Sexy Fairies Will Destroy Your Daughters: Raunch Culture and Cartoons

I don’t have daughters but I would weep for them if I did.

It all started with a Happy Meal that left a bitter taste in my mouth, because it came with this mask.

winx maccas mask

The figure on the mask kind of shocked me, the highly suggestive depiction of what I could only fathom was supposed to be a fairy, given those gaudy wings. The tiny little hourglass waist with exposed midriff, the knowing look coupled with a textbook gesture of flirtation, neck coyly tilted and hand hovering near the lips to draw attention to the mouth.

I have two boys and no cable TV, so I’d never come across this character before, or Winx Club, the show she is featured in. I really wanted the feedback of my peers to determine whether I was overreacting or over-thinking this one so I posted it in my online mother’s group for discussion. It kick-started a lively and thoughtful series of debates about gender, raunch culture and social conditioning so intense that one of the mothers left the group in distress because she felt she was being personally judged for the choices she made in raising her daughters.

With that in mind, let me just say upfront:

This is not about judging individual mums or dads. This is not about questioning any individual person’s parenting choices. We are all complicit in this, and yet it is bigger than all of us. I had Barbies as a kid. I’ve purchased Barbies for kids. I don’t care if you let your daughters watch Winx Club but I do think that discussing social issues and cultural trends on a broader scale is incredibly valuable and important to do. I’m not claiming I am right. I’m not claiming to have all the answers. These are just my thoughts and observations, no doubt flawed ones at that. It’s a complicated issue, and one I have struggled to capture here in all it’s sprawling complexity.

ANOTHER IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER:

I did NOT make any of these graphics up. I swear. This is ALL taken straight from the official Winx Club website, posted without alteration. Save your OMGs for later. You’ll need them.

There is so much to hate about Winx Club that I could probably devote an entire website to it. I visited the official Winx Club website as inspiration for this post and whilst I wasn’t terribly surprised at what I saw, the sheer onslaught of this pink-hued vomit of stereotypical bilge still depressed and frustrated me. Sure, we all had Barbies when we were kids so Winx Club don’t exactly have the monopoly on this stuff but we also lived in a world without the internet and social media, which amplifies these messages through sheer volume, around-the-clock accessibility and permeation. I would also argue that the content itself is a lot less tame than some of the cutesy depictions we were dealing with as kids, but many would disagree.

Beauty, fashion, parties, boyfriends. This is the stuff of Winx Club. It’s target demographic appears to be tweens and pre-teens.

Wearing the trendiest clothes, attending parties with popular people, doing your nails, coveting high heels. And for god’s sake if you are going to break a nail and get creative, make sure that it is something you can use to decorate yourself with because creating something for its own sake clearly has no merit and no inherent worth in and of itself unless you can accessorise with it.

winx necklace

These are the types of messages our girls are being bombarded with. This is what the world they inhabit is constantly telling them is important, what it is telling them about themselves and their place in it. Winx Club heartily and almost exclusively encourages girls to participate in activities that involve:

  • Grooming themselves to look attractive so they can find boyfriends
  • Making accessories to make themselves look attractive so they can find boyfriends
  • Playing with dolls so they can practice making themselves look attractive so they can find boyfriends

winx super fashionable

And then when our girls are invited to imagine going out for a picnic, we get this poll. It comes as no great surprise that phones, cameras and MP3 players are voted as must-have picnic essentials for any self-respecting post-millenial tween, but things get really interesting when we are presented with the fourth option, which is to take a ball along because “What kind of trip would it be without some exercise!?!”.

exercise poll

Interesting choice of words, “exercise”. Why is that particular option worded that way when it could have just as easily been phrased as “What kind of trip would it be without some FUN?” or “What kind of trip would it be without some PLAYTIME?” or “What kind of trip would it be without some FART-ARSING ABOUT, GETTING HIT IN THE FACE AND HAVING A GIGGLE?”.

Exercise is a very deliberate activity. It implies focus, purpose, determined vigour. It is something that a lot of people do to lose weight and tone up so they can improve their physical appearance or improve health outcomes. I will leave it to you to interpret the relevance of that for young girls, though I can’t imagine that a significant proportion of them have obesity-related heart conditions to consider. It is a very subtle but insidious message being sent there: that girls engage in physical activity with the primary purpose of looking good and maintaining their appearance. Not to have fun, or kill time, or bond with friends or to experience the physicality of their body in active play for its own inherent enjoyment.

I’m anticipating a lot of huffy, “overthinking it” type mental commentary right now. That’s cool, I can wear that. This picture sums it up nicely I think. Here are a bunch of Winx fairies at the beach. They don’t appear to be too heavily invested in play, or engaging with their environment, or interacting with each other, or doing anything other than posing suggestively and fairly unnaturally in a way that serves them up as heavily accessorised eye-candy. Short shorts, freakishly tiny bare midriffs, skimpy swimsuits with necklines that plunge down past the bellybutton, stilettos and 5 inch wedge heels. They aren’t doing anything. They are using their environment and everything in it simply as props to pose with. They are merely decorative.

winx cast beach

But don’t just take my word for it.

I clicked through all the Winx Club profiles and I have to say that Stella was my favourite, because she best exemplifies what I am trying to convey. “You know me, the fashion fairy!”

stella profile

Stella’s world looks a whole lot like this.

stella glasses

You hear that? It’s what’s inside that counts, fairies….

stella mermaid

It’s what’s inside that counts, fairies….

stella boyfriend

It’s what’s inside that counts, fairies….

stella high heels

It’s what’s inside that counts, fairies….

stella lipgloss

And this is what our girls are hearing, loud and clear. It’s what’s inside that counts, fairies, but only if that inside is wrapped in bright, shiny, pretty packaging to begin with. 

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17 thoughts on “Sexy Fairies Will Destroy Your Daughters: Raunch Culture and Cartoons

  1. Love your post! They should be called “Skanks” or “Tarts”. These toys are way too suggestive and what is up with making a necklace of out of flower beads and a tampon with a long string? huh? Who the hell designs these dolls? I will never ever buy these for my daughter or the “brats” dolls. They are degrading to women and do not encourage young girls to step out of the 1950’s (apart from the references to modern technology). Now they should be making bears sexy.. I want to see some sexy bears! You don’t see those around, do you?

  2. Reading this reminds me to tighten the border control around my righteous utopia and send back the Barbie/Winx fairy boats (sorry, it was election day yesterday) to whatever horror show they came from. Bloody hell. Thanks for another great post!

    • I’ve seen the show a fair few times, and it isn’t that bad as far as role models go, except for the fact the girls are very thin. I understand why parents find Winx Club inappropriate for kids because the fairies tend to wear revealing outfits, but it’s an Italian program and in that culture it is not such a big deal.

      • Yes, I have to admit I’d be curious to actually see the characters in context of the show. How they interact with each other, how they behave. It’s such a complicated and nuanced subject, and with no way of knowing just how much “cause and effect” is at play the best we can do is speculate about the influence of media on our kids. Thank you for your thoughtful comment 🙂

  3. I see the point you’re trying to make, but what is wrong with encouraging girls to exercise? Kids are supposed to be healthy, so this form of criticism is just trivial. You make a lot of valid points, but that was not one of them.

    • Thanks for your comment 🙂 I’m all for encouraging girls to exercise, but with an emphasis on health and wellbeing rather than insecurity about their appearance or because they are feeling the pressure to live up to (sometimes unrealistic) societal expectations.

  4. I’d say a lot of this doesn’t make much sense mother or not, I think it’s silly to invest and try to breakdown a show to this extent, I mean you can use Stella as bad image but what about the others who can represent a better image? Also in terms of exercise, that would be kids doing anything that be running around, playing with a ball anything they are exercising. It doesn’t have to be deliberate kids going out and running around is still exercising just as much as kicking a ball around is.

    • Thanks for your comment! It seems we will have to agree to disagree 🙂 I think that taking a critical look at the media our kids are consuming is always a good thing, and whilst I may be off-base with some of my interpretations I think it’s still a valuable exercise. You’re right though – there is good and bad in everything 🙂

  5. They’re girls. I know this will sound bad, but little girls want pretty dolls, and above is what ‘pretty’ is in modern culture. Also, the show is Italian and made for them primarily. Which is why it’s not popular in U.K. Or U.S.
    It’s not a big deal in Italy. Also, all they said was to take a ball and exercise! What you’re saying is dumb, I’m sorry. Exercise is important; you’re just taking the Winx girls’ comments the wrong way. By best looking Stella means the look cute together. She’s a fashion fairy, she likes wearing fashionable clothes like the typical girl! They’re so skinny because again in modest culture that’s what is what is seen as pretty and young girls want ‘pretty’ dolls! And maybe that wrong but it’s not the Winx’s fault. They pose because it’s Italy, ever heard of Milan? Girls are girls, they’re supposed to want to keep shape. Most children hate wearing glasses. You’re being sensitive.

    • I think we’ll have to agree to disagree on this one but I really appreciate your comment. I honestly believe that these kind of things impact on the subconscious mind in many ways.

  6. Who develops and draws these creepy shows? You could have similar content (for better or worse…) without having the characters being so hypersexualized. It makes my flesh creep. I worry honestly less about the effect on my daughter than about the existence of an international chain of creeps that produce and distribute this. What would your sense of judgment and decency look like to come up with this as a children’s show?

    • Have to agree with you, and it’s nice when others see it from the same perspective because I sometimes wonder if I’m guilty of overthinking. I do honestly think that these things have a greater impact than we can ever really know.

  7. Winx club saved my life last year, when I was being bullied and thought I was good for nothing, Winx club teached me to be myself and believe in myself. They’re not just some fairies who only want to look good, they encouraged me to follow my dreams and if I see what I’ve learned so far, I can only say I’m so happy that Winx club was there for me. And they may look a bit skinny, but when I thought I was fat, I looked at the Winx and thought: ‘In real life, they would look like this.’ So I could go on. Winx club is the best thing that ever happened to me. So I was reading this and thought: If Winx club was so bad, I would be a really, really sad girl after 12 years of watching the show. And I’m a happy girl that loves to sing, dance, act, draw and have fun with my friends. And that’s all thanks to Winx club.

  8. I’m just gonna say that I was a kid who grew up on Winx Club, Totally Spies, and the like. I played with Barbie dolls and I owned Bratz dolls. These shows really didn’t force me to do much of anything. In fact, if I ever got tired of Winx, I changed the channel to watch Cyber Chase or something.

    There is the implication that this show is forcing girls to prim themselves up in preparation for a boyfriend, which is something you haven’t provided much evidence of. You’ve shown us a how-to for a beaded accessory that I am to assume was on the official website. Conveniently, you’ve seemed to leave out the instruction that involves forcing a child to complete the craft or face public ribicule for being the last girl on the block to acquire a boyfriend.

    The options for the poll is hardly a thing to break apart and analyze. You’re digging real deep to pull out the idea that exercise focuses on girls who want to be attractive and slim when the generic poll answer is catering to the sportier girls who enjoy the show.
    But then you show the promo image of the girls at the beach and expect to see the Olympics unfolding within the art. The girls are meant to be cute and they’re relaxing at the beach. Or are girls not allowed to be cute?

    Actually, that seems to be a problem. Why is it such an issue that the girls care about fashion? Are you saying it’s bad for girls to think about that stuff? Is Stella a bad influence, distributing back alley fashion tips to unwilling girls? I can’t believe my desire to wear lipgloss as a child was all due to Stella’s forceful hand and not at all thanks to my own mother. Silly me to mix the two up.

    If anything, you judged a book by its cover here. Have you seen the show? There is a decent story to it from what I remember of my childhood. Bloom is essentially coming of age, discovering her powers and being able to ward off evil beside her best friends. You begrudgingly repeat that it is what is on yhe inside that matters, but you’ve hardly followed this statement yourself and immediately slapped the show with the “Mommy has issues” stamp based off a website, some promo art, and a cheap mask. That is hardly enough to make a proper assessment and prove your point.

    I’d hate to see you try to evaluate the appropriateness of any other sort of magical girl show. Nor do I think kids will see what you see. These sorts of shows don’t appeal to kids on the level of becoming the ideal girl and conforming to gender norms. It’s more a matter of “I want to be as strong as this character!” or a “I like this character because of how smart she is!” sort of thing.

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