Representation

In Media, On Writing, The Wider World by BronwenLeave a Comment

When I was a little girl, I looked for echoes of myself on television. I didn’t do this consciously, but looking back I can clearly identify what I was doing.

Chip and Dale’s Rescue Rangers? I liked Gadget. Tail Spin? Rebecca. Rugrats? Lil. Batman? Harley Quinn. Pick a show with a mixed-sex cast and I went straight for the girl character. And there was always just one girl character. Apparently boys will watch so long as the cast is majority male, but tip the females above 40% and CATASTROPHE. Ratings fail. Or so they presume.

I was looking for representations of myself.

At the time, that meant girl. Any girl. (Well, not quite any girl. I wouldn’t stoop to Angelica’s level.)

“Soon, Cynthia. SOON.”

Girl equaled Me. I associated a lot of positive traits with Girl and Me, including smarts and common sense, which my very favoritest girl characters also had. Positive feedback loop. When new girls were introduced on shows, I got excited, because there was a chance this new girl could be even more like me. I really didn’t care if they were bears or elves or Smurfs.

It took me a long time to recognize this for what it was. I listened to people who are not like me–POC, LGBTQ, etc.–talk about representation in media, and how important it is to them, and to kids like them, to be seen. How it hurts to not be represented.

For a long time, I didn’t fully get it. Sure, intellectually, I understood. But emotionally?

I think I was rambling to myself about the gender ratio on kids’ shows when it finally clicked. So many superhero teams of five where only one character was a girl… why did that matter so much to me? Because I wanted to see myself. 

I’d been doing the same thing for years and years, only I was able to latch on to what was given me. And I grew up in a time of relative plenty, the Girl Power 1990s. First I got The Little Mermaid‘s Ariel, then Belle of Beauty and the Beast, effectively reassuring me from preschool that I could be a princess, sing, see the world, etc. I had Barbie. I had Alanna. I had Buffy the goddamn Vampire Slayer, which is like taking a needle full of confidencadrenaline and applying it directly to a tween’s jugular.

I saw myself all over the place. And I still didn’t feel it was enough. I saw Boys taking up more than their fair share.

So how awful must it be for people who find even less to hold onto?

This is why we need diverse books, people. Seeing yourself is a powerful thing. It’s reassuring. It makes you feel seen and worthy. It gives you confidence.

Everyone deserves to have their own Buffy.

Les portraits by telomi on Flickr Creative Commons.

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