Someone Give That Cartoon a Cheeseburger

tdaAll my life I’ve been aware of the images girls in magazines portray. I subscribe to Vogue and Allure, and I am able to recognize that the girls in the pictures have been stretched, taped, hair-sprayed, and photo-shopped to perfection. I guess what I’m trying to say is this: I don’t let the models get me down, and I have trained my mind to block out the negative feelings about my body that can easily creep up while staring at a model. It’s taken years, but magazines don’t get to me anymore. I’m 21.

The other day my roommates and I were channel-surfing when we came across a show on Cartoon Network called “Total Drama Action” or “Island” or something. Basically it was like Survivor, but a cartoon. Yes, A cartoon reality show. Anyway, the majority of the girls on the show were impossibly skinny, with bulging boobs and jacked calves. We sat there staring at the TV, then finally one of my companions said “I think this is the first time a cartoon has made me feel fat.” Stick figures were only part of this show’s problem. The three characters with a BMI of over 18 were a flatulent, pale, obese man, a “chubby” (comparatively, of course) nerdy white girl, and a meatier black girl whose speech seems to channel Monique.

Now, I understand that the show is supposed to make fun of the stereotypical characters cast on shows like The Real World and Big Brother (the goth girl, the surfer dude, the spoiled rich girl, the dumb blonde, the metrosexual, etc). But it got me thinking: Do my little cousins understand that this is satire? Do they know that people don’t really don’t look like this? You’d think not, but my little brother actually wants to be Robin from Teen Titans. So are younger girls seeing shows like this and thinking that they should be as tiny as these girls? Because according to the show, if you’re not, you’re chubby and nerdy.

The idea of being envious of a cartoon seems a bit well, crazy, but I have to think about cartoon characters that I wanted to be “like” when I was younger. I remember the show Brace Face, and, although I was 12 or so when it came out, I thought it was so cool that she had braces, which I had always wanted. She was also pretty, tall and blonde with great friends; all things I wanted to be as a teenager. Yes, I was jealous of a cartoon.

Think about the cartoons you watched when you were little. Were there characters that you wished you looked like, although you KNEW they were just cartoons? And parents, do you worry about the kind of messages your children are getting from tiny wasted, rippling chested animations? I never thought body image problems really started before you’re first issue of Seventeen, but hindsight has proven me wrong.

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30 thoughts on “Someone Give That Cartoon a Cheeseburger

  1. Well, when I was little, I desperately wanted to fight evil like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I am not kidding. Honestly, how skinny a character was completely did not register with me. All I cared about was who had the coolest weapons.

  2. Honestly, you’ve trained yourself not to feel inferior to real people (good job, BTW, it disgusts me when people go all ‘wahh, models are skinnier than me, self-hatred, bawww!’), but you feel inferior to a badly-animated fictional character?

    Um. I think it’s actually a little healthier to be jealous of Kate Moss.

  3. When I was younger, I just wanted to be the pink power ranger. (notice, she was the only one on the show with a boyfriend. What about the black girl and the asian girl?)

  4. Kids ought to be able to disseminate between fantasy and reality in cartoons. Watching cartoons as a kid never made me think I needed to be overly buff like G.I. Joe or He-Man(?).

    There’s a difference that ought not to interfere with reality when it comes to a cartoon versus something with live action.

  5. I think kids do absorb that sort of subtle message more than we think, and not just with respect to looks. I tell this anecdote a lot, but I used to baby sit for a couple of preteen girls and one night one of them asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I told her I wanted to be a professor, and her response was “I thought girls couldn’t be professors.” I asked her why she thought that and her response floored me. She said, “Whenever I see a professor on T.V. it’s always a guy.” She was actually using fictional shows as a barometer for what careers were and weren’t appropriate for a woman. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if cartoon characters affected what she perceived as “normal” looks.

    • I know, that’s what I was thinking too. I had braces in middle school and part of high school and hated them. It was DEFINITELY not cool or pretty back then…oh, and they hurt like hell.

    • Hey, I loved my glasses and braces.

      Not my fault that the other 8 year olds weren’t as fashion forward and cutting edge as me. *Hmph*

  6. Who here remembers the ThunderCats? I totally wanted to be Cheetara…snarf, snarf. What about He Man and the Masters of the Universe…another of my faves.

  7. I always wanted to have red hair like Ariel from The Little Mermaid (and her delicate and feminine tummy and cute seashell top) but most of all I wanted to sing like her… Watching The Little Mermaid got me interested in music, it made me join choir and what not. I’ve never been a great singer, but I think cartoons can leave very good impressions too.

    That being said… The Disney princess’ perfect hair do’s have caused me to never ever be happy with my own, lol.

    And I still long for Ariel’s sexy abs…

  8. very interesting!
    yes, I would also include all the Disney sh**
    stories where the “good” princess is beautiful & dumb, and the “bad” witch is ugly and intelligent

    we have to be carefull and filter the kid’s tv time

    • If the witches were really that intelligent, don’t you think they’d win once in a while, lol?

      Not all the heroines/princesses are dumb though. I always liked Mulan–she was a tough cookie.

    • Have you watched any Disney movie, like, um, I don’t know, EVER? The only princesses who could be seen to be stupid were Snow White and maybe Sleeping Beauty (although, she was ASLEEP the whole time, so we don’t actually get to know much about her). Trust me, all the rest of the princesses could kick your ass single handedly, with increasing severity as time went on.

  9. It was always the eyes for me – the massive, perfect doe-eyes of cartoon girls. A seemingly odd thing to be envious of (espeically since in real life their eyes would take up 80% of their faces), but I always wanted them…

  10. Jessica Rabbit! When I was little, Who Framed Roger Rabbit came out. I wanted so bad to look like Jessica when I grew up. So sad, I got no boobs, no hour glass figure, or the red hair.

  11. i had similar worries about my 8 yr old. she adores that stupid show. the thing is, that as a parent, i watch the show with her. i answer her questions, talk with her about why she likes one particular character more than another and explain how real life is. people with character flaws, different body shapes, etc. so, yeah, the show has satire but it’s not Cartoon Network’s responsibility to teach my kid about body images and such. It’s mine.

    Oh and btw, Lashawnna’s character isn’t channelling Monique. there are a LOT of us black women that are like that. i’d take offense except, eh, you meant no harm by it.

    • That’s an amazingly good point.
      I used to watch Disney princess movies with my daughter and ask her questions like, “Do you think the prince really loves her? They’ve only known each other for three minutes” or “How could she have helped herself in this situation?”
      That was before body image became an issue, obviously. But we continued on that track and I think she’s managed to escape most of the evils of television.

      • LOL funny you should mention the disney cartoons. My daughter would wonder why don’t I have a “Prince Charming” come and sweep me off my feet (I’m a single mommy). I told her in a child-friendly way that this mommy doesn’t need a man to complete her and that my family consists of her and her sister and me. Having another would be a lovely plus but really isn’t needed. Her dad says I’m turning her into a man hater because she announced to him one day that she wanted to have a ton of kids when she grew up and graduated college. He asked her what job would she have to support all those kids or would she get her husband to do it for her. Her response? Oh husbands are SO not necessary daddy when I can do it on my own. I nearly split my sides laughing.

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