Elsa: A metaphor for mental health
The model for Disney princesses has changed over the years, but every one of them has fallen somewhere between aggressively perky and blindly optimistic. But, according to Glamour, in Frozen and Frozen II, Elsa is the queen of feeling fear without succumbing to its darkness. She doesn’t conquer her fear. She doesn’t vanquish it. She lives with it.
So what can we learn about mental illness from a Disney Princess? Elsa might be an animated fictional character but she’s also just a lady dealing with mood disorders.
Here, Wing See explores the character and how she represents those with a variety of complex mental illnesses.
Strong and independent
Alongside from Sadness from Disney’s Inside Out and Eeyore from the Winnie The Pooh franchise, Elsa is a metaphor for mental health.
Ever since she was born, she’s always been different while her parents, her sister and her royal subjects are literally powerless. Since her birth, she doesn’t know where her magic comes from until she, Anna, Olaf and Kristoff travelled to the Enchanted Forest (and later Athohallan) to seek out answers.
Elsa may not be the only person who suffers from mental illness, anxiety and depression, Anna might be too. Due to years of being isolated from her elder sister, she is prone to talking to paintings or to herself, hence why she is so desperate for love, as Prince Hans puts it. At the end of Frozen, she finally found someone to love in the form of Kristoff. Unlike Anna, Elsa still remains single but she doesn’t need a special someone to make her whole. She is a strong, independent woman who needs no man.
The gloves Elsa wore symbolise her habit of hiding her true self, including her ice magic. Prince Hans wore gloves to indicate his upcoming betrayal and his deception.
Art imitating life
When Elsa said the words “Then, leave!” to Anna, it hits home. This reminds me of the numerous times my bratty sister threatened to kick me out of the house. There are times when she forced me out of the house, despite the fact that I didn’t pack up my belongings and I’m still wearing my pyjamas. This caused me to distrust her even more than I already have.
There was one time when my sister tried to force me out of the house which caused an outburst from me and I revealed how I struggled with my mental health – she and my parents are mostly the sole reason why I am the person I am today in a negative way.
On that note, I know what it’s like to hide things. Just like Elsa. I tend to bottle up my emotions and I keep my feelings a secret because I’m worried my friends and my family will react negatively. My toxic and abusive family explode with rage at the slightest mistake. All my life I lived in fear because they might shout at me, talk down on me, belittle me, treat me like I’m worthless, throw verbal abuse at me or hit me.
Conceal, don’t feel
When Elsa’s ice palace is under attack, the colour of her ice changes depending on her current emotion. For instance, the ice is yellow when she combats Duke Westleton and his soldiers. However, the ice becomes purple or turns into a dark colour when she struggles to control her magic. The colour reflects her fear.
During her childhood, Elsa’s parents told her to “conceal, don’t feel”, which resurfaced in the song, “Let It Go”. Just like the song “The Next Right Thing” from Frozen II, “Let It Go” is an anthem for people still fighting their mental illness, anxiety and depression. When Elsa sings the lyrics:
Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know
Well, now they know
Let it go, let it go
Can’t hold it back anymore
Let it go, let it go
Turn away and slam the door
I don’t care what they’re going to say [..]
And the fears that once controlled me can’t get to me at all […]
No right, no wrong, no rules for me
She expresses her feelings of being free from her responsibilities and her fears. Whereas Anna sings “The Next Right Thing” when she falls into depression after losing Elsa and Olaf (he ceases to exist when Elsa dies due to knowing the truth at Athohallan), despite she lost everything, she used the remaining strength within her to take baby steps towards the exit of the cave.
Embracing the real you
In Frozen and Frozen II, fear is the enemy. Especially the actions Elsa and Anna’s grandfather is responsible for, he caused them out of fear. He assumed the Northuldra are conceited and will think highly of themselves due to taking advantage of magic that surrounds them. This resulted in him killing the Northuldra leader. He’s afraid the Northuldra tribe will overpower the Arendelle army.
By the end of Frozen, Elsa learned to embrace her magical powers, she learned to control her ice magic and she learned to let the people she loved in instead of running away from them. At first, Anna thought true love is the key to break the eternal winter curse when it eventually turns out sisterly love is the key to bring back summer. All she needed is love, some understanding and people accepting her for who she is. This is all mental health sufferers could ever ask for.
What sets Elsa apart from the mass array of Disney princesses is her inner battle with mental illness, anxiety and depression.
In Frozen II, Elsa is the only person who can hear a voice but everyone couldn’t. Not to mention, she’s the only one who can see the magical phenomenon appearing before her very eyes during the song, “Into The Unknown”. Ever since the death of her mum, she keeps hearing a voice calling out to her. When she reached Athohallan, the voice is revealed to be her mother’s when she is young.
Realising your potential
Throughout Frozen II, Anna often relies on Elsa and following her around in order to keep her safe. She doesn’t realise she has worthy attributes to her personality. Not to mention, she doesn’t know how much potential she has. When the suffocating flames caused by the fire spirit engulf the Enchanted Forest, Elsa used her ice magic to douse the fire. This resulted in Anna going after her. After the fire is dealt with, Anna scolds Elsa for causing her to follow her into the fire and not being careful.
This might mirror mental health sufferers being reckless and acting before they think. For instance, while I was still in the midst of transferring my belongings to my soon-to-be new home, I placed my Ratchet & Clank [characters from a video game] clay sculpture in one of the bags, not ever thinking about what might happen to it if I bring it out of the bag. By the time I dropped more of my stuff at my soon-to-be new home, it’s too late.
Clank’s antenna and Ratchet’s head came off the clay sculpture. I can’t help but be saddened that’s a lot of money down the drain. I think it cost slightly over £100. A couple of days ago, I placed Clank’s antenna on one of the cardboard boxes (which contained the Retro Fighters Nintendo 64 controllers) and now I don’t know what my father has done with it when I realised it suddenly disappeared. This made me regret not placing the clay sculpture in a different bag instead of a bag filled with the rest of my belongings.
Finding your own strengths
At the end of Frozen II, Anna realises how much she is capable of without relying on Elsa’s strengths. She soon becomes queen of Arendelle whilst Elsa is now the fifth spirit and the protector of the Enchanted Forest. Currently Anna is the Arendelle bridge and Elsa is the Enchanted Forest bridge.
A lot of Frozen‘s fans are still upset that Elsa no longer lives with her sister. At first, I didn’t like the change but now it’s grown on me and it actually makes sense. The thing is, sisters don’t live together in real life. Besides, Elsa has found a higher calling. She is finally free and she finally becomes the snow queen she always aspired to be. If she stays as a queen, her responsibilities will restrict her from experimenting with her magic.
I wish I can be like her someday, free to do whatever I please without anyone telling me how to live my life. Look on the bright side, at least she can visit her sister and her friends whenever she wants.
On the other hand, Elsa comes off as a hypocrite in terms of making the decision to remain behind in the Enchanted Forest in Frozen II, particularly when she refused to allow her sister to marry Prince Hans of the Southern Isles in Frozen. Has she ever thought about: where is she going to sleep? How is she going to eat? How is she going to survive?
Elsa may come off as cold (no pun intended), quiet and reserved but she is actually a misunderstood person.
There was one time whe my sister stooped so low to say to my face that I’m a waste of space, I waste a lot of things, I have no friends, I have no colleagues. She went on to tell me she has a friend who has Asperger’s and she didn’t act the way I did. She’s only saying these things just to make her feel better. How pathetically sad can she be? Doesn’t she have anything better to do than to make my life miserable?
Despite it being scary to move out of my mum’s house, it’s for the best so my mind can be in a right place and so I can go on a road to recovery. Unfortunately, their abusive actions over the years have scarred me for life. I’m thinking of moving to live with my friend the instant my father moves to a retirement home/carer home. I don’t care what my toxic family says, I’m going against their rules no matter what and my mind has been made up. The YouTuber, Square Eyed Jak, make living alone look so easy.
Besides her fellow Disney characters such as Vanellope Von Schweetz from Wreck-It Ralph and Wreck-It Ralph 2: Ralph Breaks The Internet and Cassandra from Tangled The Series/Rapunzel’s Tangled Adventure as well as Ratchet from the Ratchet & Clank series, Elsa is one of my favourite relatable characters.