Generations of young girls have grown up watching Disney characters like Ariel, Belle, Tiana and Aurora - beautiful, slender animated girls with tiny waists who hardly represent the average female body.
American teenager Jewel Moore thinks these characters should look like normal girls and has decided to do something about it.
A self-proclaimed plus-size girl, Jewel has started an online petition on Change.org calling on Walt Disney Animation Studios to make plus-size princesses.
"It's extremely difficult to find a positive representation of plus-size females in the media," Jewel says on her petition.
"It would make many young girls feel confident and worthy to see a strong character that looks like them."
Studies have shown that body image problems are widespread among young teens. A British study showed two in three 13-year-old girls are afraid of gaining weight, and half of girls aged 13 to 15 avoided eating fatty foods.
Educational and developmental psychologist Dr Fiona Martin says positive body image messages matter because young people are easily influenced.
"Young people - as young as five or potentially younger - are vulnerable to these images of girls being portrayed as ultra thin and perfect in every way," says Martin, who works for the Sydney Child Psychology Centre.
"Our young people use [these characters] as role models, so people who produce programs need to consider that they have a role in influencing young people."
Jewel, a junior high school student, says Disney movies are influential among girls, and if the films supported body types not usually portrayed in the media it would make a huge difference.
"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," she says.
Martin says there's merit to movies reflecting society, and positive body image is a concern for everyone.
"We need to work together to combat the problem and portray young characters in a way that is healthy," Martin says.
She advises parents to watch television or movies with their children and help them to analyse what they're seeing so as to identify positive body images.
Moreover, the people who create characters need a better understanding of the ethical issues surrounding those creations and the impact they have on the body image of young people, Martin says.
"[Producers] have a responsibility to understand the impact these characters have, and that some people are particularly vulnerable."
So far more than 17,000 people have signed Jewel's online petition, adding weight to her call for revolutionary change in the animated movie industry.
- Sydney Morning Herald
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