Yes, Elsa is Sexy in 'Frozen,' and Disney Got It Right
I admit it. When I first saw this moment (2:55 minute mark above) in the movie Frozen, I had a very strong reaction. As Elsa slammed the doors, boldly declaring that the cold never bothered her anyway, I leaned over to my husband and barely managed a simple whisper.
During this scene near the end of the powerful (Oscar-nominated) anthem, "Let It Go," I also found myself fighting back some strange wetness accumulating in my eyes. The moment stirred something within me. Something of awe and wonder, and a little confusion, too. Confusion because initially, I didn't know what to think about my own reaction other than to note that it happened.
There is one aspect of this scene which is not so confusing, however. Elsa -- as she tosses her crown, takes down her hair, and trades her long-sleeved winter dress for one with sparkle and a hard to miss thigh-high slit -- is sexy. That is hard to deny. And she knows it, too, by the way she struts her stuff, proudly basking at long last in the light of day.
Screenshot of Elsa in Disney's Frozen
And although Frozen appears to have won over many adults (this one included), it is first a children's movie. Perhaps because of this, the "sexy" Elsa scene has bothered some parents.
For example, in this well-written article entitled, The Sexy 'Frozen' Moment No One is Talking About, author Dana Stevens paints the scene in question as somewhat of a letdown since the hugeness of the moment is reduced to a mere makeover. While I agree that this might be the takeaway in the other films referenced in the article, (Sandy at the end of Grease, for example) I don't see this as the message in Frozen.
Why not? Consider the circumstances.
In this climatic moment in Frozen, Elsa is not pressured into changing. Unlike Sandy who changes for Danny and his buddies in the closing scenes of Grease, Elsa -- for the first time -- removes the cape of pressure she's been wearing all her life. While Sandy succumbs to the pressure of society, Elsa finally breaks free. She is the antithesis to Sandy in this sense.
Further, during the makeover scene, Elsa is not being watched or "ogled" by anyone. There is no external judge determining whether she is attractive/sexy based on her appearance. (Despite the audience being privy to this otherwise-private moment for the character.) She is alone and celebrating her own liberation. I think it is critical to remember what we, the audience, do not see. We do not see others watching her in this moment. We do not see a group of onlookers whistling with their over-exaggerated character eyes bugging at her appearance. (Think, Jessica Rabbit.) And we do not see her seeking the approval of others.
I think that last one bears repeating. We do not see her seeking approval of others to be attractive or "sexy."
Instead, Elsa is "sexy" when she lets down her hair and dons a flattering, sparkly dress, alone and free and finally accepting of herself. And the message is that this is sexy. Confidence. Loving yourself. Not hiding or changing who you are or what you look like for the sake of others or society.
Though Grease was released nearly 40 years ago, how often do we still see this opposite "Sandy" message? How often do we see the portrayal of a character, "real" or animated, who is "sexy" when they are putting on an appearance for others? When they don their attire based on what others will think of them? When they are not expressing their true selves, but the self they want others to see and accept based on some unrealistic image of beauty?
Sadly, too often. We see this less than liberating image of "sexy" in movies, TV shows, and commercials. We see it in magazines, video games, and even, yes, in cartoons. Adults and children alike are inundated with what society deems sexy whether we like it or not.
Consider how many of us passed a Victoria's Secret storefront on the way to the mall movie theater. Now consider the image of the Victoria Secret model next to the image of Elsa. Same message? I don't think so either.
(A quick side note here, but the only time we do see a man, Kristoff, really fall for a woman, Anna, in this film is not when she is scantily clad, but rather when she is covered head-to-toe in winter gear. I guess that can be sexy, too, when there is a strong, smart, and courageous woman inside the parka.)