by Cailyn Talamonti
When I was growing up, it was tough for me to relate to the characters on the television. My body was pudgy, tall, and hairy—and princesses were not like that. Though my family called me “beautiful” and “perfectly healthy,” the kids at school were not as kind. That, along with the lack of big characters in mainstream media, was enough to make me hate myself. It was only years later that my negative self-image came to a climax with the development of an undiagnosed eating disorder in high school. Now, as a young adult in healing, I can look back on my relationship with my own body and analyze how the images I was consuming impacted my self-image.
But I’m one of the lucky ones.
The BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) and LGBTQ+ communities, along with persons with disabilities, have been disproportionately affected by lack of representation in mainstream media. So much of Western media—from children’s literature to feature films—is composed of the same type of people: white, thin, able-bodied, and straight. In reality, most people in the United States do not meet half of those “standards.” Only recently has Western media begun to address the severe lack of diverse representation, but we have only scratched the service.
As an animator and illustrator, one of my jobs is to confront the uncomfortable history within my field. Animation has long been used to perpetuate toxic ideals of whiteness and assimilation. Now, as new generations enter animation and the arts, it will be our duty to unlearn the centuries of prejudices deeply woven into our media. With this in mind, the “Be Anything” initiative became a chance for me to do my part in diversifying children’s illustration.
Be Anything, created by the Peoria Playhouse Children’s Museum, is the event where people from different careers take over the museum space and provide demonstrations. It is essentially a job fair for children, and it is amazing. Be Anything is founded on the idea that anyone can be what they want to be, no matter who they are. This is a sentiment that my parents instilled in me since I was young. When I found out they needed someone to illustrate the different careers, I was more than ready to lend a hand.
When approaching this project, I made it my goal for everyone to see a version of themselves within the art. As the list of jobs slowly grew, the work snowballed. To gain efficiency, I compiled “banks” of heads, hairstyles, and faces that could be easily dragged onto each new character. Each career is its own work of art, with details that provide a story and personality to the characters. I even used friends’ faces as inspiration, and I used my own when creating the “Animator” illustration.
Nearly fifty career illustrations later and the project was complete. Though it was a lot of work, I do not regret one minute of it. I suppose it was my way of righting the wrongs I had experienced growing up, and hopefully giving a child somewhere the chance to see themselves in a piece of art. Not only is it meaningful work, but I could not have worked with a better team. The Peoria Playhouse and Park District staff never cease to amaze me with their attention to detail and passion for what they do. It was an honor to be a part of such a fun project. Although it was on the local scale, it is one more step towards representation for every person.
Learn more about the Peoria Playhouse Children’s Museum at peoriaplayhouse.org.
About Cailyn Talamonti
Cailyn Talamonti (Manhattan, IL) is a senior at Bradley University. In May 2021, Talamonti will be graduating with a major in Animation and a minor in Graphic Design. She currently works as a freelance artist and designer, creating content for local bands, companies, and others. One day, she wants to be a webcomic artist. Her work is available at cailyntalamonti.com.