Why Care About How Pixar Draws Faces?

This post on Tumblr from a few weeks ago shows the range of face shapes that men and boys receive in Pixar movies, and the relative lack of range that women and girls receive.
(H/T RM)

Why does this matter?

Seeing someone on screen who is not conventionally attractive–in any of the various ways one can fail to be conventionally attractive–but still receive love and be portrayed as worthy of that love is a very powerful thing.

Rarely ever seeing women in TV and films who are not conventionally attractive, let alone seeing them receive love and being portrayed as worthy of that love, can have a profound impact on us (as a culture) and what many of us think it takes to be worthy of love.

It is unlikely that it has completely defined our self-worth, but for many of us, myself included, it is a kind of voice or pressure that we need to shut down, again and again and again, every time we are reminded of our absence from the circle of people who are shown as loved and worthy of love.

This is why the shape of faces matters.


Green shapes on the left are men’s faces. Red shapes on the right are women’s.

Should You Comment on This Post? A Rough Guide, in Addition to the Blog’s General Policies:

  • This issue has a deep psychological and emotional resonance for me, as well as for many other people. If commenters want to discuss the account I’m giving, or the premises I’m invoking, etc., I’m happy to engage and discuss, even if a comment challenges aspects of this account. However, this is only if commenters can show good faith and be supportive of people’s struggles to maintain a robust sense self-worth, given the various cultural norms that exist regarding our bodies. If any comment engages in a manner I deem to be unsupportive or even just oblivious–regardless of the commenter’s intention–I am not going to publish it. If you want to comment but do not know or care how to do so without exacerbating the vulnerability and shame many people feel in relation to this issue, please keep your comment to yourself. This post is not for you.
  • If a comment raises a challenge or asks for evidence without also contributing something substantial to the discussion, I may or may not post it, and I may not not respond to it if I do post it. We have the internet at our fingertips, so unless a commenter demonstrates that they are a valuable conversation partner (or I already know that they are), I have little inclination to google things for them or spell out my entire justification behind these ideas. The claims here are not novel; people have probably written on them elsewhere.
  • Lastly, if I suspect a comment is an attempt to troll, I will not publish it. If you would like to avoid your comment going unpublished despite you having no intention to be a troll or cause troll-like harms, please take the time to ensure your comment cannot be taken that way. If you do not have the time or inclination to do that, please refrain from commenting.

3 thoughts on “Why Care About How Pixar Draws Faces?

  1. It seems to me there are two possibilities here:

    (1) Main characters in general are given more varied facial types than supporting characters, and in Pixar films (like everything else) there are far more male characters that are central to the story than there are similarly central female characters.

    (2) Even accounting for the different number of male-versus-female main characters, Pixar gives female characters less varied facial features (i.e. even if we restricted attention to the protagonists of the various films, we would still see a greater variety in the male head-shapes than female).

    Of course, both of these are bad. But sadly I would just outright expect (1): Cinema in general (and Pixar in particular) are notoriously bad at meeting the rather low bar set by the Bechdel Test, much less meeting some real level of gender equality in terms of lead characters. Given this, and the (on its own unobjectionable, but in combination with the first point objectionable) tendency to put less design effort into supporting characters, as compared to lead characters, we get (1).

    But (2) I find a bit more surprising. At first glance I would expect Pixar to put as much visual diversity into the design of their lead female characters as they put into their male characters (by “visual diversity” I just mean the sort of diversity that makes commercial sense – i.e. the idea that it is in their best interest to design their characters so that they look distinct from other well-known characters marketed by their competitors, and thus be instantly recognizable on the toy store shelf, etc. – i am not saying that I automatically expect them to incorporate, for example, ethnic diversity).

    If you click on the link to the Tumbler page, however, its seems like it is actually (2) that is the case. A great number of the female characters whose faces are outlined on the image above are the main characters of the films in question.

    One last thought. It strikes me that there are actually two separate, worrisome things going on here. The first is that, unlike the males whose faces have been traced, all of the females are (very) conventionally attractive (or at least super-duper cute, in the case of the blue-skinned girl). The second is that all of the female characters are, at least roughly, the same facial type. Thus, there might be two issues here. The first concerns the emphasis on traditional, conventional attractiveness (and the absence of any other sort of female appearance), supporting familiar problematic norms regarding how women ought to look and behave (especially worrisome when aimed at children). The second concerns the lack of variety, suggesting a view of women as generic, interchangeable, etc. So there is actually some rather complicated stuff going on here.

  2. Someone submitted a comment, which I did not publish. That person then asked in another comment to be notified if they ran afoul of my commenting requests, but left an email address which sent me an error when I tried to respond to it. So, I am posting that person’s comments here, and my response to it, not because I think the comments are worth posting for this conversation, but because they left me no other option to communicate with them. I will not post comments responding to the content of their original post, because I explain below why I don’t want to host that sort of conversation here.

    If you try to communicate with me via a comment, please make sure to leave a valid email address. If anyone else does this, I’m simply not posting the comments and not responding.

    Submitted on 2015/03/17 at 3:17 am
    I’m not sure the claim that few unconventionally attractive women are seen in TV and film is accurate. I can think of several off the top of my head: Bette Davis, Melissa McCarthy, Barbara Streisand, whoopi Goldberg, Roseanne Barr, Rosie odonnel, Sarah Jessica Parker, rhea Perlman, Tilda swinton, Renee zelwegger, Anna paquin, several women on game of thrones, sissy spacek, Frances mcdormand…Is there something specific you have in mind about what you want to see represented? guess we’d also need some kind of wholesale agreement about what conventionally attractive looks like–for example, my husband finds Julia Roberts and Maggie gylenhall very unattractive–it’s all pretty subjective. Then there’s also the issue of whether or not works of fiction are obligated to portray life realistically. Truthfully, the vast majority of women look very little like many women in film or TV–which doesn’t bother me.

    Submitted on 2015/03/17 at 5:01 pm
    I posted a comment, but don’t see it. I’d like to be part of the discussion here. Can you please let me know if I’ve violated your three guidelines? I did try to be very mindful of the requirements. I’m more than happy to rework the comment in such a way that it doesn’t offend you.

    My response:


    Thank you for following up and providing an email address; I couldn’t respond to your previous comment because WordPress didn’t display one under your handle when the first comment originally came through.

    I appreciate that you’d like to be part of the conversation but your original comment fell into the oblivious camp and not contributing something substantial to the already existing conversation camp. There are fairly well-established norms of female beauty in our culture (petite, skinny, white, etc.) Your comment indicated that you are not aware that many people take these to be the dominant cultural norms. I’m happy to host comments that challenge the existence of these norms, but if you’re not even aware that many people consider them to be the dominant norms, you do not have much to offer this conversation at this point in time. That is no disparagement of you or your capabilities. I’m just not interested in hosting 101 discussions of this sort on this post.

    Thus, my guidelines are not a matter of offense. They are a matter of knowledge and harm. I will only host comments that display enough basic knowledge about the discussion at hand that they are not likely to unintentionally cause harm or needlessly derail, the latter being what your comment does. Again, it’s not a bad comment or an “offensive” one; it’s just not informed enough for this particular space.

    I’m taking the time to spell this out because I realize many people are not used to these sorts of boundaries for blog comments. We may think, by default, that any comment that is somewhat relevant (to us) is appropriate for any blog post. That is, after all, how a good chunk of the internet works. My posts however are spaces for specific levels of discussion, because that is what I have the energy and interest in hosting.

    To summarize: Asking whether norms of this sort exist at all on a post discussing the ways they can be harmful is too much of a tangent, especially if you don’t seem to be aware of the reasons why people believe these norms to exist. If you would like to resubmit a comment that acknowledges these reasons, that is fine. However, I suspect that you have some research to do before that is possible.

    To that end, I recommend these blogs:


    -Stacey Goguen

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