by Marilyn La Jeunesse
“Jewel is like Baloo from the Jungle Book, isn’t she?” Kirby Moore asked me. He was referring to his daughter’s stopping mid-conversation to dance and sing to an Elton John song that came on the radio. “We could be talking to her about something serious and she will hear something in the other room and just start to bob her head.” He demonstrates.
Jewel Moore laughs and says in response, “Sometimes you just have to feel the music.” She continues to dance, humming the tune to herself. Not caring if others in the restaurant stared at her.
Moore, a high school junior at Fuqua School in Farmville, Va., began a petition on Change.org in January, asking The Walt Disney Animation Studios to produce a movie featuring a plus-size princess as the main protagonist. Plus size, according to Moore, is a term coined by the fashion industry to describe a woman who is bigger than size 10/12.
“We had a snow day from school in January,” she recalled. “I had always thought about having plus-size characters, but frankly, I started the petition on whim.”
Moore’s petition gained 2,000 signatures in one day; it currently has over 34,000 supporters. Within the week Huffington Post, Fox News and CNN had reported on Moore’s cause. She was even interviewed on the Today Show as a part of their “Love Your Selfie” series, which examined the preoccupation with body image and aimed to create a more positive self-view. “The way we view our bodies affects our confidence,” Moore said. “We need to be at peace with our bodies.”
Moore is a petite seventeen-year-old girl with sonsy curves that complement her bold personality. Her smile, framed by wild brown curls, is genuine and inviting, complementing her bubbly demeanor. Her slight Southern accent gives everything she says a sweet undertone.
Moore’s motivation to start the petition stems from her own background as a plus-size woman. Growing up, her body role models were the women in her family who were also plus size.
“Plus size people are treated differently in very subtle ways. [People] see your confidence as a ‘threat’ and a ‘bad example for others,’” Moore said. “I always looked up to the women [in my family] because they never let the world destroy their confidence.”
As she grew older, Moore became more aware of the unfair stereotypes the media placed on people in certain groups. “I decided I wanted to change perception,” she said. “Children’s perceptions are influenced by what we teach and show them. This petition is one small step in trying to move our media in a different direction.”
Not all the coverage of Moore’s petition is positive. In an interview on “Fox & Friends,” MeMe Roth, the founder of National Action Against Obesity, argued against the idea of creating a plus-size female character. Her opposition stems from the idea that this character would “glorify obesity.”
Moore is undiscouraged by the criticism and says this way of thinking is flawed.
“There is a line between obese and plus size,” Moore said. “I hope that adults who are so hateful about size will learn that a difference in sizes exists and generalizations do the world no good.”
Moore hopes that the creation of a plus-size protagonist will help children gain confidence in seeing a character that is similar to them. Moore says she chose to petition Disney because of their influence on young children.
“Being a princess is more than just a title, it’s an attitude and a confidence level. It’s a sense of beauty, confidence, joy and intelligence,” Moore said. “If we have a plus-size princess, she would have all of those qualities, which is a positive example for young girls.”
Although there are very few examples of positive body role models in the animated world. She would like to see a character more like Merida from Disney’s Brave, as this character is a great example of positive body image. “She’s short, curvy, strong and has wild hair,” Moore said. “She embraces herself completely.”
Doctor Jess Shatkin, a child psychiatrist at NYU Langone and a professor of Child and Adolescent Psychopathology at New York University, agrees with Moore saying realistic role models are good, but says people normally look up to people they would like to mimic in some way, especially towards adolescence.
“Little kids are, more or less, swept up in the image of something and usually it’s something fantastical, less grounded in reality, princesses is a good example,” Shatkin said. “I don’t think there is any problem with having role models who are not exactly like us. I think Disney does this thing with the beautiful, perfect man and woman. But we all aspire to that, don’t we?”
Although there is truth to Shatkin’s statement, Moore is arguing that it is not about obtaining perfection, it is about being content with one’s body whether you are thin or plus-size. And she is not the only teenager who has joined the fight for body peace. Justina Sharp, teen fashion and entertainment blogger, is also an activist for moving focus away from one’s body.
Sharp recently wrote an article about why Barbie should not be condemned for her looks, but rather be seen as a role model for doing what she loves. Sharp emphasizes the importance of being true to oneself versus focusing on how others want you to be.
“I honestly don’t believe kids think they need to look a certain way until they are old enough to understand the message society is sending,” Sharp said. “I feel like people aren’t encouraged to pursue what makes them happy. Doing what [you] love is the best way to find out who you really are, and along with that, how you want to look. It all connects in the end.”
Moore agrees with Sharp, saying body image is not all that matters. She does stress the idea that talk about body image should be avoided completely. “It is important [to address] body image if it stops girls from doing what they love,” Moore says.
Moore believes addressing the idea of body image and helping children learn to love their bodies will allow kids to feel more confident in being who they are and in pursuing activities that make them happy.
It is this same idea that former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg used when he started the NYC Girl’s Project. This project is the first for a major city in the nation. It is a self-esteem initiative to help girls see that their value comes from their personality and skills rather than their appearance. The project, which launched in Fall 2013, will target girls between the ages of seven and twelve through a public education campaign.
Moore thinks the campaign is a great way to help girls learn their personal value. “I love [the campaign],” she said. “New York City is such a leader in many ways. It is a leading city in fashion, business and culture. Many leaders are inspired by it.” It is this leading quality that she believes will inspire other major cities across the United States to begin their own self-esteem initiatives.
Moore hopes that the creation of a plus-size character will positively benefit boys as well. “I hope boys seeing a plus size princess would open their ideas to new kinds of beauty and worth. Being plus size does not make a girl less beautiful in her looks or her essence,” she said.
Moore’s petition was sent to Disney Animation Studios in late February. In a statement for the Today Show, a Disney spokeswoman said, “There are many types of princesses, just as there are many types of girls, who each have their own unique history, character and story. We appreciate and celebrate all types of women and girls and their own individual beauty.”
Although Disney has not mentioned the creation of a plus-size princess in the future, Moore is undeterred. “I think my campaign has been very effective as far as spreading the word,” she said. “I’m blessed and happy to be the one who started the conversation about body image in children’s media, and that my campaign has gotten the attention of its target.”
Moore plans tocontinue her activism throughout her life. She hopes one day to write a book and start several organizations that create awareness for other causes she is passionate about, including human trafficking.
Moore offered advice to others hoping to make a difference in the world around them. “Remember, no matter who you are or what you’ve been through, your voice is always important and can make a bigger change than you think.”