Hidden In Plain Sight: The World Of Stereotypes

Hidden in Plain Sight: The World of Stereotypes

Edited by: Lavya Joshi

“Bob, the builder! Can you fix it?”

 “Who lives in a pineapple under the sea: Spongebob square pants!” 

“ScoobyDooby Doo! Where are you?”  

Readers, do these theme songs ring a bell and teleport you back to a time when excitement for an episode and the characters were the central themes of discussion among your friends?

Close your eyes for a minute and think of the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the word ‘cartoon’. We see several faces, theme songs, and signature dressing styles of the animations from our childhood. Mickey-Mouse, Tom and Jerry, Scooby-Doo, Dexter etc. are icons from our childhood that carry with them a deeper meaning and essence that we understood once we grew older. They bring back memories of the innocent smiles and giggles but simultaneously give us a new perspective of the animated world.

Every character to ever show up on television carries with itself a particular type of clothing style that becomes its signature style or mark. We know that the blue cap with a bell at the end belongs to Noddy, the violet dress with the green scarf belonged to Daphne from Scooby-Doo, and the black-shirt blue-jeans combination with shades was our handsome Johnny Bravo.

I'm sure that most of us here at some point have wanted to buy clothes that represent our favourite cartoon character, or dress up like that one character we waited eagerly for on the television, for Halloween.

Today, fashion has gone from being a mere necessity to protect oneself to a statement factor. Having said this, let’s take a small detour and take a sneak peek into the realm of cartoon creation. Every cartoon character depicted on screen is created, keeping in mind a specific set of characteristics that the creator wants to show its viewers. Their clothes and makeup play a significant role in communicating the character’s dimension the creators want us to see.

Disney’s famous princesses, Cinderella, Ariel, Snow White, the list goes on, though all of them might seem different to us, there is something pervasive among them that glares up at us, and that is the way their physical beauty has been modelled. Most of the female protagonists of these movies are attractive, shapely, and feminine looking. They often have narrow necks, well-defined hips, fair skin, and exaggerated eyes. The impeccable portrayal of their flawless features has impacted young ones’ conceptions of the “ideal female.”

Every Disney movie has an evil female villain, be it  Ursula, Cruella De Ville or The Evil Queen. Take a look at their depiction; they are often stereotyped to wearing heavy and dark eye makeup. They usually have extensively exaggerated facial features in comparison to the beautiful princesses. We can draw similar parallels with the portrayals of male protagonists and the supporting evil male villains.

These play a role in shaping one’s notion of ideal beauty. When, in fact, there can be no set beauty standard that a person has to adhere to; beauty is subjective and unique to every individual. 

Girls are often shown in skirts and tight-fitting clothes. Why does the bookworm always wear a pair of round-framed glasses and baggy dull-coloured clothes while the outspoken ones wear glittery, eye-catching, trendy clothes? Why do the characters of a specific portrayal get a particular dressing style?

Fashion also plays a vital role in formulating the first impression. Designer clothes and affluent fashion styles play a significant role in the impact of the first impression. Just by taking a look at this, we perceive the differences in social class and prevent ourselves from developing new relationships across these virtual class boundaries that we ourself created.

Fashion and beauty are two aspects that permeate society and play a determining factor in the “social hierarchy” that we see around us. We subconsciously judge people keeping in mind a false idea that we have nurtured and been exposed to ever since we were young.  

Today, fashion or the combination of products that dress your body is considered as a visual language to put forth the kind of individual you want the society to think you are. It is like your signature mark and identity. Fashion is a means of self-expression, and in today’s world, it has the potential to act as an emblem of social hierarchy. 

These fashion stereotypes, both in the real world and the cartoon realm, let people see only a specific aspect of a character when they could have so much more to offer.

This constant style for every character limits the viewers to perceive the essence of the individual. Even though the sense of fashion is subjective and maybe the characters do like the clothes they have been dressed up in, the depiction is still stereotypical because this is the fashion rule that almost every cartoon follows. 

These preconceived notions prevent the further scope of a change, and, these are often internalised in our lifestyles. It enforces the pre-existing unspoken perception that change is not suited and that stereotypes are valid and accurate.

This plays a role in how we perceive things in life. We look at people according to these set labels that we’ve attached, anything new we find out about that person makes us uncomfortable.

We unknowingly categorise people based on looks and clothes, which defeats the whole purpose of the idea that no two people are the same and that nobody fits into a particular category. 

When people can have different personalities and outlooks, why can’t we be more inclusive when it comes to accepting a specific body type, clothing style, or even a set of facial features? When will we, as the evolving and vibrant generation of this society break these stereotypes and become accepting towards people for the way they are?