Anime, Anime, Animate Me, I Am the Beauty the World Needs to See: Body Image in Beauty
“Fat girl,” a phrase I was often called, primarily through my childhood. Weight has been an issue for me for a long time, and it was not easy to see myself as beautiful. So, the beauty industry is where I never thought a person like me would fit. When the real world did not accept me, I would turn to animation to try and see myself in a different light. I would put myself into the world of my favorite characters and their beauty standards to escape the harsh realities around me. But part of me feels that those exact animations created the dysmorphia I felt throughout my younger years. Animation is a critical aspect of childhood and, for many like myself, instills values that we take into adulthood. It is why the age of beauty right now is precious, and it should dive into animation to change the perception of body image in fashion and beauty.
Animation is one of the first significant exposures to beauty for children as Princesses, Princes, Fairies, and more bring a world of wonder and idolization. But it also has its setbacks, such as body image creating an unrealistic beauty standard as these children age. For example, what does this mean for the young girl questioning her worth because she lacks an hourglass figure? Or the young boy who believes he needs not only to act strong but look the part, or he is not “man enough.” Although they may seem minor, these issues exist in our society, and animation reflects that, from physical bodies to even gender roles.
Body Positive Alliance Writer, Lea Yeo, authored the article, “Stop Exaggerating Feminine Bodies in Cartoons,” in which she calls out animation companies such as Disney for their exaggerated depictions of the female body and its effects on the self-image of girls. She also calls out pedophilic fetishizing in the media by depicting young characters to look extremely developed for their age. “Women’s bodies are often fetishized for these exaggerated body parts. In our society, older men often objectify and lament the loss of characters’ “sex appeal” if body features such as the waist, breasts, or butt are not emphasized. For example, She-Ra from Netflix’s She-Ra and the Princesses of Power was openly criticized because her body was not “sexy enough.” Since the late 20th century, these body images have been designed in the same sickening format in most animated media, most of which is dedicated to a young audience. This furthers the growing self-esteem issues in young girls, and it pushes beauty standards onto kids from an incredibly young age.” (Yeo).
Yeo’s points are valid and open the door to the conversation on body standards and the issues of fetishizing in animation. It may be only a cartoon while children are young, but they quickly strive for that dynamic of beauty. Unfortunately, I am a product of this issue, and as previously said, my weight is an ongoing problem. It came to the point where I would not eat, mark the places I would cut and rip apart, and even hide my body altogether with baggy clothes. I felt that I was not worthy of being beautiful or wearing things that attractive people have because I would ruin them. I am happy to see plus-size women take on the fashion and beauty scene in my early adulthood. But it is a long journey that stems back to the trauma I faced as a child that made me question my identity and self-worth.
There are still times where I feel that I will never be considered a “pretty girl.” The age of social media does make this issue any less traumatizing as adult women even feel inadequate compared to the models on their Instagram feed. I know how it feels for someone to question themselves and hate their body because I was the little girl who suffers from body dysmorphia. It would have been so empowering to see someone that looks like me on screen as a young girl which is why it is important for me to strive for equal representation. The arts and media hold significant control over the standards in our society in which beauty and fashion are no different. Animation has the power to change the way children view diversity and essentially their outlook on the world. There are already several animations that are taking on this movement of body positivity and promote a safe space platform for children of all ages.
For instance, in the TeenVouge article, “Steven Universe” Is Putting a Spotlight on Body Confidence and Positivity,” Laruen Rearick discusses the triumphs that Steven Universe is creating in equality and acceptance on Cartoon Network. She also includes a discussion with its creator, Rebecca Sugar, and her mission with the show. “The Steven Universe creator also told Teen Vogue that animation “can do a great deal of good when it comes to creating conversations about body equality,” and credits cartoons with giving animators the platform to create characters of all sizes, shapes, and personalities…. “Animated characters light up our brains, daring us to believe in them and relate to them. To give yourself over to the illusion requires openness and trust and a willingness to lend some of your own imagination,” she said. “This is also why I think cartoons are a natural fit for self-reflection because the only way to bring them to life is to reflect some of yourself into them. Like all magic, the power isn’t in the trick, it’s in the believer… every member of our audience has the power to change their own life, even if it’s just in some small way, and if these cartoons spark any ideas for positive change, that would be actual magic.” (Rearick).
Many characters I saw throughout my childhood made me believe I could do and be anything. But more importantly, it made me feel that I am beautiful, and beauty is not only physical but spiritual. My love for creating and imagining outside of our society is from the characters I idolized because they did the same. The self-reflection that young people get from animation is vital to their personal growth. Sometimes we need a source outside our world to see that we have a purpose. The beauty industry could do so much with the concept of acceptance and representation to change how future generations view the idea of beauty. Animation is the key to creating something more than a brand but a future that embarks on the mission to spread change and awareness.
The world is not all sunshine and rainbows, and we will still face backlash for wanting to strive to defy the norm. But we should encourage children to embrace accepting and understanding others while young because they see the world more positively than adults. While they grow older, they face the challenges of either conformity or diversity. In American society, the idea of beauty has long been a “white slender woman” or “a clean-cut white man.” How is it possible in one of the most diverse countries in the world, there is a lack of body or cultural representation? The standards of not only beauty but ideals of society are drastically changing every waking moment, and we must move with it.
In the Off-Color article, “Monsters, Giant Women, and Airbenders: Body Positivity in American Animation,” Keshav Kant discusses the body positivity movement and its impact on American animation and pushes forth the direction of equal representation that media is going through. “Body positivity is a movement that says all bodies are worthy of being seen, valued, and protected. With the body positivity movement, it tries to highlight the fact that white, thin bodies are commodified as the norm. The movements try to subvert that by highlighting a variety of bodies, going with identities and abilities. The norm in American culture is, white slender characters, this is translated in movies, novels, and unfortunately animation. I do believe that the field of animation is changing due to the age of the internet, however, in terms of mainstream animation the change would be contingent on the rise of minorities in the boardroom.” (Kant).
The dynamic of beauty is changing, and the media needs to move with it because the standards are not how they were 20 years ago. We are evolving into an age of tremendous representation, and it should be encouraged by influential industries such as beauty and fashion. I look at animation now and think how dramatically things have changed, and it makes the shy girl inside of me filled with joy. For so long, I believed that to be beautiful. I had to straighten my hair, lose my stomach, change my nose, or cut my thighs. But here we are in 2022, and seeing big, small, thick, or in between women on TV is becoming the new norm.
Even today, my body is an issue that I struggle with, and the world of animation takes me away from the harshness of reality. For many children, the animation world is a way to find out who they are, so it is crucial that beauty brands investigate what animation can offer for potential marketing and tapping into forming a brighter future for the beauty world. So many children and adults are dealing with body dysmorphia and struggle to come to terms with beauty being more than physical. We are all the idea of beauty. We all need to be heard. We all need to be seen because the future is counting on us to do so. If we refuse to change the beauty standards for children, they will fight a long-term battle with themselves on their self-worth. I never want anyone to deal with the pain and suffering I have over acceptance and love of my body. But I also know the world is not perfect and can be cruel to even the kindest hearts, but that does not mean we stay silent. So, I implore all to say to the media world, “Anime, Anime, Animate, Me, I Am the Beauty the World Needs to See!”
Author: Jasmine Boskent
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Kant, Keshav. “Monsters, Giant Women, and Airbenders: Body Positivity in American Animation”. Off-Color. 19 May 2017. https://offcolour.org/2017/05/19/monsters-giant-women-and-airbenders-body-positivity-in-american-animation/. Accessed 8 Aug. 2022.
Rearick, Lauren. “Steven Universe” Is Putting a Spotlight on Body Confidence and Positivity”. TeenVogue. 19 July 2018. https://www.teenvogue.com/story/steven-universe-dove-self-esteem-project-bts. Accessed 8 Aug. 2022.
Yeo, Lea. “Stop Exaggerating Feminine Bodies in Cartoons”. Body Positive Alliance. https://bodypositivealliance.org/blog/stop-exaggerating-feminine-bodies-in-cartoons. Accessed 8 Aug. 2022.