I’m an artist. That means I have to know about character design and how to make characters look the part. For example, an energetic innocent character might have eyes that sparkle and a big grin, while a more reserved character might have hair that covers their face and a nervous gaze. Creating characters that convey a personality without opening their mouth is a big part of good character design.
You may have noticed that villains (I’m looking at you, Disney) often have similar traits. A large hooked nose, a thin face, or physical disabilities. Often they’re also flamboyant and or plus-sized. When I write it out here, it seems like an obvious problem that natural human variation is associated with villainy in the media, but you’d be surprised how hard it is to spot when these features are used on evil characters when we see it just. So. Much.
It’s bad enough that the media connects specific traits with evil, but have we considered what this means for children watching cartoons and seeing traits they may have portrayed as nefarious (and by extension, ugly)? Villains should be defined by their actions, not how they look. I am so, so sick of seeing the same villains with the same round body, the same hooked nose, the same long face, the same disabilities, etc. Character design lies in expression and clothing, not in regular human traits.
If we think critically about traits associated with evil, it becomes clear pretty quickly how disgusting they are. Ethnic traits, disability, queerness, and certain body shapes are linked with villains in a way that screams “white Anglo-Saxon” beauty standards. We should be creating more heroes with these traits, not more villains. We need to show people that everyone is beautiful and everyone can be a hero.
If you are an artist, please consider how your character designs are created. Are they really reflecting their personality through their expression, or is it through their body and face? If you find you’re defining characters through their physical appearance, maybe rethink where you’re getting those ideas from.
If you are curious about learning more about media villains and the traits associated with them, consider doing further research on Jewish-coded, Arab-coded, queercoded, fatphobic, and amputee villains. There are many other problematic villainous characters, but these are the most prominent tropes I’ve noticed.