- Olivia Luchini
Disney Channel and Its Faults
Disney Channel has filled the childhoods of many people with laughter, magic and even some life lessons (thanks to Hannah Montana, we can all believe in our dreams of living two lives). However, there aren't many representatives for tall women, chunky women or strong women within any of its channels, as there are now three different Disney Channels (Disney, Disney XD, and Disney Junior). Let's start with Disney Junior, as it is the easiest.
No tall, strong or chunky female characters on Disney Junior. I suppose this makes the most sense, because a lot of the main characters in these programs are meant to be of early grade school age or younger. There's this assumption that children, before fifth grade or so, all have the same body type, which is a bit of a dangerous assertion. The assertion leaks into Disney Channel's main channel, but we'll conclude Disney Junior by saying , "None."
Let's move onto Disney XD. This channel is harder because it contains a lot of materials/shows that were acquired from other networks (such as Doctor Who). Since Disney purchased the rights to Marvel and Star Wars universes, you'll see a lot of those shows here as well. In terms of original content, the lead characters on this channel are predominantly young boys (Phineas and Ferb, Ducktales (reboot), Kick Buttowski, Milo Murphy's Law, Slugterra, Zeke and Luther, Kickin' It, Mech-X4, Mighty Med, Kirby Buckets, Lab Rats, Billy Dilley's, Crash and Bernstein, Kid vs. Kat, Wander Over Yonder, Future-Worm!, The 7D, I'm in the Band, Penn Zero, Aaron Stone, Tron: Uprising, Two More Eggs, Yin Yang Yo!, Motorcity, Camp Lakebottom, The Suite Life on Deck, Jimmy Two-Shoes and Boyster). All of the previously listed 28 shows revolve around a male lead, though they might feature a female sidekick.
What you'll find out very quickly is that these female sidekicks all have the same body type. Most of them are slender and long, not taking up much space. If a character is allowed to be bigger, it is always a male character and he always comedic relief (if he's dumb) or evil (if he's not).
Notice a bit of a trend in body type? Across all cartoons, if there is a female sidekick/supporting character, she is extremely thin and if she does have any fatness to her body, it is in sexualized areas such as breasts or hips (weird for kids' television). Beyond the fact that a vast majority of cartoons feature a male lead with a female sidekick that was probably demanded by production companies, female characters are prescribed one form that they can have. Often times, these characters become romantic subplots for their male lead characters. So, there's a bias in size and a bias in value when it comes to women of Disney XD cartoons.
For the two cartoons that DO have female leads (and probably the most popular two shows of the channel) there still exists issues with size. Gravity Falls and Star vs. the Forces of Evil have massive fanbases, and they deserve them. Star vs. the Forces of Evil is one of my most favorite shows, after my sister got me into last summer. They both have strong female leads, and Star is unapologetically feminine while also kicking some villain butt and enjoying it, showing a new kind of toughness (that doesn't have to be masculine and painted with flames) to young viewers. Both of these shows have complex universes, well-written plots and deep characters. However, both of them don't have TSC (tall, strong, chunky) protagonists and both contain some sort of fatphobia.
Take Gravity Falls. Its two leads, Dipper and Mabel, are drawn as two very average-sized children and are described as short. There is one female character of the main protagonists' age who is taller and chunkier, and she is one of Mabel's best friends.
Meet Grenda. Grenda is voiced by a man. She talks about her desire to put her bully in a headlock. She "aggressively" flirts with boys. It's rumored in the series that she might shave, since she took a character's aftershave once. Her favorite color is beige. She can smash a rock into her face and feel nothing. She's painted as sort of aggressive and definitely masculine. She's lesser than others, and she can often be the butt of the joke when she's just trying to be herself. Though she ultimately scores a boyfriend within the series, there is no denying that her purpose when on screen is to be comedic relief because of her peculiarness, with her literal man's voice and her odd interests that happen to be contained within a chunky form.
In Star vs. the Forces of Evil, there aren't many examples to pull from when regarding characters who are actually involved with the plots of the show. Chelsea McNelsey is a fellow student to main characters Star and Marco and she's drawn as chunky, but all that we know about her is that she likes to bake pies (a very stereotypical interest to give a chunkier student, at that). She doesn't really speak and she's often a background character. Ingrid Bloomgren is another chunkier background character/ student, and she is drawn as a stereotypical gothic girl and her loves watching wrestling. She also speaks German. Other than that, there's not a lot of depth to this character either.
Star vs. the Forces of Evil has one good example of a TSC, but again she is meant to seem a little more masculine and she is definitely a background character. Her name is Lady Whosits, and she's a Mewni royal guard and knight. Here she is:
Lastly, we have the main Disney Channel. You might recall some of its famous cartoons from your own childhood, such as Kim Possible and The Proud Family. Recess is another common example. The Proud Family features a tall, strong, chunky character as part of the "Gross Sisters," a trio of bully girls who steal other students' money. Kim Possible has one tall and muscular female villain named Warmonga.
Other Disney Channel cartoons have faults in portraying the female physique. Chip 'n' Dale: Rescue Rangers gives a female chipmunk an hourglass figure while keeping the two brothers with standard, um, "chipmunk" builds.
There are so many examples across shows, both live-action and cartoon, where big women/girls are either a joke or background to a main character with the same figure as the ten characters that came before her. For bigger women in live-action series on Disney channels, we have Raven from That's So Raven, but she is 5'2 and her own show ended over ten years ago (though it was recently rebooted with her as a mom). We also have Trish from Austin and Ally who is played by Raini Rodriguez. Again, she is 5'2 and her character is a sidekick who can often be bratty and lazy, making her less of a role model for young audiences and more so a piece of comedic relief. Of course, we could dig into the details of Trish and find qualities within her that we, as adults, find inspirational, but her immediate characteristics presented to children are used for comedy due to their ridiculousness (like getting fired from a job each episode). Those are the only two characters.
Across the three Disney channels, there is such a dearth of female character who are EITHER tall, strong OR chunky, let alone all three. When I can find nine images upon a quick google of shows on one of the three channels that show the exact same female body, there is a problem. There is especially a problem when there is concrete evidence of male characters with differing figures. Tall, strong, chunky girls and women are more than just background characters. They are more than your quick joke about masculinity in a female character, which is the cheapest of jokes in 2018 anyways and very problematic. They are more than your bully or your villain. TSC characters can do all of the things that main characters do, but they are never written to do those things because of singular, superficial features attached to stereotypes.
Disney Channel has brought in dozens and dozens of shows since the network began in the mid-'80s. Since then, there have been reboots and spin-offs galore. I challenge us as a creative people to stop copying and pasting, as we have not done everything possible for entertainment. We have much left to write. We have many characters, such as TSC girls, to bring to life. Stop recycling your old stories when they failed then, as they are still failing many now.
I love Disney Channel. I watched many of its shows growing up and I actively watch Star vs. the Forces of Evil today. It is possible to love something very much while still noticing the flaws within its tropes. I critique Disney Channel because I want so desperately to see it become the body-positive channel that it could be. I critique it because I think I would have liked someone to point out the flaws to me when I was a child, so that I could understand that I wasn't wrong, I was just unrepresented.
Tomorrow, I will be looking into one of my absolute favorite movie and television franchises, How to Train Your Dragon. Thank you for learning with me. I hope you learned something, no matter how small (like that Raven Symone is 5'2). Also, if you have any suggestions for any form of children's entertainment for me to look into, please comment them. I love looking into books, television, movies and even video games.