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Tamzin Outhwaite: Disney's skinny film princesses set dangerous example for young girls

TV star Tamzin Outhwaite has criticised movie giant Disney for setting a dangerous example to young, impressionable girls with its skinny princesses.

The 43-year-old New Tricks actress, who rose to fame in EastEnders, said it worried her that most women in showbusiness were constantly dieting.

Outhwaite, the mother of two young girls aged five and one, hit out at Disney for the way it depicts its heroines, saying that anxiety about body shape begins early.

She told Radio Times magazine: "I know actors who actually say 'eating is cheating', and it worries me. I don't understand why you need to be skinny to play any character, unless it specifically says in the script that she's a model or dying of consumption.

"I'm too old to play a model. So I've stopped worrying about it, which makes me feel much freer. But it's weird that we're living in an age where most women - especially those in the public eye - are on a continuous diet."

Adding that obsession with looks can start in early childhood, she told the magazine: "Look at all those Disney princesses with their big heads and tiny waists, all waiting to be rescued from their lives by men. That's not the kind of role model I want for my girls."

Disney came in for criticism for perpetuating an unrealistic depiction of women in last year's animated film Frozen.

The smash hit movie, inspired by Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale The Snow Queen, was hailed as progressive for aspects of its storyline.

But its doe-eyed and skinny central princess character continued the look of earlier stereotypes.

The red-headed princess in Brave, released by Disney in 2012, had a more normal appearance and loved honing her skills as an archer and swordfighter.

But Disney was later criticised when the Scottish heroine was given a slimmed down makeover for a new toy line.

Outhwaite said that she hoped her New Tricks character, DCI Sasha Miller, was a realistic portrayal of women in the workplace after several depictions of females as either extremely tough or weak.

"We're very used, by now, to seeing female bosses on the telly. Prime Suspect really kicked that off back in the '90s. But there has been a tendency to see women as either ballbreakers or victims, and there are lots of degrees in between," she told the magazine.

"I'm not trying to make Sasha a ballbreaker. I'm trying to make it OK for her to be vulnerable, for her not to have all the answers. She's feeling her way and so am I."

She said of her role: "I like the fact that it's essentially a light-hearted show, because so often in my career I've been sliding down walls in very dark dramas.

"It's nice - as a mum, especially - to know that, although there's a lot of stuff that's quite tough to look at, it's not generally going to be me snotting and sobbing my way through every scene.

"Sasha started off in quite a fragile place - discovering her husband in bed with another woman - but she doesn't mope. She moves on, and I love that about her."

The former Hotel Babylon and Red Cap actress, who divorced her Miranda star husband Tom Ellis earlier this year after seven years of marriage, said: "I have never relied on anyone financially except for myself."

She added: "I could never have been a full-time stay-at-home mum, reliant on a man. I love hanging out with the kids and I love my job. And I'm hugely fortunate that I don't have to choose between the two."

She said of her own successful career: "It's a luck thing. I've got an awful lot of friends who are very, very talented and just haven't had the same breaks. But I've always felt lucky with the cards I was dealt - the family I was born into, my friends, my career. It's like a 'Ready-Brek glow' of security around me.

"I'm completely content with what I have in my life, both inside and out. It's a lovely place to be."

Outhwaite said that starring in New Tricks helped her land theatre work because stage producers want a TV star to pull in audiences.

"Sometimes that's a pain, because they're not always the right person for the job. But right now, it's working in my favour," she admitted.

Amanda Redman and Alun Armstrong quit New Tricks in 2013, while James Bolam was replaced by Denis Lawson in 2012.

The BBC1 drama now stars Nicholas Lyndhurst, Lawson, Dennis Waterman and Outhwaite.

Waterman, who was in the original line-up, said: "Obviously losing three friends - brilliant actors - over a couple of years was upsetting. I considered leaving, too, but I enjoyed the job, and I thought 'Sod it, I'm staying.'

"We had Denis coming in, then Nick and now Tamzin, and it feels like the show is evolving quite gently, rather than changing completely. It's all right. It's good, actually. It's been 11 series now, so something's working."

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