Yesterday we were killing the very hot hours of the afternoon by watching a movie called Scooby Doo! Camp Scare when my husband audibly gasped. He had noticed some changes in the female lead characters. This is what Daphne and Velma look like in their current incarnation:
Maybe I remember Scooby Doo wrong. But didn’t Velma wear an amorphous green shirt and say “jinkies!” and do the actual work of solving mysteries while the other characters smoked weed and played polo (I’m making assumptions of how Freddy spent his free time based solely on his clothes)? Not just wear a low-cut top and make Shaggy say “zoinks!” loudly? I do remember Daphne being more of cartoon eye-candy, but I can’t seem to picture the episode where she had a breast enlargement and bought a string bikini.
Scooby Doo is not the only cartoon whose female characters have gotten a makeover. Do you remember Strawberry Shortcake? I loved her little bonnet with the strawberry on top. If I close my eyes I can still remember that fake strawberry scent. My girls watch the current Strawberry Shortcake cartoon series on Netflix, and I’m sad to see that she’s changed too. Her sleeves have gotten shorter, her bonnet has gotten trendier, and she’s just more adult than she used to be. Even her voice has gotten older. Now she drinks smoothies and other healthy treats instead of the baked goods she ate when we were kids.
Speaking of ’80s girls’ favorites, I remember the countless episodes of My Little Pony that my sister and I used to watch. A few months ago, I clicked over to the Cartoon Network and found this:
In case you missed it, the My Little Ponies are no longer horses (as per their name) but are instead teenager human-horses who wear short skirts and lots of make-up.
The lead characters in cartoons have evolved, becoming much more adult and wearing much more provocative clothing.
So why should we care?
We know our children are watching cartoons featuring female characters who are more sexualized and adult-looking than we did. Should we be concerned?
In short, yes. Many studies have shown a correlation between media exposure and body image. Young children begin to see in cartoons that attractive (specifically thin) characters tend to be heroes or heroines or generally have positive qualities assigned to them, while less attractive (specifically heavier) characters tend to be villains. Girls, in particular, tend to internalize these qualities.
For boys, exposure to unrealistic beauty standards in cartoons lays the foundation for their future ideas about women. Young girls are thought of as being sexual by boys, in part as a result of exposure to overly sexual media images at a young age. Basically, children are being exposed to sexual images before they have the physical or emotional development necessary to process the images in a healthy way.
What can we do?
There are a few simple ways that we as parents can help our kids develop healthy body images through their media exposure.
- Watch what they’re watching. I know it’s super tempting to turn on the TV and walk away—that’s what I did while my kids were watching Scooby Doo on steroids! But paying attention to what they’re watching will help you decide if you want them to see what they’re seeing.
- Look for alternatives. The old-school Strawberry Shortcake and My Little Pony shows are available on Amazon Prime and Netflix. Here is a list of shows that promote positive body images. Our favorites are Doc McStuffins and Sofia the First.
- Take a look at your magazines. If you are reading fitness magazines with headlines like “Five steps to thinner thighs!” and “Get rid of your muffin top!” you need to make absolutely sure that your kids aren’t reading them too. Whether that means hiding them or throwing them out, kids who can read will begin to internalize the images they see and headlines they read. Boys who read them are being exposed to overly sexual images before they can fully process them. (P.S. They’re probably not doing wonders for your body image either!)
- Stop talking about how fat you think you are. Studies show that five- to eight-year-olds’ perceptions of their mother’s weight—both boys’ and girls’—predicts how they will feel about their own bodies. So if your child constantly hears about your latest diet plan, or how jiggly you think your thighs are, or how you need to lose a few, he/she is being set up to feel the same way about his/her OWN body down the road.
- Talk about the awesome things our bodies can do. You can do this through media images—we like to watch American Ninja Warrior and talk about how cool the warriors are because of their strength—or just through our natural activities. We work on shifting the focus away from looks and towards function.
We can all remember early childhood events that shaped our future body images. Let’s work on shaping positive images for our children.
And for the love, someone buy Daphne and Velma a cover-up.