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Exploring the Influence and Appeal of Skinny Cartoon Characters


The size-zero debate is rightly focused on living iterations of this ideal rather than drawn ones. However, understanding the appeal of and identifying the cues that drive a preference for very thin body dimensions in cartoon figures can provide valuable insights into the nature of body preferences and an obvious contextual framework for investigating these. The impact of exposure to thin or average-sized female cartoon characters on body dissatisfaction at pre-school ages can be definitively measured, as preschoolers have not yet been socialized for long by peer-led obsession with thinness. The questions could be extended to image influences on attitudes and expectations of body size and shape from a very young age, and whether the messages girls get from watching Disney films or playing with Barbie dolls persist until later measurements of body dissatisfaction can be made.

Background and Significance

In reality, many young children in western society consume cartoons and animated films, and some engage in pretend play, as they develop media savvy. Cartoons and child videos with amusing content provide entertainment that many young children find compelling and frequently choose them as their favorite media. This suggests that young children display interest in which offer collective learning experiences or are embedded with a teaching system.

Overall, cartoons might be designed not only to attract a young child audience by entertaining them but also to guide their knowledge and assist them. In addition to being entertaining, child video viewers are taken as responsible learners and are expected to learn and determine real-world situations. Among this kind of educational cartoons, one kind of skinny character might be placed in a paradoxical category, as those attractive long-legged thin cartoon characters are not authentic, and unrealistic illusion bodies are created.

According to Parent’s Magazine, the image of the famous skinny cartoon character Barbie extends beyond her doll dimension. She appears in storybooks, school supplies, birthday cakes, candy, toiletries, and cosmetic lines, often portrayed as an adult. Older children, mainly young girls, might be influenced by the skinny cartoon character due to its influence on girls at a young age, encouraging social meaning and identity. They may ultimately prefer looking younger, including perpetually youthful images and developing fashion that having Paris Hilton and Bratz dolls as role models and through popular media such as television might explain.

The beauty ideal promulgated by the United States entertainment media has changed, and thin and skinny women are portrayed in a majority of media images. As a result, the ideal is becoming increasingly extreme. A considerable body of research has been conducted on the influence of thin female models and mannequins associated with the social comparison process and body dissatisfaction, but the phenomenon of skinny body images in children’s products, such as Barbie dolls and Disney princesses, has received less critical attention.

Purpose and Scope of the Study

The primary purpose of the study, then, is to test whether character thinning (aggressive models who thin in bridging the immediate culture), the nature of roles and catchphrases, and the humor type all influence motivational, cultivation, and inoculation thinning effects as extensions of the entertainment-education model. And to measure character attractiveness and the realism to be of a thin acceptable level, or of a thin unacceptable level, or of a thin desirable level. To answer these questions, the research reviews the existing literature and uses portable Video iPods to conduct subjects in multiple conditions. 

Preliminary work on thinning effects analyzed the characters. In response, this study examines the influences of these character attributes, interpersonal relations, and character abilities to thin in bridging the immediate culture on thinning effects. Only after a clear understanding of their abilities in various ways can the mechanism of how character exposure influences thinning effects in turn be understood.

To measure these relationships, it is necessary to explore the character-specific abilities to thin in various ways.

Using self-report measures, the study tests three hypotheses: (1) experiences of exposure to cartoons are related to young adults’ body satisfaction; (2) experiences of exposure to cartoons are related to young adults’ body image self-consciousness; and (3) the relationships between exposure to cartoons and body satisfaction and self-image consciousness are mediated by thinning motivational processes.

Most of the research on body images focuses on issues of food, weight, and physical activity. In recent years, the cosmetic surgery industry has undergone an enormous boom that can be attributed in part to waning societal standards for non-surgical body image improvement and increased access to these surgical options. Most of the work that examines the media’s influence on body satisfaction has focused on the effects of exposure to content such as movies, television shows, songs, advertising, and fashion magazines. This research explores the relationship between the experiences of exposure to childhood media and young adults’ body satisfaction.

Defining Skinny Cartoon Characters

Body mass index (BMI), the measure of body fat that accounts for height, can be used to designate categories of “underweight,” “normal weight,” “overweight,” and “obese.” If the term “skinny” is meant to describe characters who are underweight, then a BMI referencing their endorsement or portrayal might connect the values of such characters with those watching them, adding another dimension to the depiction-response relationship. Characters that endorse low BMIs are very thinly depicted characters, exemplifying what Dittmar et al. refer to as body-representation ambivalence, about the desirability of the thin ideal. Recognizing the extreme thinness of such characters may be important since struggling to attain (or maintain) low BMIs increases adolescents’ risk of developing eating pathologies, namely anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder.

By considering both these terms separately and together, we can hypothesize that first, a “skinny” character is one with a gaunt skeletal-like appearance, especially in contrast to the normally proportioned or overweight characters, with waistlines that are normal or larger than mentioned by Reinhard and Wissmath. Earlier, Fouts et al. assessed the body shape of modern Disney princes and found them to have mean waist-to-hip ratios (WHRs) that fell into the “fit” category suggested by the Center for Disease Control, while modern Disney princesses had WHRs at the “underweight” level. However, when the authors operationalized the codes to incorporate specific thresholds for WHR, this would have failed to indicate that some of these characters could have possibly been designed with WHRs that made them eligible to be in the “underweight” category.

Characteristics and Traits

Given that such a phenomenon has not been researched in the past, we define skinny characters as follows. A skinny character is an animated or sketched two-dimensional human-like character that has the visual appearance of a very skinny (underweight) individual, that is, a body type that is significantly different from a normal person. Such characters have long and slim legs, arms, and body shapes, few contours, and defined muscles, which reflect the characteristics of underweight and malnourished human bodies. Also, they do not have natural corporeal forms which are supported by the physiological structure of human beings, namely having a particular body size, body shape, the line of the waist, and a thin waistline. Furthermore, these have jawlines that are very vague. 

Such characters have visual characteristics that differ significantly from what is perceived to be the traditional, accepted body ideal of Western societies. The human body becomes thin or underweight for various reasons in different disciplines, such as high-level athletes, activity-dependent school students, different illness types, malnutrition, anorexia nervosa, etc. A more detailed definition of skinny characters depends on how these characters are drawn. In our work, we explore the visually underweight animated characters drawn by third parties that have been displayed or generated from digital platforms for watching streaming media content, such as animations, vlogs, social media platforms, and digital movie theaters.

The visible physical characteristics and traits of characters are understood to have a profound impact on consumer relationships with them. The physical appearance of famous characters, such as Disney’s Mickey Mouse, relates to his high appeal across different generations and countries. The same applies to the body shapes and sizes of non-human characters, such as Winnie the Pooh, a fat bear, or Eeyore, a donkey with a tiny tail. In this paper, we focus on the appeal of skinny cartoon characters. In doing so, we aim to fill a gap in previous studies by considering only one particular body ideal, specifically the skinny ideal, because of its potentially harmful social consequences. However, no study to date has explored the influence and appeal of thin animated characters. Therefore, in the present paper, we assume that a gap in the literature exists involving character body diversity.

Evolution in Animation History

Television and cable networks are now regarded as the most common places to find animated media content. The strong consumption appeal in animated media aimed at both children and adults has sparked interest from corporations seeking to promote consumer acceptance of merchandise, including toys, DVDs and branding and character endorsement for food and clothing. Buyers face iconic balance manipulation in animated media because creative company work prioritizes the need for characters to be found and willingly accepted; due to financial means, companies want as many people as possible to find some level of appeal. Companies do not necessarily require everyone should actually purchase but that the character image established creates positive associations towards suggestions for product purchase.

 A character’s physical appearance is crucial in order to gain mass popularity and keep a character in a memory dominant mental template. “After all, the ability to recognize an appearance is critical for consumers considering selecting items or being willing to provide financial support or a repeat visit at company cycle times.” Prospective considerations suggest the use of changes in physical attributes such as intended body shape across cartoon characters can promote respect and aggressive behavior for those portrayed in passive or authoritative-viewed roles. Such impact considerations would particularly apply to skinny drawings that could further perceived superiority of thinness.

With computer animation software, characters can easily be designated to take on impossibly narrow features that, when considering human anatomy, would leave said characters malnourished. Skinny body ideals and body image disturbance have been increasingly examined through studies exploring animated media characters. Despite the growth evident in this research field, the lion’s share of studies focuses on children. Specialized research gauging adult perceptions indicates that adults notice the promotion of skinny ideals and that perceived body size affects how individuals interpret scenes with particular animated media characters. Nevertheless, they are generally not motivated to extend serious concern, and resulting discussions about extreme and often actual pro-skinny promotion through a computer-based regimen have been ignored. Such disinterest is curious because how to obtain and ingest drawn body images digitally began in the adult demographic.

Analyzing the Popularity and Impact

Apart from earlier, very rare exceptions, in Ghostbusters, the team does actually save the world, but it is faith in one of the groups that is important. In these two films, the collective of three upstages are larger, more professional groups. 1990s films reflect the new emphasis on a particular individual further. The main character of Jurassic Park is placed ahead of a variety of scientists “with little to lose,” but only he understands the system – or at least the particular dinosaurs – and no cheerleaders will be present to convince us about group success. In Twister, the corporate team disgrace themselves when they try to steal his invention, leaving the “eccentric” hero to rush off into danger alone.

Speed and agility also characterize the “skinny” stereotype, emphasizing the importance and effectiveness of these smaller characters. This seems to reflect a broader cultural backlash against large institutions and large physical objects. At the same time, as Star Wars has launched a huge, rapid spaceship as the venue for a vast galactic adventure, still another force emerges as a source of hope: a small green hero. Alien too features a great machine and plenty of collateral damage. Can ordinary people really rise to the challenge? Then Alien offers the idea that large institutional systems fail, whereas an isolated individual can win through. Simultaneously, stories of the 1970s and 1980s started promoting a negative image of any kind of group or team: a variety of viewers and critics began to quote a supposed inability of small user groups to work, but they did not provide any concrete evidence.

Cultural Representation and Stereotypes

There are already some examples in the literature of research into the narrow aesthetic limits of female bodies in women’s media and how these stereotypes create a never-ending cycle of quality of life issues. Children’s media rarely features characters with size or disability differences. This applies from the simple lack of diversity in body shapes to the continuing practice of casting non-disabled actors to play disabled roles, rather than providing jobs for actors with disabilities. These stereotypes all have knock-on effects on the expectations and aspirations of the people being stereotyped, but they also serve as a logical focus for research and activism.

Several concepts from cultural studies have relevance for the development and communication of stereotypes about body image and appearance. Cultural representation has the potential to reinforce social norms, particularly orienting towards the audience for whom the text is produced. This implication suggests that in children’s media where children are the target audience, representation may serve to accustom children to the aesthetics of their society. Ideally, in a diverse society this would suggest a wide range of body types in the characters with which children engage. Children’s media is notable for its regular and stereotypic presentation of gender. 

This includes assumptions about gender differences and the valuing of these differences, with a tendency for the characters that are representative or powerful to represent the gender of the target audience, i.e., real men or boys are supposedly attracted to strong male characters and the primary role of females in texts is that of a love interest. While in some cases children’s media contains non-traditional relationships, it is often adult media that features transgender themes or prominent homosexual characters.

Psychological and Societal Perspectives

Media may influence the body types of cartoon characters, but it is important to appraise the fact that individual consumers may determine to some extent how their body should look. Cartoon characters mirror recurring values of a period and ties tenseless relations with their fans. Investigating the selected food preferences and cartoon characters’ body shapes from a Personality-Trait perspective that influences individual food choices is likely to bring new insights. Furthermore, usually when dealing with celebrities’ priorities and strategies in relation to food products, researchers focus on specific groups of celebrities, and movie characters are analyzed. The sense of the celebrity changes radically when dealing with a cartoon character.

Food can no longer be only approached from a physiological and nutritional perspective. When a particular physical type scores over another, the reasons behind such preference have to delve into individual psyche: one’s self-concept, one’s aspirations with respect to body conformation and the Food-Personality trait. However, various authors have already pointed to a change in advertising’s and comics’ depictions of food and food-related cues, and noted an increased impression management and identity development through products. But the study of the values involved and the mechanisms that determine what and why one would like to eat or what and why one’s favorite star likes to eat is still in its infancy.

Case Studies of Iconic Skinny Cartoon Characters

In this case, the appearance of Asexual definitely comes directly from Olive Oyl, Popeye’s girlfriend. Olive is visible from both the very weak musculature (very small shoulders and forearms) commonly found among Asians, and the severe overbite. The severe overbite is an unusual feature in animated characters, which makes Olive highly recognizable due to the uniqueness of her appearance. Her large and beady eyes are almost exactly what Asexual has, further confirming the influence of Olive Oyl. 

Olive’s long neck is another distinctive feature of her physique, possibly establishing the connection between neck length and neck muscles. Olive’s bulging forearms, one of the factors of Popeye’s attraction, are characteristic of bodybuilding, suggesting the attraction arises from such body ownership_segmentation_scenario representations rather than a counter-stereotypical look. The iconic look and very strong social influence of Olive Oyl will be capable of affecting the PVX demand of younger cartoonist females, according to the study’s framework.

To illustrate the features of strong influence portrayed by the iconic skinny character, the article now examines some of the most popular skinny cartoon characters, including Olive Oyl, Olive, Bambi, Tinker Bell, and The Pink Panther. These characters are selected not simply for being “skinny”, but they are also recognized by the general public, while having various levels of social influence, as specified in the proposed study. For the most part, the skin-and-bone look of these characters does not attract ridicule, with some exceptions, in the shapes of hideous monster characters, exotic aliens, or evil witches.

Character Analysis and Development

Physical appearances category: Since altered character creation may influence children’s preference for certain physical appearances, identifying physical appearances has been linked to intellectual and emotional outcomes in children. Three themes categorized under this category capture the whole concept of these physical appearances. First, bodily interaction refers to any playful scene between opposite-sex characters where a protective male character has a playful exchange with a physically passive female character. Secondly, romantic pairings refer to scenes in which male and female characters are both affiliated with the same narrative world and typically exhibit a chivalrous interaction where the males’ actions depict males as either tolerant, helpful, or caring. The final type of physical appearance involves a sexual invitation, which captures clear sexual signs within the playful exchange scene (e.g., provocative dress).

Given the potential influence of skinny character depictions in children, further understanding fat and thin character depictions becomes critical. To address this issue, the first tier coding included a character analysis and development strategy. Focusing on the content, participants used open coding to develop categories to help them better understand the data. More specifically, participants created labels for categories they developed during the character analysis stage. This step included generating and applying codes to the text. Here, participants created categories and then categorized the various appearances of fat characters or thin characters if present. Categories that resulted include physical characteristics, character relationships, character conflict strategies, narrative factors, and character outcomes. These categories were then used in developing more targeted strategies to understand the data more deeply in order to create explanations.

Fan Base and Merchandising

Parents and peer group relationships serve as markers of social class. Quite often, those of lower social class are not able to expose adults or children to different characters or products. Therefore, even if fans can be loyal to certain screens, loyalty really involves repurchasing the same merchandise without deep questioning or examination of the merchandise. Preschoolers — who get to know the Skinny animated world — exert ‘pester power’ by insisting parents buy them all sorts of different merchandise about the specific character, that range from a crucial toy and the book linked to the movie and sometimes even branded clothing and consumables. For many of them, ‘I like this character’ or ‘I like this movie’ expresses the number of times they have been exposed to marketing — mainly TV ads shown several times during various cartoons. The same can be said for toy stores that cleverly placed these sorts of products in the path of children who drag their parents to the store.

Numerous characters that have cropped up in cyberworlds seem to have been animated with a slim bias. The contribution of these slimming animations underlines the discourse that prevails in media depictions of the human image, especially the slim ideal (i.e., the belief that a very slim figure is an essential aspect of femininity, beauty, and social and physical attractiveness). A plethora of studies have concluded that cartoons targeted at children rarely depict any physically obese characters. Indeed, from a merchandising point of view, movies and comics aimed at kids have adopted slim characters as leading actors, because slimness is considered to be appealing to both sexes. One of the few studies that concentrated on merchandising for young kids demonstrated that girls can purchase various items of clothing, toys, and room decor featuring images of ultra-slim characters, identifying with characters’ personalities and beauty. Not all of the merchandise, however, is related to these aspects: The characters are also often associated with team symbols, style, and femininity.

Implications for Animation Industry

It was necessary to consider the multiple dimensions of ethnicities and body shapes in different age groups. Children who were entering the adult era would not use convenient figures to attribute simply ethnic units over the characters, and needed more diverse role models. It was also necessary to consider the fact that animation contents had an impact on what children thought might be of concern to them. It was necessary to maintain the character’s unique features and innocence, which children cared about. The future study could test the perception effects related to the heavy build and the overweight builds to see if the results were similar. At the same time, it was thought that the crux of diversity in the visual world was how to express the full range of body forms that showed natural, rather than the political or declarative diversity.

These results may provide valuable information for animations, animation marketers, and animation merchandise developers. Television animations were a form of media entertainment that allowed people to visually and audibly enjoy the contents. Using animations or animation figures for children’s toys had continuous high sales, so this study targeted children in the age group of 7-12. Children in this age group were easily affected by outside factors and were in a growth stage, and thus had many needs for toys. There were limited advertising options for young children, so broadcasting the advertisements about animations that the production company prepared at the dinner time also enhanced the animation frequency. The results could be a reference for both marketers and production companies. Children perceived underweight characters as cute, which was an interesting result. Although today promoting a slim figure in animations was really a common strategy, for children, it was painful to go on a diet over a slim figure. Also, people wanted to be close to an ideal situation. That was a reason why children were willing to be slim, and why children were willing to be close to the thin figure through toy collecting. Due to the constant inclusion of slim figures in children’s animations, the slim figure toys market size had increased, as well.

Summary of Key Findings

This unattainable thin beauty trend is especially enforced by role models who resemble fantasy clones complete with surgically modified attributes and ultra slimness, and thereby create self-evaluative dissatisfaction. These top glamour celebrities are a physical destination, setting a new numeric thin-ideal weight to achieve; and the context of selected movie characters are economically successful, congruent with slim attributes.

Given the typical depiction of skinny beauty ideals in symbolic media contents, the media and these unrealistic characters are estimated to have a large influence on how women value their bodies today. A growing body of evidence supports the hypothesis that consistent exposure to thin idealized figures across diverse media channels provides an established norm that is subsequently internalized by women, which encourages aspired self-change towards the unattainable image. Consequently, body image is majorly affected by perceived divergence from the female beauty norm, and women start evaluating and valuing their bodies more extremely as they compare themselves to these perfected beauty ideals.

In terms of women’s value-related evaluations, the study revealed that both types of characters were commonly perceived as beautiful, and unrealistic sample characters appear to be construed as beautiful to a greater extent compared to slim or normal weight celebrities. In terms of women’s narrative-related evaluations, the unrealistic sample characters were perceived to be less positive and less successful than the celebrities and normal weight characters.

In the present study, we examined thinness stereotypes, social comparison, women’s perceptions, and implications of two frequently observed types of non-realistic thin-idealized female characters, which we labeled as skinny iconic cartoon characters and skinny realistic cartoon characters. Our findings provide a number of original contributions that offer deeper insights into these phenomena.

Conclusion and Future Directions

The above interviews show that body dissatisfaction is still considered a fundamental human trait. Not only teenage girls (who are frequently under investigation in body image research) but also boys, adult women, and people from different cultures systematically compared themselves with the characters. The variety indicates that the body dissatisfaction and character’s appeal through the desire to look like them phenomenon is neither restricted to nor created by just one cultural factor. Regardless of differences, personal, academic, or applied implications, it is important that this paper brings attention to the fact that not only romantic movies and music videos but also animated cartoon characters (many of which present idealized or hyperidealized characteristics) evoke mainly products of a multibillion-dollar industry that help enforce societal beauty standards that favor very thin body shapes.

After all, our recent slide into striving for artificially perfect beauty should urge policymakers and media professionals to consider the stereotypes and beauty norms people are exposed to and possibly drawn into. The regulation of digital enhancing techniques might be useful. Also, incorporating alternatives in the cartoon selection or creation process is recommended.

Overall, the results show that participants’ desire to look like a certain character significantly mediates an effect of body dissatisfaction on characters’ appeal. Our data suggest that skinny characters are indeed more appealing to audiences who are unhappy with their own body. Also, the ridiculously skinny characters appear to fulfill this idea. The mediating role of the desire to look like certain characters might offer an explanation for mixed results of previous research. Although some research does not find stereotypical beauty standards reflected back in Hollywood’s creations, the present effect at least holds within the context of animated characters. If the psycho-behavioral route holds equally for other characters, this paper can be interpreted as the missing link in the puzzle between media effects and stereotype research.



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