I grew up with teenage soap operas, as did many other Gen-Zers. I grew up obsessing over CW teen dramas, like “Gossip Girl,” “The Vampire Diaries” and “Riverdale,” to name a few. Their story lines are exciting, filled with love stories, backstabbing, tears and endless drama.
One thing CW’s teen dramas are notorious for is their casting. Their main characters look as if they were biologically engineered for perfection. As much as I enjoyed watching these attractive actors and actresses, their perfection can exacerbate young viewers’ underlying self esteem issues.
Typically, the cast members are significantly older than the characters they’re playing. Blake lively was 20 years old when she was casted to be 17-year-old Serena van der Woodsen in Gossip Girl. Similarly, Cole Sprouse was cast as 18-year-old Jughead Jones at the age of 27 in Riverdale. Obviously, a 17 year old does not look like a young adult, which props up unrealistic beauty standards for the teenagers who watch these shows.
Also, these actors and actresses seem to have the same body type. For women, there is the standard of a slim figure, toned and tall. For men, they are all fit, and we cannot forget about their abs. The lack of body type diversity leads to regular people not seeing themselves represented in the ideal world of television.
The limited body types on television can have detrimental consequences. A study conducted by Centro di Psicologia Clinica e Analisi del Comportamento in Italy concluded that television show’s portrayal of women was correlated with eating disorders in teenage girls.
Despite their efforts to have more diverse casts, CW’s casts still reflect mainstream cultural standards. Take for instance Riverdale character Veronica Lodge, played by Camila Mendes. Mendes comes from a Brazilian background, but it’s much less clear where exactly the character Veronica is from.
CW poorly portrays the Latinx culture. All they do to showcase it is have Veronica take part in “Spanglish” scenes and have her mother call her “mija” — the Spanish colloquial word for “my daughter.”
Also, the main characters in “The O.C.,” “Gossip Girl” and “Riverdale” are typically blonde, with the exception of “Vampire Diaries.” Blonde hair has become associated by society with youth, attractiveness, dependence and warmth. That could certainly contribute to why blonde women are often cast into shows’ leading roles. However, doing so equates being blonde to being popular, loved and beautiful. For those who don’t have that hair color, these de facto associations can make those qualities feel out of reach.
Similar to blonde hair, casts are often primarily white. This monolithic cast has led to the valorization of whiteness. When characters are both attractive and white, that combination equates whiteness to beauty.
Hollywood shows have primarily white casts because of the creators’ own biases. According to a study conducted by UCLA, creators of new shows for the 2017-18 season were 91 percent white and 84 percent male. A non-diverse production team not only reflects whose stories get told, but also whose stories are not. The same study revealed that, in 2017, nearly 40 percent of the U.S. population is composed of minorities. Yet, so few shows and films have ethnic people casted as more than extras.
One example of a show that has done a terrific job of curating a more diverse and inclusive cast is HBO’s teen drama “Euphoria.” They showcase different body sizes, ethnicities and the LGTBQ community. Shows like “Euphoria” highlight the importance of a diverse cast and representations of beauty.