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Disney just introduced its first plus-size protagonist. Not everyone is applauding

"Please give fat people new stories."
/ Source: TODAY

Disney is earning praise after debuting its first-ever plus-size female protagonist in the short film “Reflect.” But the two-minute movie about a young ballerina who struggles with body image is also igniting backlash.  

"Not a plus-size heroine in an emotional film about body dysmorphia. Please give fat people new stories. This is EXHAUSTING,” author and MSNBC opinion columnist Evette Dionne wrote on Twitter.

Crisis counselor Ben Adam Climer isn’t celebrating “Reflect” as a win for representation, either. 

“Listen, @DisneyStudios, if you really wanted to be really ‘progressive,’ your first ‘plus-size heroine’ would not be in a film about body dysmorphia. She would just be in a film and doing stuff. Just show normal people doing stuff,” Climer tweeted.

Added novelist Katee Robert, "Like why can’t we have a fat D*sney heroine who’s just ... happy with her body? Just existing and living her life without it being 'emotional' or being about body dysmorphia? (I know why)."

In an interview streaming on Disney+, “Reflect” director Hillary Bradfield, who is best known for her work on "Encanto" and "Frozen II," shared that she based the film on her personal experiences.

“I feel that I am a very body-positive person in principle, but when it’s on a personal level it’s a lot harder to be body-positive,” Bradfield said. 

Disney did not respond to a request for comment.

“Reflect" has a happy ending. Protagonist Bianca learns to conquer her fears and insecurities and in turn, begins to move with confidence. 

Tigress Osborn, chair of the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance applauds Disney for portraying weight bias in the world of dance. 

“It’s a beautiful story of an individual fat dancer’s experience,” Osborn told TODAY Parents, noting that it's important to normalize the word "fat."

“There are absolutely fat people who are traumatized by the fact that they are fat and by the way the rest of the world treats them. And it is also accurate that there are thousands of fat dancers who are just happy with their fat bodies," Osborn said.

Osborn noted that Disney and Pixar have historically reinforced the idea that fat people are lazy, silly, unintelligent or evil. “Reflect” is a step forward, Osborn said, as it strays from the narrative that fat people put their lives on hold until they they’re not fat anymore. 

“The message is that everybody can dance and that dancers come in all different shapes and sizes, ages, abilities and colors,” Osborn explained. “It also reinforces the idea that sometimes it’s scary for people to do things that they love, and it’s important to talk about why it might be scary. This film is so meaningful to so many people and I don’t want to take that away from them.” 

“But at the same time, I don’t want every fat dancer story to be like, ‘Look how she overcame her body in order to dance,’” Osborn added.  

Disney introduced its first visibly fat heroine in the short film "Reflect"
Disney introduced its first visibly fat heroine in the short film "Reflect" Disney+

Jessica Erin Judd and Matilda St. John, who are co-directors of Big Moves and EmFATic DANCE in the San Francisco Bay Area, believe that “Reflect” represents progress. According to its mission statement, Big Moves is "a dance and service organization dedicated to getting people of all sizes into the dance studio and up on stage."

In a joint email to TODAY, Judd and St. John applauded Disney for showing a “legitimately fat dancer portrayed as skillful and joyful in her movements.”

“Big Moves was founded partially on the premise that people aren’t used to seeing these images, and they’re incredibly normalizing and powerful,” Judd and St. John wrote. “We think that most fat dancers can relate to the experience of being told we should make ourselves smaller/longer/tighter.”

“This short showcases that our greatest strength and power as performers comes when we can fully unfurl ourselves and occupy and move through the most space,” they continued. “There are so many factors that discourage this for fatter people, which is part of why this short feels so powerful on an individual level.”

But, they point out, body positivity is not the end of the battle.

"Most fat dancers will tell you that how we see ourselves in the mirror is not the primary barrier for us," they wrote. "While dancers of all sizes can be impacted by body shame, the biggest hurdles for fat dancers are structural."

Writer and body-positive advocate Jennifer Weiner is celebrating “Reflect.”

“As Lizzo says, “It’s about damn time!’” Weiner, author of “The Summer Place,” told TODAY. “It is so important for children of all races and ethnicities and body types to see themselves as the heroes. I’m glad to see 'Reflect' letting a plus-size girl take center stage... and while it’s disheartening that it’s taken so long — and that it’s a … short and not a ninety-minute feature film — this is a big step in the right direction.”

"Reflect" started streaming on Sept. 14, and is Episode Seven of Season Two in Short Circuit, a series of experimental films.

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