I knew after seeing Disney’s Frozen that something about the movie rang true and hit close to home- about siblings, love versus fear, and overcoming the pain of the past. As Elsa constructed her mighty castle of isolation, it occurred to me that there is even more to Frozen that is familiar, as I reflect on my work with clients with eating disorders.
When Elsa sets off on her own, she uses her power to construct an icy castle that, while it seems beautiful and freeing to her, keeps her in isolation and stands as an intimidating structure to others. At first, she seems empowered, swirling the snow at her command and constructing stairs of ice that lead to her majestic new home. She seems to glide across the floor as she “lets it go,” transforming from a straitlaced, over-controlled, emotionally avoidant girl into a strong, empowered, expressive and fearless woman.
But soon everyone discovers (and she is the last to realize) that her freedom has distanced her from all the people in her life and fear is still very much a stronghold in her life. Her powers, which have the potential for good, also bring evil and suffering to those around her. She literally creates a monster that chases and seeks to devour those she loves most.
Anyone who has experienced or known someone with an eating disorder could probably attest to its similarities in overtaking the ones it consumes. It often starts innocently, as an attempt to cope with fear, to protect oneself, or to create something beautiful and desirable. But then things inevitably take an unfortunate and potentially dangerous turn as others see the eating disorder spin out of control and take on a life of its own, hurting everyone in its path.
Fortunately, there is an antidote. Just as in Frozen, love can conquer fear, connection can usurp fearful isolation, and family can help facilitate a healing process for those who are suffering. Great power can be channeled into love and leadership and the good of others rather than stirring up an icy storm in a raging and out-of-control context that is only a counterfeit of what is truly beautiful.
The next time you hear Idina Menzel belting out “Let it Go” (for what is likely the millionth time), consider the ways that isolation and fear could be transformed into love and connection in your life and in the lives of those close to you.