Parents, ask yourself this – do you know what your kids are watching on TV or YouTube? Not just which show, but the characters and themes of the content?
If your son or daughter happen to be into Steven Universe – the American animation from Cartoon Network with millions of cult-like fans – you’ve got nothing to worry about.
The cartoon, which first aired in 2013, has risen to dizzying highs in popularity. Created by Rebecca Sugar and inspired by her brother, it features a boy – Steven Universe – who lives with three female characters known as the Crystal Gems. They’re a group of humanoid aliens with special powers they’re able to channel through their gems. Steven (who is half-Gem) helps them protect the world in each episode.
In the six years the program it has been on air, Steven Universe has been applauded for its positive influence on children’s self-esteem through both the themes within the episodes and the diversity of its characters.
Beauty brand Dove recognised this and partnered with Cartoon Network to create a series of confidence and esteem-related short animated films, aired on the network as ads.
Creator Rebecca Sugar has commented in the past about why she launched the show and her own struggles with body image.
“I created Steven Universe because I wanted the show that I never had growing up,” said Rebecca. “Cartoons are an incredibly powerful medium when it comes to empathy and understanding.”
“I have struggled, and continue to struggle with body confidence. I used to have difficulty eating. I took very poor care of myself, and cared only about drawing. I used to be very against beauty as a concept, and wanted to celebrate ugliness with my drawings, to find a way to show the beauty in an ugliness that I felt in myself. But I shifted my thinking around the start of Steven Universe.”
“I simply had a different idea of beauty that I hadn’t seen represented – one I hadn’t figured out yet – that I wanted to search for and express. I could see it everywhere, in the people I loved, and even sometimes in myself. I’m still exploring this. I think that animation could help girls, and non-binary children, develop a positive image of themselves if they are able to take control of that image by defining it for themselves,” Rebecca said.
The partnership is an extension of the work Dove has been doing in the space of body positivity over the past 14 years as part of the Dove Self Esteem Project.
The aim was to target younger girls (and boys) by harnessing the influence of the Steven Universe characters to deliver messages of acceptance and body-confidence – and to shed light on bullying and comparisons.
The themes and script was developed in conjunction with an Australian professor, Dr.Phillippa Diedrichs – who is a body image research psychologist – to ensure the messages had a measurable positive impact.
The second ep, all about competing and comparing looks, dropped on July 16 and has already racked up close to half a million views on YouTube alone.
In addition to the remaining mini-episodes which will launch across the rest of 2018 and into 2019, a special anthem, We Deserve To Shine, was also created.
The cartoon clip and song was uploaded to YouTube on July 18 and has had almost one million views in five days.
The song spreads messaging that everyone is different and that in spite of, or in-fact because of that, everyone should get to feel happy and important. In a behind-the-scenes clip of the making of the song, Rebecca talks to the fact that Steven Universe has always aimed to challenge the perception of what ‘normal’ is.
“With this project there was a really interesting challenge which was that, at the core of it, it was about realness. Real bodies. Real people. Something that would counter this very fabricated image of what normal is…Steven Universe is designed to help kids with body confidence and body image by just showing charters with different bodies experiencing happiness.”
The remaining episodes of the Dove and Steven Universe partnership will be shown on TV on Cartoon Network over the next two years. You’ll also be able to watch them on YouTube.