the makeovers were necessary for the sake of "authenticity" for its "Electric Holiday" ad campaign.
“The standard Minnie Mouse will not look so good in a Lanvin dress,” Barney's creative director Dennis Freedman said in August 2012. "I said, ‘If we’re going to make this work, we have to have a 5-foot-11 Minnie,’ and [the creative staff] agreed. When you see Goofy, Minnie and Mickey, they are runway models."
After their dramatic makeovers, the stick-thin Disney characters are unrecognizable, but Barney's insists the changes were necessary. "The important thing to me was always that it had to be authentic," said Freedman. "It really had to hit the nail on the head in every detail.”
Since then, plus-size models, actresses and consumer activists have put pressure on Barney's to change the planned window display. But Barney's insists the holiday campaign is harmless and that the skinny Minnie appears only briefly in a dream sequence.
"[Critics] have deliberately ignored previously released information clearly stating this promotion is a three-minute ‘moving art’ video featuring traditional Minnie Mouse in a dreamlike sequence set in Paris where she briefly walks the runway as a model and then happily awakens as her normal self wearing the very same designer dress from the fashion show," says Barney's.
Barney's says it will not buckle under to pressure and is moving forward with its campaign as planned. The Barney's "Electric Holiday" ad campaign kicks off Nov. 14 at its New York flagship store on Madison Avenue.