Life&Style’s Emily Burnett celebrates Bo Peep’s less traditional appaearance in Toy Story 4 reflecting a shift in attitudes towards gender

Written by Emily Burnett
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This year, Toy Story will be making a comeback with its fourth instalment, and if the latest trailers are anything to go by, it will be challenging gender norms.

The latest teaser reveals that Bo Peep has had a dramatic new make-over, now sporting blue trousers instead of her traditional pink dress, giving her a much more modern and gender-neutral appearance. Bo Peep launches into the scene in her new outfit, much to the surprise of both the characters on screen, and presumably the audience too. After being absent from Toy Story 3, and therefore not being seen on screen for 20 years since the release of Toy Story 2 back in 1999, it seems that Bo Peep has been updated for the 21stCentury.

To fit the latest Disney trend of promoting strong independent women, she will finally play a significant role in the narrative, rather than simply being a love interest for Woody

To fit the latest Disney trend of promoting strong independent women, she will finally play a significant role in the narrative, rather than simply being a love interest for Woody.

In recent years, several Disney films have begun to move away from the traditional Disney narrative, where women are helpless objects whose sole purpose is to be saved by men. One example of Disney challenging gender roles in their films is of course Frozen. It’s a story of two sisters that are strong willed, independent and aren’t reliant on men. However, in terms of their appearance, Anna and Elsa are undeniably feminine, still sporting the traditional princess look which defines women in Disney films. So, whilst films are focusing more and more on strong female leads, women in films still seem to be defined by their appearance, rarely taking on a more gender neutral or traditionally masculine appearance. In this way, male voyeurism, or the male gaze, still seems to be very much a part of Disney films, which is perhaps disturbing due to the target audience being children.

Disney’s reinvention of Bo Peep is a reflection of our changing attitudes towards gender identity. In an age of gender-neutral clothing lines and the rise of male make up stars, Bo Peep is just the latest sign that gender neutrality and flexibility is becoming acceptable and celebrated in our society.

In an age of gender-neutral clothing lines and the rise of male make up stars, Bo Peep is just the latest sign that gender neutrality and flexibility is becoming acceptable and celebrated in our society

This is undoubtably a good thing for young audiences. According to Common Sense Media, ‘Media that perpetuates rigid gender roles and stereotypes can affect children’s sense of self, relationships, and career aspirations’, meaning that it is vital for young audiences to be exposed to films which offer a representation of gender which is non-binary and subversive. Strict gender ideals undoubtably result in low self-esteem and guilt for children who don’t feel as though they conform to the stereotypical appearance of their gender. Inevitably, the challenging of gender norms in children’s films can encourage children to be comfortable in their own gender identity, and dress in whatever way they choose despite what society may expect of them.

Ultimately, the reinvention of Bo Peep as both a fierce heroine and a gender neutral fashion icon reflects a shift in society’s attitudes towards gender, and hopefully marks what is only the beginning of the mainstream media’s efforts to challenge the rigid gender norms that have been perpetuated by Disney for so long.

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