“By Any Other Name…”

Not all princesses are drawn by Frank Frazetta, or Disney Studios.

Not all princesses are drawn by Frank Frazetta, or Disney Studios.

As a point of clarity…the protagonist is complaining about having to deal with a crowd of angry, cake throwing hobbitty looking guys.

What brought this on? A number of things, in fact. I’ve been poking around fantasy genre themed humor, and have been increasingly frustrated with the genre. Half the time you’re off on some quest to save a princess, and that princess is pretty stereotypical. She has blonde hair, blue eyes, and fits a size two dress…if a dress at all. Peruse some Conan the barbarian art, and you’ll note that the petite sized bikini is also pretty much acceptable outerwear for princesses in many regions, who need to be rescued by a guy that can’t afford a shirt.

Forget the ridiculous predicaments that princesses seem to get into. At least above, that crowd of little guys possibly have some whimsical, cake intensive ransom scheme, despite pulling some kind of kidnapping right in front of the prince, an out of work superhero, and a Full Metal Pony. It seems like this kind of thing happens all the time in the illustration…the princess, more of a size twelve or fourteen, doesn’t seem too concerned…just suitably “Oh no!” about it. Appearances, you know. Prince Simba seems to think its a day at court…happens all the time.

In fantasy literature, Princesses have drama all the time. Arranged marriages, queens that want you dead for your prettiness factor, fairy curses, being fed to a dragon to appease it…the list is long. Most of those list items treat the princess in question as an asset or a bargaining chip, two things that the recent films “Brave” and “Frozen” addressed really well. In both cases, the lead characters rebel against traditional “princess roles” making for a solid plotline.

This thought process, of the Plight of the Plus Sized Princess (she doesn’t appear in media at all really) led me to a Google search. For those of us that don’t know, the term “plus-size” has been widely debated both in and outside of the fashion industry. When people take into account that the average American woman weighs around 165 pounds and wears a dress size between 12 and 14, “plus-size” bodies are far more common than the body size of a typical American runway model. That search led me to a story about a young lady who petitioned Disney to make a film starring a “plus sized animated princess” and got over 37,000 online signatures to the document. Her name is Jewel Moore, and she set up a petition via Change.org to pursue the project. It garnered attention from People magazine and Fox News.

Fox News…uh oh. It is hard to see how that wasn’t a train wreck of sorts. It was, and we will get to that.

Before that, Ms. Moore’s position is pretty fascinating. Quoting from her thesis statement on the petition: “…I know many younger plus-size girls and women who struggle with confidence and need a positivie plus-size character in the media. I want there to be a character for those little girls to look up to.

Studies show that a child’s confidence correlates greatly with how much representation they have in the media. It’s extremely difficult to find a positive representation of plus-size females in the media. If Disney could make a plus-size female protagonist who was as bright, amazing, and memorable as their others, it would do a world of good for those plus-size girls out there who are bombarded with images that make them feel ugly for not fitting the skinny standard.”

Well, wow. She was a high school junior when she wrote that to set up the petition about a year ago, and it restores my faith in young people. She decided “this is a thing I care about,” set up a project, and started working on it. A project close to her heart, as it were. Despite being an educator, I don’t see too many young people “get involved” in things to this degree any more, despite the fact that the internet gives young people more freedom of expression than ever before.

She adds, “Disney films are highly influential and wide-spread, and they impact the lives of many children, especially girls. It would be revolutionary for Disney to show support to a group of girls who are otherwise horrendously bullied by the media.” Yep…that’s well considered, and well reasoned. Hard to imagine how even Fox News could run with that, and make it crazy.

I’m just going to lay it out, simply: Fox News’ idea for a debate on whether Disney should create a plus-size princess centered around the notion that such a princess might encourage obesity.

Yes. That is a whole new kind of craziness. It takes the idea that the preponderance of uber thin role models creates an unhealthy standard of beauty, and attempts to run with that in a completely bizarre direction. If Disney role models were powerful enough to do that, I’d be begging them for an animated musical feature about funny animals who study a whole lot, and as a result create a meritocracy based utopian government of peace, tolerance, and general goodness. Thank you, that is all…

…except that’s not possible, and really, I still want to bat this thing around a bit.

Fox News’ “Fox & Friends” discussed a Change.org petition for Disney to create a plus-size Disney princess. High school student Jewel Moore, who started the petition, envisions that such a princess would be a role model for “women who struggle with confidence.” We’ve got that part from above, right?

Co-host of the show Elisabeth Hasselbeck began the segment with, “Move over Cinderella. Disney under pressure to create a plus-size princess. Should they? We’re going to debate that,” before inviting on Emme, a plus-size supermodel, and Meme Roth, a self-described obesity expert. Roth declared that such a Disney princess would “glorify obesity.” She speculated as to whether the teen petitioning Disney is obese and argued that “If you’re going to do a storyline with obesity, then you need to do Princess Diabetes, Princess Cancer, Princess Fertility Problems.” To Roth, the petition was “like mob mentality.” When Hasselbeck asked, “Is plus-size fat?” Roth responded, “It’s unhealthy. If you like cancer and diabetes, if you want fertility problems, then plus-size is beautiful.”

Now, let’s get this straight. In the modeling industry, and heck, some clothing lines, plus size is in the area of 12 to 14. It is important to note that obesity is NOT the equivalent of plus-size. “PLUS Model” (I didn’t know that this existed before researching this post) magazine reports that plus-size models are on average between the sizes of 6-14. That’s like a medium to large Men’s sized t-shirt, for comparison. That kind of of invective about the health risks of being, well…an average American, with a realistic figure is more than a bit scary. Before this…I didn’t think Fox News could scare me much more…until I checked out the segment.

Fox treated Roth’s invective as credible. As she ranted against Emme, a proponent of the petition, an on-screen graphic wondered, “Who’s right?” Additionally, it boggles the mind why Fox presented Roth as qualified to speak on the plus-size Disney princess issue — she does not appear to have degrees in the nutrition or medical field, but does have a blog, which carries the tag-line “MeMe Roth: Reporting From FATOPOLIS.” Wow.

All of this was news about a year ago, and blew over without me noticing then. I just wasn’t as interested in the problems facing princesses then, and I feel a bit bad about it. I would have happily given this some notoriety when it might have made more of an impact. Articles still get written on the subject of media impressions and responsible marketing to young girls, so maybe young Ms. Moore had a larger effect than she thought.

A few words about my art…it’s hard to draw outside of the “idealized” body images that a diet of comics trains us to. I wanted the princess to be pretty but attainable, to have an imperfect but still “cute” way about her. Considering that the protagonist is drawn with the idea of being “fit, but not exploitative,” this was a pretty big art challenge. The flying cake comes from the game “Fistful of Cake” a PSP gem which is like capture the flag. You can secure your princess from capture by feeding her cake, which makes her heavier, and thus harder to carry away.

The game is adorable, and the art and concept were designed by a woman. Still…it seemed that “Fistful of Cake” might be indicative of the problem, to a degree. It probably could have been a treasure chest you fill with gold, and been just as cute and adorable.

Prince Simba was a chore, but a fun one. I had a lot of competing things going on that demanded him. One…I needed some direct reference to Disney and its work. Two…I needed a kind of Bestial person, to fit the current setting and genre of MY strip. Three…he needed to be likeable, and find the princess attractive, but also be too young to handle missions himself. Prince Simba is like one of the young people that are influenced by media perceptions, or at least that’s his role in the one panel.

Important for those missing the symbolism….even though it’s heavy handed. He likes her, because she’s still pretty. Possibly even friendly, we know nothing about her personality. Further, he’s sending a woman and a Pony to rescue her, because girls don’t always need to be rescued by handsome princes, even handsome lion princes.

I liked Prince Simba, we will probably be seeing him again in future strips. He was also a challenge to draw, because he had to look young, like a youthful teen, but not look human. Again, things we don’t practice enough.

Despite the attention, I don’t think that Disney will be remastering Snow White to look like this, despite how gorgeous the art is:

Size 12 to 16.  NOT Obese.

Size 12 to 16. NOT Obese.

It doesn’t seem like that much to ask, and possibly a whole new marketplace. I certainly don’t see the look of the bikini wearing Princesses in Conan the barbarian comics to change any time soon….that’s arguably a different demographic. With Disney, though, they have a huge power to express the view of young people all over America in a sympathetic character, and make money hand over fist in a new market. You can have just as much glitter, and tiaras…just a larger dress, and some issues related to that body image.

To make the final point, some graphics circulating the internet on this are clear:

Seriously Ariel...eat a sandwich.

Seriously Ariel…eat a sandwich.

And this counterpoint, beautifully rendered in a good approximation of the Disney house style:

Yes, she's bigger than the others...but still pretty and healthy.

Yes, she’s bigger than the others…but still pretty and healthy.

That’s all I have to say about princesses now…it ran a little long. My iPad is packed to the gills with Fantasy art, Dungeons and Dragons art, Fairy Tale Illustrations, and Disney art as I delve into a Science Fantasy setting, so this was going to happen. I’m getting off the soapbox now.

Next Issue: Quintessential!

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One thought on ““By Any Other Name…”

  1. Not a criticism of the positive message in your post, but I would point out the Dreamworks (okay, not Disney) has produced several “Shrek” movies that make your point. In the original film princess Fiona chooses to remain an ogre rather than be transformed into a skinny princess. In the second movie, Shrek himself is faced with a similar self-image challenge, and must face off against a villain largely defined by his good looks and perfect coiffure. By the fourth film, Fiona’s body image issues are behind her, and she (basically) plays the role of a plus-sized warrior princess! They’re great movies, if you haven’t seen them.

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