How Disney’s “Frozen” is Really an Eating Disorder Recovery Story

DISCLAIMER: I do not own any part of Disney’s “Frozen,” nor do I own the rights to any of the images in this post. Image credits and links are given for each of the photos at the bottom of the page.

PS: SPOILER ALERT!!! If you are uncool enough to STILL not have seen Disney’s “Frozen,” please go watch it now. Then come back and read this post.

I watched Disney’s “Frozen” for the first time several weeks ago. I loved the movie, even with its minor flaws. Overall I think it is a major step for Disney towards incorporating strong, proactive female characters, while also maintaining a balance so it is not over-abundant in any anti-male sentiment. I loved the music and the animation. But what really hit me when I first watched it was something much more personal. Throughout the film, tears were pouring out of my eyes almost continuously. At the end, my head was buzzing and I couldn’t wait to share what I had discovered with my family and with all of you: how true of a chord it struck with me regarding something central to my personal life. To me, the whole story seemed to accurately parallel the path I and many others have taken to suffering and recovering from an eating disorder.

Many people have found personal meaning in “Frozen” and gathered various different messages from it: there’s a lot about women’s liberation and social skills. In my view, Disney is really just conveying a general message of freedom and about relationships that can teach a variety of different lessons to those who are looking for them. But this is what I gleaned from it, and I hope others who watch the film will also receive, if needed, this message of health and hope to build confidence so they do not fall down the dangerous and lonely path of an eating disorder.

This chart elaborates on main events in “Frozen”‘s plot (left) and how each one correlates to a common aspect or event of eating disorder development and recovery. While not everyone experiences the same things, I have mentioned some issues that came up in my experience or that I have heard about from others. Starting at the beginning, follow it all the way through to the end to see how “Frozen” can be interpreted as a message about eating disorders and how to conquer them.

1. Anna persuades her careful older sister Elsa to use her ice powers in a careless manner, leading to Anna’s injury. The parents promise Elsa will learn to control her powers. young elsa hurts anna accidentally frozen anna gets healed by trolls 1. Eating disorders develop out of fear of making a mistake or being inadequate, often related to earlier trauma around body image, and the idea that control over food will prevent more trauma.
2. The time comes for Elsa to assume the crown. There will be a public coronation. Anna, now older and having forgotten her childhood trauma, is excited to “open up the gates” and let potential friends and lovers into the castle. Elsa is petrified of slipping up and failing to “conceal” her powers. Elsa "conceal don't feel" 2. As a person begins recovery, the “healthy voice” inside them remembers the happy “normal” person they once were and wants to explore that world again, opening up to new food and new people. But the “eating disordered voice” is much stronger and keeps the “gates” between the patient and the world firmly closed, out of fear of losing control.
3. Anna meets Prince Hans, and it’s love at first sight. The two proclaim that “love is an open door.” When Anna oversteps the line of safety and propriety, asking Elsa to bless her marriage to Prince Hans, Elsa loses her temper and her ice powers break loose. Anna and Hans love at first sight 3. There are points in recovery at which the patient becomes terrified of stepping into the unknown, sure it is a mistake. One day they may be willing to “open doors,” the next they want to lock the doors to any new experiences. They may exhibit ugly responses, such as lashing out against their support group.
4. The townspeople are afraid of Elsa, and some are calling her a “monster.” She runs away into the mountains, leaving her kingdom of Arendelle frozen in summer. elsa walking into the mountains frozen landscape 4. It is hard for people who don’t have eating disorders to accept and understand those who do. People in the midst of eating disordered thoughts often retreat from their families and friends, seeing their eating disorder as better company than these imperfect humans.
5. Elsa finds release in the mountains where she can “Let it Go”, be herself and create lavish structures of “frozen fractals all around.” castle from Disney's "Frozen" Elsa building her castle 5. In recovery, in that anti-social state many patients reach, there can be a false sense of freedom as the obsession with control reigns over a highly structured “meal plan” and “exercise plan,” allowing the patient to survive but not thrive or enjoy true social freedom. The elaborate palace constructed by Elsa is an eerie parallel to the elaborate palace-prisons eating-disordered  individuals construct to close themselves in, keeping themselves safe and isolated.
6. Anna goes to talk to Elsa. On the way she meets Kristoff, a highly flawed ice tradesman who joins her in her quest, warning her that he doesn’t trust her judgement. Anna meets Kristoff 6. Imperfection, hated by the eating disorder, is bound to find its way even into the controlled recovery center. Two sides of one person battle each other for dominance. And both must reform themselves over the course of this battle. The “healthy voice” may become healthier by being educated in balance between intuition and conscious thought.
7. Anna and Kristoff encounter Olaf, the snowman from Elsa and Anna’s last childhood antics together that has been enchanted by Elsa’s magical winter and come back to life after years of non-existence as Elsa and Anna were kept apart. Disney Frozen olaf and reindeer trailer Olaf from Disney's "Frozen" 7. While Olaf is may appear to have been thrown into the story just for comic relief, he can be interpreted to represent the pure, innocent voice of hope, calling the patient back to that simpler, happier time before the eating disorder ravaged his/her life, urging the two “voices” to reunite as one and just be happy. Look at Olaf: does he ever seem perturbed, even by the life-and-death perils he faces? Nope. He’s too busy dreaming of summer. Olaf is the voice of childhood and hope.
8. Anna tries to reason with Elsa, but Elsa doesn’t want to listen to any pleas for her majesty to return to her kingdom. When Anna tells Elsa, “Arendelle’s in deep deep deep deep snow,” Elsa is upset because she can’t fix the problem. Then she accidentally strikes Anna in the heart with an icy stalagmite and throws her and her company out, sending a giant evil snowman after them.  frozen marshmallow snowman 8. The eating disorder can be strong, especially when defending its weak points. When the patient finds that OCD control won’t work forever, they are very upset and don’t want to accept it. They want to hold onto their current lifestyle of control, shutting everything else out and allowing problems in their lives and communities to worsen.
9. While Anna and Kristoff try to figure out what to do next, they encounter Kristoff’s “family” of trolls. The trolls try to set up a relationship between Anna, who is engaged to her Prince Hans, and Kristoff, who is humiliated. Just before the two are forced to say their wedding vows, Anna experiences a delayed reaction to the ice with which Elsa has pierced her heart. She becomes weak, and a wise troll tells her she must be saved by an act of true love or she will soon be transformed into ice.  Kristoff carries Anna to safety 9. Anna and Kristoff’s blossoming love for each other is another representation of the outgoing, adventurous spirit locked inside an individual suffering from an eating disorder. Both Anna and Kristoff are reluctant to acknowledge their love, just as the eating disorder shuts down any real move for freedom and adventure with food or life. Anna’s collapse symbolizes the crumble of the eating disorder’s reign as well as the indecision of the patient. With walls constantly falling down and being built back up, it is hard to know which way to turn and how to run one’s life. This is why a support group of any kind is so vital to recovery: like Kristoff, a loyal set of partners is needed to help patients in recovery through critical points of physical and emotional weakness.
10. Kristoff rushes a frail Anna home to the castle, leaving her with Prince Hans, whom they both believe is her true love. Hans, however, turns out to be corrupt, and only pretended to love Anna in order to gain control over the kingdom. He has locked Elsa in a prison, and intends to kill her if she doesn’t undo the eternal winter. And instead of bestowing Anna with “true love’s kiss,” he leaves her locked in her room to die while he goes to sign the needed documents to assume her rightful heritage of reign over Arendelle. anna and evil hans frozen anna lies abandoned 10. Trusting in eating disordered behaviors to work out life’s problems is poor judgement. Anna has misjudged her precious prince, representing the element of “eating disordered control” in her life. She thought it would protect her, but in her greatest time of need it had nothing to offer. Often people use eating disorders as an escape from or excuse not to deal with the real world: “I’m underweight so I know I’m better than my classmates, even if they have higher grades.” But there comes a time of greater crisis when the prison of eating disordered behavior and thought does not provide refuge, even hinders the person from solving problems and achieving vital goals. This is when the person must choose between pursuing skinniness, or pursuing life. This is when, without a support group, everything will collapse.
11. Lucky for Anna, she has a support group. Olaf sits melting by the fireplace to keep her company, and Kristoff’s reindeer Sven convinces him to admit he loves Anna. Kristoff hurries back to Arendelle, intending to give Anna a true “true love’s kiss.”  Disney frozen kristoff and sven 11. The individual we are following through recovery is a strong one, who prefers life to collapse. Olaf is the force of hope guiding Anna through her darkest hour. Meanwhile, for Kristoff, Sven becomes the “healthy voice” of intuition, telling him he has misjudged the situation. Anna, representing the patient, needs help. So Kristoff, the loyal support group, rushes to save her.
12. Elsa breaks free of her chains to evade execution by Hans and his guards.  Frozen elsa breaking out of prison 12. The eating disorder won’t give up without a fight.
13. While Elsa is out in the snow running from her would-be exterminators, Anna and Kristoff wander across the icy harbor full of creaking ships, desperately trying to reach each other before it’s too late. Kristoff on the way to save annna - Disney's Frozen anna searches for kristoff through the snow and ice 13. The strong patient and the stubborn eating disorder are both determined to prevail. Anna and Kristoff’s floundering search for each other through icy wind obscuring the view and a labyrinth of boats blocking the way is an allusion to how many obstacles arise at every stage of recovery. But the loyal support group member, represented by Kristoff, is dedicated to helping the patient overcome all obstacles and win the battle.
14. Kristoff and Anna are finally close enough to kiss, which would save Anna from turning to ice. However, Anna sees Hans about to slay her sister Elsa. Sisterly love wins over Anna’s desire to survive, and she runs in between evil prince and icy queen, simultaneously freezing into an Anna-shaped block of ice and stopping the blade of Hans’ sword, causing the prince to be thrown back in a wave of magic. Hans about to kill Elsa Frozenheartanna 14. Anna makes her recovery on her own, not leaning on the shoulders of any support group, because ultimately the struggle is internal and must be conquered by the individual. Likewise, Anna goes against what is expected of her, choosing selflessness over selfishness. What she is saving is not her eating disorder but her sister, a loved one who is now in even greater crisis than she is. Only a well-recovered individual can truly put the selfishness and reclusiveness that comes with an eating disorder aside to help someone else. When Anna turns to ice, this is deeply symbolic of how the eating disorder takes away a person’s character and cuts them off from positive relationships, leaving them out in the cold. Most anyone who has starved him or herself can verify that a winter of starvation is the coldest winter of all they have ever experienced, one that promises to freeze their heart and soul.
15. When Elsa realizes the selfless act Anna has performed and the crippling results of her own powers, she begins to cry, hugging her frozen sister and sobbing.  Elsa crying over anna 15. Elsa represents the voice of control, the careful voice that eventually developed into an eating disorder voice. Now that it has done its job to the point of nearly killing its victim (the happy, healthy voice), now that the support group has led the person this far in recovery and taught him or her so much, the eating disorder voice is seen for what it really is – a negative and dangerous influence. It cannot be eradicated, so it must be transformed into something productive the individual can use. The crying is Elsa’s turning point in transforming from a harmful to a helpful entity, from a disease to a natural human emotion.
16. Elsa’s crying melts Anna back into a human. Elsa and Anna hugging 16. The typical Disney story: crying solves everything. But really: sometimes we need to cry. Sometimes we need to let things out. Elsa’s release of emotion signifies the misunderstood, reclusive eating disorder patient realizing that he/she needs people, even with their imperfections.
17. Now that Elsa no longer fears her own powers, she can finally really learn to control them, retracting all the ice and snow from Arendelle and returning it to summertime. Elsa channels her ice powers into making an ice rink for the townspeople, most of whom now love and accept her. Those who still call her a “monster” (i.e. the Duke of Weaseltown and Prince Hans) are kicked out of Arendelle. ice rink disney frozen elsa anna olaf Anna punches Hans 17. Elsa can control her powers, just as the metaphorical eating disorder is now under control for the first time. The controlling voice can be bent to the advantage of a well-recovered individual. Perhaps in order to succeed in work or school, they need that perfectionist motivation. It’s all a matter of controlling the control so it doesn’t control you. When Anna punches Prince Hans off of the boat and Elsa sends the Duke of Weaseltown back from whence he came, these actions are analogous to a recovering eating disorder patient removing the negative influences, internal and external, that allow the cycle of harmful behavior to continue. Old thought patterns that serve the eating disorder must be trashed; old influences such as shallow friends that expect perfection should be cut off from the patient so recovery can be completed.
18. Anna is openly in love with Kristoff. Elsa promises Anna that the castle gates will never be closed again.  Anna kisses Kristoff Disney Frozen 18. A common theme in recovery is doors. Doors are closed when a patient closes him or herself off from change, from friends and family. Doors are opened when the patient becomes willing to eat and therefore willing to be social and able to make connections. True romance, such as Anna’s relationship with Kristoff, can only occur when a person is willing to open up to it, as Elsa has conceded to open up the castle gates permanently.
19. Elsa bestows Olaf the snowman with his “own personal flurry” so he can enjoy the summer while not melting. Disney Frozen olaf personal flurry 19. The old hope, the memory of a happy time, must be preserved. Even if a recovered individual can never fully return to the time before their OCD set in, they must cherish their hope forever. They must adapt their current lifestyle to include that hope, even if it is expressed in a slightly different way.

Great job, Disney! What’s next? Maybe a movie where the female characters look more realistic and less impossibly skinny?

The world is full of possibilities.

Plot info source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frozen_(2013_film)#Plot

Image Sources (in order of appearance):

1. http://femalefortitude.blogspot.com/2013/12/the-no-queen.htmlhttp://www.nerdlikeyou.com/let-go-guys-frozen-isnt-great-people-say/

2. http://www.marychristineparks.com/blog/dont-let-them-in-dont-let-them-see-be-the-good-girl-you-always-have-to-be-conceal-dont-feel-dont-let-them-know-elsa-disneys-frozen

3. http://www.fanpop.com/clubs/frozen/images/36124442/title/love-open-door-video-clip-screencaps-photo

4. https://board.freedomainradio.com/topic/40223-the-truth-behind-“frozen”-by-stefan-molyneux/http://www.pagetopremiere.com/2013/10/new-images-from-frozen-including-elsas-ice-palace/

5. http://www.curiouserinstitute.com/blog/curiouser/disneys-frozen-science-being-cold-and-lonelyhttp://www.insidethemagic.net/videos/video-full-let-it-go-sequence-from-frozen-performed-by-idina-menzel-in-the-movie-and-world-of-color-winter-dreams/

6. http://www.justjaredjr.com/2013/08/21/anna-meets-kristoff-in-new-frozen-still/

7. http://www.hypable.com/2013/06/18/disney-frozen-trailer-snowman-vs-reindeer/http://www.douxreviews.com/2013/12/frozen.html

8. http://www.today.com/entertainment/parents-guide-frozen-last-disney-princesses-take-power-2D11660579

9. http://www.pinterest.com/leftylynn7707/i-3-frozen/

10.http://disneyvillains.wikia.com/wiki/File:Hansevil.jpghttp://frozenmemes.tumblr.com/post/80237307663/frozen-at-heart-yeahilovebeinpurple

11. http://blogs.disney.com/oh-my-disney/2014/02/05/robert-vs-kristoff/

12. http://www.pinterest.com/myhun22/elsa/

13. http://briebrieblooms.com/family-fun-with-disneys-frozen-movie-review-and-activity-printables/http://disneyfrozen.wordpress.com/2014/01/12/anna/

14. http://ladygeekgirl.wordpress.com/2013/12/08/a-surprisingly-warm-frozen-review/http://disney.wikia.com/wiki/Anna

15. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xygfsz0R3TU

16. http://disney.wikia.com/wiki/File:Anna_and_elsa_hug.jpg

17. http://disney.wikia.com/wiki/Olafhttp://disney.wikia.com/wiki/File:Anna-punch-hans.jpg

18. http://disney.wikia.com/wiki/File:Anna-kiss-kristoff.png

19. http://frozen.wikia.com/wiki/File:OlafPersonalFlurry.jpg

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4 responses

  1. Amazing interpretation. I never would have seen this if you hadn’t pointed it out. Probably it could be applied to other disorders/addictions, as well.

  2. Very astute observation, Sabine, and very well written. Your analysis was very convincing. I have tried to watch “Frozen,” but unfortunately fell asleep half way through. Now I have to finish watching it, thinking about how you interpreted it.

    1. How could you fall asleep while watching the best movie ever?!?!

      1. I think I actually fell asleep two different times while watching that movie! I think it was really late at night both times, at some point when Anna was home. She loves that movie.

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