Earlier this year, a high-school junior named Jewel Moore petitioned Walt Disney to make a plus-sized princess. In her petition, Jewel states, “I know many younger plus-size girls and women who struggle with confidence and need a positive plus-size character in the media. I want there to be a character for those little girls to look up to.” She is not alone in her desire to provide a positive image in the media for all body types—her petition has over 30,000 supporters. The petition received so much support, in fact, that a Yahoo! article was written about it, and Jewel made an appearance on the Today show in February of 2014. Although Disney has not announced plans for a plus-sized princess, Jewel brought much-needed attention to the vital intersection of kids, media, and self-esteem, and she did so with both self-possession and grace. I have the pleasure of sharing small-town life with Jewel in Farmville, VA, where she is now a rising senior, an accomplished piano player, and a lifeguard—a young woman of many talents. I recently had the opportunity to ask her some questions about her petition and her experience with the media:
1. During your appearance on the Today show, you listened to a statement from Disney that articulates the company’s belief in the power and beauty of all women. Your response was that you are glad to hear they feel that way but would like to see them do more. Do you think Disney is likely to create a plus-sized princess? If not, what do you think it would take to convince them to do so?
Honestly, I think Disney will eventually make a plus size princess. What I’m unsure about is when. I think now, in a time when more people are starting to embrace all body types, would be a perfect time to start working on a plus size princess. We as a society are starting to open our eyes to how body confidence is a crucial part, though not in any way the biggest part, of someone’s confidence. Disney gave us princesses of different races and personality types, but now I think a plus size princess, shown as an active, productive princess who loves adventure just like any of the others, would be a great move for Disney to make. I know that Disney is a company and they need to make what sells—but Walt Disney himself was all about taking risks—and giving people magic. What is more magical than realizing that you, as an individual, are beautiful within yourself and can do what you want in life? Disney’s plus size princess could be an example to little girls who have no example in their own lives.
2. In your petition, you mention that studies prove a link between self-esteem and images in the media. Can you point us to some sources that prove this link, and discuss the resources (books, movies, articles, etc.) that have been important to you as you’ve pursued this issue?
Here are a few articles that discuss the effects of media on someone’s confidence and self image. Hopefully they can provide insight:
3. There was some controversy about the idea of a plus-sized princess, as some parents thought such a princess would send an unhealthy message to children about weight. Can you discuss the misconceptions people have about body size and health, and the ways these misconceptions influence our discussions about body image in the media?.
It’s true that unhealthy lifestyle choices can make someone bigger, so, in a way, I see their point. At the same time, many other factors can be attributed to someone being plus size, such as health issues and genetics. I have personally known many people who are very athletic or work out every day and are still plus size. Ultimately, whether or not someone is healthy depends not so much on what you see (like body type), but the choices individuals make regarding diet and exercise. There are healthy and unhealthy thin people, and there are healthy and unhealthy plus size people. It all depends on the individual. However, what IS unhealthy is shaming people, especially children, for the body that they are in. Whether or not they strive to lose or gain weight is irrelevant, because the shame that society puts on anyone – big or small – that is considered “unhealthy” has been shown time and time again to lead to eating disorders and low self-esteem. I want little girls who are bigger to see that their weight does not define them, that they can be big AND beautiful. That was the purpose of the petition.
4. What was your primary take-away from this experience—what did you learn that will shape your future interactions and intentions?
This whole petition experience showed me, more than anything, the power of the media. Many times I was misquoted or something I said was taken out of context. I also noticed that when a site agreed with me or was indifferent, they would use a photo of me from the shoulders, up. On the flip side, when a site disagreed with me, they would use a full-body picture of me when I was much heavier several years ago. People thought I was too young to notice these patterns, but I did, and it definitely taught me the lesson that you can’t please everyone, because not everyone is going to go back to the source. Most people just believe the article as they read it. It also gave me even a thicker skin than I had before. I’ll always remember the first time I read comments about me that were malicious. Even though the article explicitly stated my age, grown men—and women—tore me apart. Not my argument, mind you, but me, personally. I value it now, though, because seeing those good comments about how much it meant to peoples’ little girls absolutely meant the world to me. I wouldn’t trade that for anything.