- Olivia Luchini
Pokémon: A Collection of Body Hate
I originally intended to write about Pokémon and its singular body type for female characters yesterday, but when I began my research on the physiques of characters, I was so overwhelmed and disappointed that I knew that I had to save this article for a day so that I could process what I wanted to say. Let's begin with some background on the Pokémon franchise.
Pokémon began its journey in 1996. It is the highest-grossing media franchise, having made a total revenue of $59.1 BILLION (US dollars). For reference, the Disney Princess franchise has a total revenue of $9.5 billion, making it about a sixth of the amount as Pokémon, and The Muppets/Sesame Street (which began 30 years before Pokémon) has a total revue of $2.81 billion as of today (a twentieth of Pokémon's).
This being said, Pokémon is not as small as a lot of consumers might think it to be. In fact, Pokémon has pretty much done it all. It's had an amimated show, trading cards, video games, comic books, short stories, films, a theme park, many soundtracks, themed planes and even a musical (that had Andrew Rannels in it...if you appreciate theatre, you'll understand why that's bizarre). It spans seemingly infinitely across pop culture, and it influences a lot of people, from preschoolers to adults who were there for the very beginning of the Pokémon world. It's even had its fair share of scandals, being accused by PETA for encouraging animal cruelty and, separately, sending over 600 children into epileptic seizures with an intense episode featuring Porygon, pictured below.
Because of the massive size of the franchise, researching the body types of its female characters was impossibly difficult. Let me begin by stating what kind of characters I am talking about. No, I do not mean that I am looking for actual Pokémon (those being the cute little animal-like creatures that you see most of the time). I am analyzing female, human characters from all aspects of the franchise. Most of these characters are Pokémon trainers, meaning that they raise and battle with the Pokémons that they have captured.
I had very low expectations going into this research, but I still managed to be disappointed by this gigantic franchise.
Let's begin with plus-size characters. The short answer is, "No." Out of the hundreds of characters that I read about, including very small background characters, the only true plus-size characters that I could find appeared in single episodes and they were all of motherly age or older. So, similarly to Disney, chunkiness is reserved for old age. However, this isn't even consistent, as many older folks within the franchise remain skinny and quite hourglass, even as elders. All fat-but-still kind characters are illustrated as plainly as possible. While other characters have bright blue hair and elaborate outfits, you'll most likely find plus-size characters illustrated with brown hair, colorless eyes, and a plain t-shirt. Examples of this trope include Otane, Sheila, Rose (Hoenn), Ogin, Miranda (Hoenn), Lulu and Karena. They cannot be spectacles, and they cannot be beautiful.
We would be remissed if we stopped there, implying that chunkier women were simply worthless. They can also be gluttonous and greedy. Two examples of this appear in Meowzie's owner and Madame Muchmoney. Both characters are painted as evil and neglectful of their pets, Meowzie's owner kicking her Meowth to the curb and saying "Good luck, Darling!" before peeling away in her car forever. Here's what that character looks like:
Lavish? Yes. Pretty? Still no. Even when offered the decadence and care in costuming that thinner characters have, plus-size characters still come out ugly. This is not justified because there are MANY villainous women in this franchise that are illustrated as GORGEOUS.
The best example of this would be Jessie from Team Rocket. She's notoriously a villainous charcter, but she still gets a beautiful illustration and undeniable attractiveness. She's evil, but she's definitely pretty. The same thing applies to a newer villain, Lusamine. Here's her design:
Thinness can be good or evil, and it is always beautiful. Fatness can be good or evil, but it is always plain or ugly.
The only character out of the hundreds that I looked at who seemed to be what I was looking for (a tall, strong, chunky woman) was Lenora.
Lenora is a Gym Leader in Nacrene City. She is described and illustrated as tall and strong and even a lil' chunky. In fact, her height is one of the first features listed about her in her physical description. She values wisdom, having her challengers choose a book in order to test them. She has been in the manga, the video games and the animated series. She's definitely a certified TSC. When I was reading about her, I was like, "FINALLY!" Yet, when I read further, I discovered that Lenora is actually meant to be a middle-age woman who has a husband, not one of the many young characters that the show revolves around.
Though this show is centered around children exploring the world and capturing new furry, feathered or scaly friends, there is not a single young female character who is chunkier. Also, most of them are of average height or shorter. It is clear that the Pokémon industry prioritizes heroes who can be labeled as "cute."
However, this isn't a two-way street. While a majority of even the youngest female characters within the series are sexualized, male characters are not treated the same way in the slightest. May, a character who is meant to be 10 years old, is animated with breasts.
No, this isn't an edit. It's an actual screen grab. You might think that it's overreacting for me to critique a kid's show for animating breasts onto a younger character, but it leads to a lot of real, disgusting outcomes. Check out the suggested words to enhance my Google search of "pokemon may":
Kiss. Fanfiction. Bed. Toilet. Bra. Swimming costume. These are words following a search for a character who is 10 YEARS OLD.
Pokémon has a dangerous habit of sexualizing their younger characters. This kind of search for characters is shockingly common, and it's terrible. If a child searched for photos of "pokemon may," the seventh photo they find will be a piece of fan art with her shirt unzipped.
Pokémon has a lot of issues when it comes to making female children seem more mature while allowing male children to look just as any young boy you'd encounter in daily life. Younger male characters are clothed in baggy shorts and sweatshirts, looking like the age that they are portraying, while younger female characters within the show are sexualized by the shape they are animated with and the costuming designed for them, often featuring extreme short-shorts or an elaborate croptop or a skirt that blows up every now and again.
This being said, Pokémon does not have a TSC protagonist across any of its numerous mediums. We might count Lenora, but this comes with the same issue I have had with every other franchise: Lenora is a middle-age woman, and TSC children deserve a character that is their age AND looks like them, especially in a fictional universe that has had SO many different opportunities to feature ONE character that looks like this.
Pokémon has the resources and artists to create a TSC protagonist. They choose not to, catering to the same small, petite, short, etc. body type that they have served for over 20 years. Maybe it's because it's cute, but maybe it's because it's so easily sexualized by their older fanbase. Whatever it is, it's toxic.
While Pokémon features very regularly sized male protagonists, and even some plus-size ones, like Tierno (below), it does not show the same respect toward female characters in the slightest. The fact that this is the highest-grossing media franchise and it STILL fails a large percentage of the population is a travesty. Young viewers of all shapes and sizes deserve to get lost in the magical world that was built for their enjoyment, without fear of their favorite characters getting overtly sexualized by adult fans OR fear of seeing their own body type be reserved for older/background characters and evil.
I lost a lot of respect for Pokémon after this analysis. Tomorrow, I'll be talking about the character Barb from Stranger Things, and characters like her in live-action television. Thank you, as always, for learning with me. I hope this taught you something, no matter how small.