Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Same face: female cartoon characters have no distinct identity

Every female cartoon character has the same face. No really. Take a look for yourself at the faces of the recent female Disney-Pixar cartoon characters:


Okay, okay, so maybe cartoonists just draw faces the same way for both sexes? Wrong. Male faces have a lot of variation, from face size and shape, to facial feature size and shape.


Tumblr user Every Flavored Bean created these depictions to highlight the differences between male and female cartoon faces. We perpetuate beauty standards and rampant sexism even in children’s cartoon movies. When children see these images (particularly girls) they begin to build expectations regarding their own self-image.

What's worse, animators don't deny that they draw female faces the same way. The lead animator for the recent Disney movie, Frozen, tried to explain why faces on female cartoon characters lack any differences:
They have to go through these range of emotions, but you have to keep them pretty. So, having a film with two hero female characters was really tough, and having them both in the scene and look very different if they’re echoing the same expression; that Elsa looking angry looks different from Anna being angry.
Hmm. It may help the characters look different if they actually have different faces. But drawing different faces would mean deviating from "keep[ing] them pretty."

A few years ago, feminists were in uproar over a leaked revision of a Disney princess who was to be featured in an upcoming movie. A new version of Merida, the lead character in the movie Brave, lost 20 pounds (but her breast size increased), had a lower cut dress, added a ton of mascara, and suddenly had no flyaway pieces of hair. There was such an outcry, that eventually Disney decided to keep the original version of the heroine with a fuller figure, natural hair and less makeup.  As a side note, she also became the first female hero in any Pixar film.

Generally, Disney grosses billions of dollars every year from its franchise of Disney princesses, a false and generic ideal of beauty for young girls. While some may consider cartoons to be “fun and games,” are these the type of messages we want to be sending young girls? It seems that everywhere one looks, there are stereotypes about the way we should look, dress and act. And I know there are others who don't appreciate this constant bombardment with the fake ideal. Tumblr user Every Flavored Bean stated:
Boys in animated movies have faces that are square, round, skinny, fat, alien-looking, handsome, and ugly. The only face that girls get to have is some round snub-nosed baby face. That’s not right.
There have been some improvements in cartoons. Disney made its first movies with female characters who didn't have a primary motivation of romance in Frozen and Brave. If you think of all the classic Disney movies: Snow White, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Cinderella, (I could go on), the primary motivation for female characters is love! Rare examples of movies with strong female characters are hard to come by, but animators are slowing starting to produce them.

There is no reason why female cartoon characters should all have the same face. Just as there is no reason all female cartoon characters should be primarily motivated to find love. It’s amazing to think that in the year 2015, we are still dealing with these implicit expectations of what women should look like, and we are marketing these expectations to our children! Soon female cartoon characters will be allowed to have the individual identities and characteristics that male characters are already afforded. For different perspectives on Disney princesses and their effects on young girls, read this post and this post. Also please see this post for a discussion on the similar harmful effects of the Barbie doll.

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