The muscle magic of Encanto’s Luisa Madrigal
Siobhan Bahl discusses Disney’s muscular new princess, Luisa Madrigal, and how her representation celebrates diverse female bodies.
Close your eyes and picture a female Disney character. What do you see? I know what comes to my mind is a pair of large fluttering eyes, a petite frame and a slim build. It’s not that I necessarily picture this woman as the bygone princess in need, fragile and incapable of changing her fate without a man. Disney hit that nail on the head with the creation of Moana, Princess Tiana and Princess Elsa, to name just a few of the members making up the new empowered girl gang of the Disney franchise. But are all unbelievably tiny, their body types cut-and-paste replicas of one another. Looking at them, you would place them in the cardio crew at the gym, not the women racking the plates up on the squat rack.
Now make way for Luisa, one the Madrigal family members from the new animated hit film Encanto. Luisa’s gift is her physical strength: she lifts donkeys with ease, throws boulders out of the way, and is the physical rock of the family in emotional ways too. However, Dylan Ekren, an illustrator for the film, revealed that they had to vehemently battle for Luisa to appear as muscular, tall in stature and physically strong.
Women come in all shapes and sizes, and each and every form is equally as valuable and worthy of appearing on screen as the next
As one of the highest grossing animated films of 2021, pulling in nearly $215 million worldwide, we must applaud the illustrating team for ensuring that Luisa appeared in the muscular, tall and commanding form that she does. Women come in all shapes and sizes, and each and every form is equally as valuable and worthy of appearing on screen as the next. Women can still be feminine and have biceps that pop impressively with one tense.
Any little girl, or in my case not so little, deserves to see on screen a variety of women that they can aspire to be. It’s not about moulding ourselves to fit that one idealised version of Disney feminine beauty, but seeing multiple possibilities of what it means to be a fantastic, magical woman, both in the fairy-tale land of Disney and in real life.
The reactions across social media, and the way in which Luisa merchandise has flown off the shelf, seem only to confirm this view. Lucy Davis, an Instagram famous fitness influencer, known for her staunch advocation of women in weightlifting, took to the platform to applaud Disney. She wrote: “I have had a muscly athletic physique since being a little girl and would have absolutely loved to see the character Luisa when I was growing up! […] There is just something so refreshing about someone who can bench press you in a Disney film; who looks happy and comfortable in her own skin, and who is a woman with muscle”.
Give us muscular women. Give us tall, short, little, large, geeky, sporty, more, more, more
It is also reported that sales of Luisa merchandise have been outpacing those of Isabela, the more archetypal female character in the film. Rumour has it that Disney was in no way prepared for the demand, and while it is only rumour, Disney did initially release more Isabela-branded merchandise than Luisa, which indicates the assumption of a greater gravitation towards the long-haired, botanically gifted Madrigal.
Disney, listen – this is what all women want. Give us muscular women. Give us tall, short, little, large, geeky, sporty, more, more, more. Luisa is proof that women who look and act differently, who possess physical strength and large bodies, are something to be celebrated – the consumer audience is ravenous for more.