It’s no secret that toys with stereotypical gender traits or unrealistic characteristics have a negative (or at least undue) influence on body image. Earlier this year, CNN reported that “as recently as 2006, a British study found that ‘girls exposed to Barbie reported lower body esteem and greater desire for a thinner body shape’ than those who had been given dolls reflecting larger body types or no dolls at all.” The same holds true for what kids and teens see in the media: ProjectKnow, an informational website promoting education about addiction and recovery, cites a study which “revealed that nearly half of girls aged 13 to 17 wish they were as thin as fashion magazine models.” Moreover, the site also notes 20.1% of 11- and 12-year-old girls and 18.5% of boys in that same age group are dissatisfied with their bodies.
According to ProjectKnow, cartoons are one of the worst offenders in terms of improbable body shapes. In fact, to illustrate how unrealistic most animated characters look, the site reverse-Photoshopped iconic figures to make them look like modern teenagers. The results are striking: Daria’s thigh gap is gone, while the Teen Titans version of Robin and Scooby-Doo’s Shaggy aren’t quite so lanky. Gohan from Dragon Ball-Z, meanwhile, loses his defined upper arm muscles. “In many ways, teenage cartoon characters are stuck in the past,” ProjectKnow explains. “Their body shapes have drifted further away from an image that most people can relate to: They idealize a body type that’s increasingly unattainable for many.”
ProjectKnow based its cartoon revisions on body mass index (BMI) data from the CDC, an assessment which aims to indicate if someone is overweight (or underweight) by measuring body fat. As a caveat, BMI numbers aren’t necessarily accurate gauges of health: As science has become more sophisticated, experts have pointed out that BMI numbers can’t tell the difference between fat and muscle, or separate out good vs. bad fats. That means someone who’s perfectly healthy could be told to lose weight, for example. So while there’s no denying that human body shapes have evolved over time—and that cartoon characters have been remarkably stagnant, to the detriment of impressionable viewers—not everyone may agree with this ProjectKnow exercise. Who knows, good ol’ Daria might be first in line to object to her body revisions, with her trademark deadpan sneer.