Sailor Moon Blues
By Erica Lee
When I was six years old, I loved Sailor Moon.
I was mesmerized by this normal schoolgirl who transformed into a superhero to save her town week after week. I thrived on it. I filled pages and pages of notebooks of drawings of all the Sailor Moon characters. Six-year-old me even designed a costume for myself in case the Sailor Soldiers asked me to join them! They were magical and powerful; what little kid wouldn’t love them? Well. Maybe I loved Sailor Moon a little too much.
When I was six years old, I wanted blonde hair and blue eyes.
Eventually, I realized that black hair wouldn’t naturally change to blonde when I grew up, and that the same went for eyes. At the time, I thought I had just been a silly little kid. All children have wild dreams when they’re young! Some want to be astronauts, some want to be twelve feet tall, some want to be financially stable with a promising career after college, and this one wanted blonde hair and blue eyes to match her favorite heroine.
I realized that my friends rarely had this problem. They all “matched” their favorite heroines. If we were PowerPuff Girls that day, I was Buttercup, even though I was definitely not as snarky! But since I had black hair, I had to be Buttercup. When we played princesses, I could be Mulan, and Mulan only. Don’t get me wrong, I love Mulan. But a girl can save China from the Huns only so many times before it gets old.
My friends had many more options. They could be Belle, Blossom from the PowerPuff Girls, or Ariel if they used their imagination. My blonde friends? The world was their oyster! Sleeping Beauty, Tinkerbell, Alice, Cinderella, Bubbles, or the Swan Princess were the most popular options. So many characters, so little time!
When I was young, there were only three Disney princesses and zero members of the Powerpuff Girls who represented non-white individuals. Today, Princess Tiana has joined the lineup, but is four women of color out of eleven Disney princesses enough? Research says no.
Indiana University recently released a study conducted by Nicole Martins, an assistant professor of communications, that claims that white girls, black girls, and black boys all face a decrease in self-esteem when watching T.V. programs. The only demographic in which they saw increased self-esteem was for white boys.
Since television and media constantly include harmful assumptions like gender roles and racial stereotypes, it would be naive to think that these stereotypes are not influencing the children watching these programs. Children and adults both compare themselves to the people around them and the models they’re given, and if they feel that they measure up to their models, this affects their self esteem. Often, black characters in T.V. programs are portrayed as unprofessional and provocatively dressed compared to white characters.
According to Calvert, male characters appear four times as often in children’s Saturday morning T.V. shows. The few women on these shows often exhibit typically “female-typed” traits. “Women on television are not given a variety of roles,” said Martins. “The roles that they see are pretty simplistic; they’re almost always one-dimensional and focused on the success they have because of how they look, not what they do or what they think or how they got there.” These incredibly restrictive roles can affect a young girl’s ideas about her abilities and opportunities.
Feeding children restrictive, unrepresentative scripts of what people in their demographic can and can’t do is harmful and unhelpful to them and to society as a whole. This is what Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie refers to as a “single story.” Thinking about a human being’s life in only two dimensions takes away their humanity and their voice in representing themselves. “Show a people as one thing,” said Adichie in a recent TED talk, “as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become.”
Representation matters. Although my friends all “matched” a Disney Princess and were represented in their physical appearance, those princesses did not represent the full gamut of what they could become. I only had Mulan to choose from. So I’ll wait. I’ll hope that characters like Wu Mei, a female kung fu master, or Wu Zetian, one of the most famous Chinese empresses, get their own movies by the time my children are old enough to watch them. I’ll hope that T.V. shows include more women and people of color in well-written roles.
In the meantime? I’ll just be glad that the new Sailor Moon doesn’t rely on Tuxedo Mask to save her anymore.