The average child, ages 8-12, spends 4-6 hours each day in front of the TV. That is nearly 43 hours a week. I want you to think about the most recent movie or TV show you have watched, one a child may watch from those ages of 8-12. For me, it was the new Little Mermaid movie. After a quick google search, I found out that this movie took about four and a half years from start to finish to create this film. This movie cost $250 million dollars for production and was $140 million in marketing costs. Do not get me wrong, this movie was fantastic and was so needed in the black community. As I was at the theater watching this movie, I could not stop thinking about one thing.
Going back to that movie or TV show you thought about. Was there an evil/bad villain in it? From my knowledge of growing up on animated movies, I would have to guess that at least 75% of all animated films have an evil/bad villain. I want you to picture that villain from your film. What did they look like?
Ursula, the villain in the Little Mermaid movies, is a woman in a larger body. She has curves, a butt, and boobs. She has rolls on her stomach and arms, and has a “double chin.” Ariel, the main character in this movie, is a young woman. She has a small waist, tones arms and legs, a tight jaw line, a button nose, and zero rolls on her body.
This, unfortunately, is not the case in just this movie. The Queen of Hearts, in the movie Alice and Wonderland, has similar features to Ursela from the Little Mermaid, and Alice has similar features to Ariel. The Coachman from Pinocchio is also an example of a villain represented in a large body, while Pinocchio has a smaller figure.
Kids, starting at a very young age, will watch these movies and want to be the Ariel, or be the Pinocchio. Without even intention to do harm, these kids may little by little start engaging in unhealthy obsessions or behaviors to look like these “heros” from the entertainment they watch on TV.
No one wants to be Ursela, or the Coachman. No one dresses up as them for halloween, no one talks about them in a positive light. From day 1, kids are being told to act like the hero and not the villain and no one talks about the other side to this issue.
As you grow older into your teenage and adult years you are going to start to watch more mature movies and shows. This problem does not change one bit with the maturity of the shows, and it quite frankly gets worse.
Pitch Perfect for example. I have never met someone my age who has not seen those movies. It is a classic series of movies and the music is so amazing. But, the amount of body comments and fat shaming, particularly toward the character name “Fat Amy,” makes people of all ages feel that they need to change their body in some way.
This is not just in movies. Huge shows like “Friends” and “Pretty Little Liars” that are still being watched to this day, fat shame and make fun of other characters if they have a larger body.
It makes me confused when I hear someone ask why so many young adults of my generation have a poor relationship to food and their body when part of the answer is literally right in front of us. Having a more diverse range of body sizes in shows and movies and reframing from any body talk, good or bad, could set the next generation up for the possibility of less issues surrounding body thoughts and potential disordered eating.
Genetic factors only weigh an average of 17-28% of ones mental illness, which includes eating disorders and body dismorphia. By slowly changing how the next generation views their heroes, making them have more of a diverse range of body sizes and features, may have a great impact on how they view their body.
Change does not happen over night, it takes time. But just like a coins in a piggy bank, change grows bigger as you put little efforts in everyday.