tv The Backlash Over She-Ra’s Redesign Is Why Girls Can’t Have Nice Things
Back in May 2018, Warner Bros. Animation revealed that it was reviving the ThunderCats. The announcement was accompanied with a teaser trailer, showcasing a new name for the reboot — ThunderCats Roar — and a drastic change in animation style to make sure Lion-O and his feline friends didn’t look out of place alongside Cartoon Network’s current crop of fantasy adventure series’ like Stephen Universe and Adventure Time. Reaction to the Cats’ new, pudgier physiques, coupled with the reboot’s more comedic focus, produced a sizable negative response online.
Luckily for the Roar showrunners, that heat is now being drawn towards Netflix’s She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, the latest nostalgia-baiting throwback to the ’80s. Creator Noelle Stevenson recently gave us our first proper look at what a 2018 version of the Princess of Etheria will look like, a redesign that has quickly become controversial.
In a similar vein to the complaints ThunderCats Roar attracted, a contingent of men (and some women) have flipped out about the shape of the teenage heroine’s body and face. Dubbing her “Androgynous-Ra,” they’ve pointed to the absence of makeup on her face, her squarer jaw, flatter chest and lack of curves as evidence the show’s creators are toning down of the original’s “femininity,” which — judging by the level of vitriol over fairly minor changes — was apparently the character’s sole appeal.Actually, they’re not entirely wrong. Back in the early ’80s, She-Ra’s main appeal was her femininity. But only insofar as that she was a “she.” In Netflix’s docuseries, The Toys That Made Us, former Mattel CEO Jill Barad explains that She-Ra was created to capitalize on the 20% of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe fans that were female. Unofficially, she also wanted to make sure that Barbie — the company’s golden goose — was no longer being outshined by a bunch of body-building boys toys — a battlefield that He-Man’s creators were more than willing to meet the women on, refusing to let She-Ra match her twin brother in size or stature for fear that their Eternian Prince would be made to look like a “wimp.” Even when the princess was in her infancy, her body was being controlled by a bunch of disgruntled men.
She-Ra’s creators at Mattel had to settle for releasing a toy that was essentially a Barbie doll with a sword and limbs posable enough to allow for more than just going to veterinary school or holidaying in Malibu with Ken. It wasn’t until afterher design and name were settled on that J. Michael Straczynski was tapped to create a backstory for the character, under the guidance of Larry DiTillio, keeper of the He-Man “bible,” so that she could make her cartoon debut.
“We never considered or wrote She-Ra to be the ‘ideal woman,” Straczynski recently tweeted. “We […] considered her a warrior, first and foremost […] Anyone looking back at She-Ra […] as the ‘ideal woman’ is doing so through the lens of prepubescent (since it was aimed at kids) interest. […] I get it, but that wasn’t the creative intent.”
Regardless of the writing, the lack of freedom for the Barbie brigade at Mattel meant She-Ra’s original proportions were that of an idealized young woman whose spine would collapse under the weight of her perky plastic chest if she were real. Though She-Ra is now considered to be a flawed feminist icon, it still seems strange that a character whose creation was driven by calculated corporate strategizing is today being held in such high esteem by the many angry She-Ra fanatics that have suddenly appeared out of the woodwork after 30 years of what we can only assume was deliberate silence, awaiting the return of a character that many at Mattel blame for contributing to He-Man toy sales taking a nosedive in the late ’80s. (Now that really is a ruined childhood.)
On the other hand, She-Ra’s new look, which looks for all the world like the realistically toned physique of a warrior princess who has been crushing other people’s spines since she was in diapers, just as Straczynski intended, DOESN’T have really big boobs.
Instead, we just have reams of long, flowing blonde hair, a mini-skirt and the words “She” and “Princess” in her name to try and work out what the hell gender “Androgynous-Ra” even is. C’mon, Netflix, are you trying to lose the adult male audience that She-Ra never had in the first place? It’s not like they can turn to a wealth of other cartoons, TV shows, films, video games, anime or just about any superhero comic to get their fix of satisfyingly titilating female flesh.
But, perhaps it’s unfair to call out fans mourning the loss of She-Ra’s sex appeal as sexist when they had the same criticism of Lion-O in ThunderCats Roar. Except that they didn’t, because, as Straczynski also points out: “Male characters tend to be idealized in form and proportion; but female characters tend to be objectified.”
Control over She-Ra’s image — and the images of similar characters — has become a rallying cry for older, largely male consumers who are frustrated that the current trend in Western animation style doesn’t call for the same level of definition in human body shapes that was fashionable decades ago. Rather than recognizing that animation, like any art form, goes through periods of certain styles being more prevalent than others, these fans appear to be convinced that they’ve uncovered an insidious conspiracy to de-gender cartoon characters. “Netflix is clearly afraid afraid of She-Ra looking like a beautiful woman,” @Daddy_Warpig tweeted, while @Diversity&Cmx resorted to homophobic bashing of the creator: “Boyish lesbian reimagines She-Ra as a boyish lesbian.”
Some adult detractors claim that it’s not the fact that their sexuality isn’t being catered to that’s the real problem, though. No, the real victim here is the effect a teen heroine with an A-cup will have on the sexualities of the actual target audience.
You know… children.
“This propaganda that girls have to be unfeminine has to end,” Bob Taylor commented on YouTube. “I don’t want oversexualized characters at all,” another critic writes, “but by making all characters undersexualized will give [them] the same self esteem problems, but to sexy girls.”
God forbid a young girl grow up watching She-Ra and the Princesses of Power thinking that looking like anything less than a Barbie-esque bombshell of feminine perfection is acceptable. How will she ever have enough “self-esteem” to land herself a man who was robbed of the chance to influence the media she consumed so that she wouldn’t grow up to be too “unfeminine” for him to find attractive?
Unfortunately for them, Stevenson is instead concerned with crafting a story that is about a young woman “finding her strength.” Anyone looking for a strong but more curvaceous version of She-Ra will just have to console themselves by watching the original series on Netflix, which is probably a better way to honor the legacy of an ’80s classic than sending angry tweets about cartoon breasts.