Self-Image and the Teenage (Anime) Girl


I know it’s a character design quirk, but I really want to give Iwai (and Mikasa, for that matter) a barrette so that they could pin their hair back. How could they stand to have their hair right between their eyes all the damn time? I only speak from personal experience — it happened to me all the time in sixth grade (when I decided to give myself bangs ’cause I thought it made me look cuter) and I swear I got cross-eyed staring at the stray strands of hair that always fell in my line of vision. Since then, I swore off bangs and have pretty much lived in a ponytail ever since.

Anyhow, there was a small moment in Red Data Girl this week that prompted this post: when Izumiko and Miyuki were studying in the library, Takayanagi strolls by and makes a little comment about Izumiko and her long her, and she reacts to this by self-consciously running her hands down her braids and looking down and away from him. It’s no secret that Izumiko has confidence issues, but even in this short meeting, with no words being exchanged between her and Takayanagi, she was able to communicate clearly her self-perception of her body.

I’ve written about adolescent issues in RDG previously, so the show’s treatment of Izumiko and her “normal” development in her not-normal situation has already primed my interest. Despite the supernatural phenomena occurring around her, Izumiko continues to live and act as a normal teenage girl. When she tells Manatsu that she’s not good at anything, she’s downplaying herself. She’s good at coping with stressful situations, bouncing back from events that would traumatize anybody else, and staying as resilient as ever. Of course, given that she’s focusing all of her energies in dealing with stress, she obviously doesn’t have the time to work on other hobbies and interests, so yes, she’s not good at a lot of things simply because she can’t. It’s also not just her — if you think about all the teenage anime characters, male and female, who’ve had to deal with their own brand of crazy situations, it’s a wonder any of them even leave their houses in the morning.

Yet, as a teenager, Izumiko isn’t proud of her amazing coping skills; she’s more worried about looking cute and blending in her new school. When Mayura changes her hairstyle for the first day of school, Izumiko follows suit, going without her trademark red eyeglasses even though she was warned by her mother never to go without them. Again, the rebellious streak returns and while it may not have been to smartest decision to go without them, at the time, Izumiko didn’t think it was going to be that bad. It’s dramatic irony that we know the significance of the glasses and that Izumiko doesn’t. In changing her outward appearance — with the glasses and the haircut — Izumiko is consciously altering her external image to match her changing self-image. Slowly but surely, she is growing up. And just as surely, she is making these small physical changes to indicate to the world (and perhaps herself) that she is no longer that little girl.

Which leads back to Iwai…prior to meeting Kiri, she had stopped going to school after being constantly bullied by her classmates for her appearance. In her case, her self-image was distorted by the idea that she was a freak because of her hair. So until the daily haircuts with Crime Edge, Iwai must have felt that there was no way to deflect or respond to the taunts and teasing. There’s no way hair could be that long! Something must be weird about her! In Iwai’s situation, the supernatural aspect is much more evident; she knew that she was cursed with this appearance and that there was no solution to fix it until Kiri came along.

With Iwai, the sense of hopelessness was more pervasive. The curse trapped her by removing her (sense of) agency. I was critical of her earlier — thinking that she was not confident enough to solve her own problems — but now I admit that I was wrong. The drawer full of scissors proves that Iwai’s problem isn’t for lack of trying. She didn’t stay in that situation because she wanted to, she stayed there because she didn’t know what else to do.

This is a topic that I think could write about forever. Shoujo series, understandably, cover this territory more frequently, but when series that aren’t primarily meant for girls also tackle this issue, it just goes to prove that it’s an situation worthy of notice. How anime presents a girl’s perception of herself is, in itself, something worth at least a passing interest.


1 thought on “Self-Image and the Teenage (Anime) Girl

  1. On a side note Crime Edge is one of the unsung heroes of this season. Underneath all the fetishism, the writers show a deep understanding of adolescent psyche by using exaggerated metaphor. As teenagers we do this more often than not…

    But back onto the topic, I feel that anime, being a visual medium, has to give visual cues to the audience to effectively narrate character growth. I prefer Red Data Girl because its a lot more subtle. I wish I had more time to discuss the metaphors in both shows though on my own blog but alas my article on genius of Symphogear is still begging to be written. Great post as always 😉

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