Twitter Appraisals of Female Characters in #OnceUponaTime

by Darcy Doran-Myers

Once Upon a Time, a popular ABC television series, debuted a new episode Sunday night (10 November).  Complete with action, romance, drama, and twists on classic fairy tale characters, this series boasts a strong fandom all over the world.  Fans took to Twitter during and after the episode to voice their opinions and reactions to the show.  I am not a Twitter person and have never followed along with the hashtag suggestions or live-tweets advertised at the bottom of the screen.  Thus, I was surprised at the sheer enormity of tweets I had to scroll through tagged with #OnceUponaTime, #OUAT, #savehenry, #CaptainSwan, and more related to the TV show.  Thousands of people had opinions to share and more than a few Twitter accounts were created just to vent about Once Upon a Time’s ever-evolving plot and characters. 

I noticed amid this swarm of tweets that the majority of people joining in on the conversation were young and female—expected, since the main character is a blonde female and much of the plot is devoted to love triangles and the strength of mother-child bonds.  But, surprisingly, there were still many men tweeting about the show and there were also many non-white females and males chiming in.  The show seems to appeal to all races and is able to cross gender lines.  Between ubiquitous tweets about the underlying love story and quotes from various characters, there emerged a pattern of emphasis on the outward appearance of the female characters.

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Put together, these tweets display an emphasis on physical attractiveness of the female body.  Parts of each woman are picked out of their overall appearance and personhood to assign each an inherent value.  Ariel is simplified not to her hard work and morality in the show, but her hair and ass.  Snow White (also referred to as Mary Margaret) is criticized and degraded because of her pixie haircut—referred to by a male user as “horrendously ugly.” Belle and other characters are either praised or condemned for their wardrobe choices.  Overall, the appraisal of each woman is largely based on her physical beauty.  Male characters, especially those involved in the current love triangle, are also assessed for physical attractiveness but in a different way.

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The male characters’ attractiveness was evaluated on Twitter in overall terms; the men were not picked apart and degraded to single body parts or wardrobe choices but were credited with their overall physical, emotional, and intellectual value.  Generally, they were referred to as “hot.” If a male character was not “hot” according to Twitter, he was certainly never referred to as ugly.  One man (the love interest of Belle) is old, gray, and saggy, has crooked teeth, walks with a limp, and is relatively short.  And yet, tweets supporting their relationship were common:

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But Snow/ Mary Margaret is criticized incessantly because she has short hair?  It’s seems unfair, and just a bit sexist. 

Twitter users appear to get a certain pleasure from interacting with Once Upon a Time via social media.  Instead of television being a solitary experience, viewers can express their outlooks on the show and the characters via social media.  It gives people a way to be alone, but not really; to connect to a wider social circle of people with mutual interests; to express themselves to an audience in which someone is bound to listen.  By following the live-tweeting fandom culture of Once Upon a Time I was able to gain insights into the wider subset of people who watch the show (females, but also males, and a large variety of races, sexualities, classes, and cultures) and aspects on which they place a lot of importance (physical appearance, but interestingly not much on the complete lack of diversity or various moral qualms).  The Twitter-sphere, and the world in general, is a complex and diverse array of opinions and stories.  A study of the site helps to filter through these tweets and emerge at a consensus of the real state of morality and values in the average social media user. 

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