Reminiscing childhood favourites: gen z female role models in the 2000’s TV shows
Looking back to my childhood years, they are full of bright colours and glitter. I guess part of it is due to the shimmering atmosphere that surrounded the kids’ TV shows and movies that defined the Gen Z. Despite all the nostalgia–which comes more often that I would like to admit–the female role models in Disney Channel, Winx Club and Barbie, were not the healthiest to look at for young girls in terms of beauty standards, self-image and gender roles.
My school friends and I used to pretend that each of us was one of the Winx Club fairies. As they were older, beautiful, and smart, it was normal that our younger selves aspired to be like them. However, despite the dazzling and sparkly outfits, Winx Club failed to represent body diversity. In a post-feminist era, for a woman to be successful, not only must she be smart and independent, she must also be canonically beautiful. Instead of promoting self-love, 2000’s shows only represented an infinitesimal portion of women: extremely thin girls with impossible wasp waists. Barbie movies also portrayed hyperfeminine figures, which urged girls to prioritize their appearance from an early age, while accentuating gender stereotypes and denying other ways of exercising girlhood outside of the canon.
Winx Club’s female friendship, racial diversity, and female hero archetype fitted the ‘Girl Power’ values, which called for strong and successful women. Nonetheless, recent studies have attributed girls’ hyper sexualization in social media and popular culture to the ‘Girl Power’ slogan. Disney Princesses’ antagonists were ambitious and powerful but referred as ugly. In the 2000’s, villains were, instead, good-looking. See Sharpay in High School Musical, Tess in Camp Rock or The Trix in Winx Club. However, the ‘Girl Power’ role model imposed during the early 2000’s sexually objectified girls by determining a great part of their worth based on their appearance. As girls sang in HSM3’s ‘A Night to Remember’ they were “dressing to impress the boys.” This creates a sense of false empowerment, as girls feel they own their body when they are subjugated to male’s approval.
Post-feminism compelled girls–as Sharpay sings–to “want the world, nothing less.” Unlike what we used to think, Sharpay wanted to date Troy, not because he liked him, but because of what he represented: the most popular boy in school. As a talented, beautiful and rich girl, she didn’t need Troy to achieve her dreams. And yet, she felt that her success was incomplete without a man by her side. Even in the shows that appeared to portray strong and independent girls, every heroine was necessarily involved in a romantic relationship, as occurred in Winx Club. Likewise, in ‘Barbie and the Diamond Castle’, two boy twins were introduced to ‘help’ the protagonists, although they were self-sufficient. Hence, having a boyfriend wasn’t a complement to girls’ fulfilment, but a requirement.
Still, at the same time Sharpay was being pressured, she was devilized for her ambition and it was the shy, supportive, and submissive Gabriella who won Troy’s heart. This not only led to irrational female rivalries–while male friendships were promoted by giving Troy and Chad a duet–but also encouraged girls to embrace the traditional gender roles in order to appeal the guy. Therefore, girls become modern Cinderellas: passive heroines that must follow societal rules by waiting for the knight with the shining armour to come. Just like Gabriella when she refers to Troy as her fairy tale and a dream when I'm not sleeping, girls romanticized gender roles and toxic gestures, such as Troy giving Gabriella a necklace with the ‘T’ of Troy, as if marking his territory.
Looking back to my childhood years, they are still full of bright colours and glitter. However, now that I’m older, I have realised how these shows have influenced my confidence and relationships. It’s not only an issue of how women’s image is objectified, but also about the behaviours we assume as part of our ‘femininity’. From a very young age, girls are sexualized and become objects of male’s desire in social media, while thinking that they are empowering themselves. Although I will always keep these shows close to my heart, I believe it’s important to question ourselves if the role models portrayed in popular culture truly represent feminist values which encourage girls to embrace sisterhood, self-love and equality.
Header by Brianna Santellan @brianna_santellan