"Steven Universe" and the Erasure of Rose Quartz
"Steven Universe" is one of the most critically acclaimed cartoon series of present time. I, for one, am an enormous fan of the franchise, the world, the art and the insanely meticulous plots of each story. Inevitably, this article will have massive spoilers due to the nature of these scrupulous episodes, so I advise reading ahead with caution, though I knew all of these spoilers before I watched the series and still had an amazing experience.
To properly analyze the representation of tall, strong, chunky (TSC) women in "Steven Universe," we should first go over the basics of this show. The story follows Steven, a 14-year-old boy, and his adventures with the Crystal Gems, which include himself, Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl. Steven is the son of Rose Quartz, who led the rebellion against the Homeworld Gems (and thus the Great Diamond Authority) in order to protect Earth, the planet with which she fell in love. Rose Quartz gave up her physical form in order to have a half-gem, half-human child with a human man, Greg, thus creating Steven. Because of this, Steven has never met his mother, and a lot of the series explores his gem abilities because he is the first of his kind (being only half gem).
He is also the only gem who does not have she/her pronouns. Though gems are sexless, all of them are referred to in terminology such as mother, matriarch and sis. Given this, every gem (and there are a LOT of them) is presented in a traditionally feminine figure. For example, here are the Crystal Gems as of the most recent episode:
Keeping this in mind, my following arguments will circulate around the gems who exist throughout the show, with an emphasis on Rose Quartz and Pink Diamond. Before I do that, however, I feel it necessary to explain the GOOD and IMPORTANT things that "Steven Universe" does for young viewers. There are several LGBTQIA+ themes throughout the show, including a wedding between two gems (who both follow she/her pronouns). They explore consent and sexual harassment. They show the stages of grief. The effects of war and the brutality of death. There's a non-nuclear family and the most diverse town to exist in any cartoon, in my opinion. Therefore, it is important to note this: "Steven Universe" is a GREAT show, and you should watch it.
What I would like to talk about is the presentation of tall, strong, chunky women within this show, which can be lacking at times.
Rose Quartz, pictured above, was the first time that I saw a tall, strong, chunky woman within a cartoon that was presented as undeniably feminine in her way of dressing, her mannerisms, and her her voice. For most of the seasons, she is painted as the ultimate leader, hero and general gem. They often tell Steven that he is just like Rose when he acts with empathy or compassion. From these moments, we gain a lot of respect for Rose, even though our only images of her are through flashbacks.
I remember seeing Rose's thicker midsection, arms, face, and hands for the first time and having to check my visions. Never, in all my years, had I seen a character who was constantly described as "beautiful" be plus-sized, AND she was extremely tall. She was even taller than her male love interest, Greg. Everything about Rose rocked my world. She got to be so unapologetically feminine, heroic and more, all while being a TSC and being taller than the men around her (allbeit, they are not of the same species, but STILL).
Then, Rose was erased from the show. It turned out that she was actually a character called Pink Diamond in disguise for the entirety of her existence. Pink Diamond is a member of the Great Diamond authority, making her one of the most powerful four gems in existence. A lot of hatred toward this character arose, as she had lied for her entire rebellion and hid the privilege that she really had, and hid the fact that she was associated with the other diamonds, who acted terribly against gems and humans alike.
While all of those things grinded my gears, what truly hurt was Rose's true form of Pink Diamond. We see her whirl into this character who is tall, in the sense that she's a scaled up version of a regular gem (think a giant opposed to a basketball player, where all features grow proportionally and they don't have a "long" appearance). Yet, her arms were now thin. Her midsection was now thin. She gained a long, thin neck and a slender face. Her legs were slim. Everything became slim, and traditionally beautiful. She is pictured below:
While this was an inevitably shocking plot twist that shook the fans of this show, I couldn't help but be disappointed by this change. After this, Rose evaporated from mention and became Pink Diamond. The gorgeous shots of my TSC queen were gone, and now the plot circulated around dealing with the liar that was Rose Quartz/Pink Diamond. Now, she was a crook. Now, she was slender. Now, she was no hero. My tall, strong, chunky protagonist? False.
With this erasure, I was desperate to find an equivalent within the massive amount of gems throughout the series. My requirements were a TSC who was presented as feminine. That was my only requirement.
The task was impossible. Looking at the Crystal Gems alone, Garnet is tall, but she has a slender waist, arms, and neck with her only thicker sections being her chest and her butt. Amethyst is probably the thickest, but she's the same height as Steven, who is supposedly the same height that he was at 8 years old. So, she was short. As we know, short women in cartoons are often allowed to be thick, but tall women are usually just stretched out and slender, resembling models. We see this through Pearl, the most slender gem who is drawn to resemble a ballerina.
With this, I moved onto more secondary characters. Bismuth is a TSC, but she is made masculine from the moment we meet her. She wears thick armor and it characterized by rough and tough. She belows in a deeper voice. I noticed right away that this was the trend with TSCs in "Steven Universe." If you are tall and thin, you're a model or a powerful figure. If you are tall and hourglass, you're perfect. If you're tall and chunky, you're masculine.
These examples kept coming. Jasper? TSC, but evil, abusive, and masculine (to the point where several forums argue if she deserves her she/her pronouns, which is a big WTF). Topaz? TSC, but easily manipulated and inarguably masculine. Holly Blue Agate? TSC, but evil.
With the loss of Rose Quartz, a feminine, TSC protagonist was nowhere to be found. Immediately, the representation turned back to that we see in Disney, in which you can be evil or lose all of your femininity if you so happen to be tall and thicker. After Rose, it became very clear that femininity was reserved for smaller characters, whether they be shorter or thinner. This show is amazing and decently progressive, but it does still seem to give priority to characters who are small in stature and automatically makes them feminine and/or good.
I commend Rebecca Sugar, the creator of "Steven Universe," for giving us Rose Quartz in the first place. Her presentation defied all of the traditional tropes for bigger women in cartoons, and it was what originally compelled me to watch the show. However, the replacement of Rose Quartz with Pink Diamond left me empty-handed. I look forward to finding another cartoon that creates another Rose Quartz-like character, but for now Rose is the only character that I have ever seen within cartoons that TRULY represents a TSC protagonist.
Thank you for learning about the erasure of Rose Quartz with me. Tomorrow, I'll be exploring fatphobia and the singular kind of woman in "Star Wars." I look forward to exposing fatness as a villainous trait within the franchise, and looking into the pressure to be thin placed on actress Carrie Fisher within the birth of the franchise.