How She-Ra and the Princesses of Power Deals With Trauma, Growth And Representation
*WARNING! This article contains spoilers for She-Ra and the Princesses of Power*
You may have been hearing a lot about the show She-Ra and the Princesses Of Power recently, which is a Netflix reboot of the 80’s kids show ‘She-Ra Princess of Power’. The Netflix show aired its fifth and final season on the 15th of May this year, and it’s fair to say that the season ended with a bang. This isn’t the first show of its kind, but what makes it stand out amongst the rest is its abundance of LGBTQ+ representation and non-white characters. The show deals with difficult themes such as trauma, abuse and loss, and tells a wonderfully-written story about love and acceptance.
The show’s young protagonist Adora grows up as a child soldier in an organisation known as The Horde on the planet Etheria with her best friend Catra. The pair had been manipulated and abused since birth, along with other orphaned children, and trained to fight off the “evil” princesses of Etheria. After a flying accident one day, Adora stumbles upon a magical sword in the Whispering Woods that can turn her into warrior-princess She-Ra, as well as Princess Glimmer of Bright Moon and master archer Bow. The pair kidnap her, seeing her as nothing more than an ‘evil’ Horde soldier, and she discovers that the Princesses aren’t actually the bad guys. Unable to get she-Ra off her mind, she agrees to join the rebellion and help fight The Horde, leaving her closest friend behind. Catra feels betrayed by her best friend, and in Adora's absence, rises up the Horde ranks and plots to get revenge and rule the world.
The story centres around Catra and Adora’s relationship, dealing with loss, friendship and trauma as they both deal with losing the person that was essentially their world for most of their lives. Their mother-figure, the spellcasting Shadow Weaver, had always made it clear that Adora was her favourite, and constantly put down and abused Catra no matter what she did. This meant that despite all of their love for one another, there was a lot of resentment, insecurities and jealousy that forced them apart. Catra falls into a cycle of abuse, treating others the way she had been treated her whole life because she believed there was no other good in the world than Adora. Nobody else cared about her or had tried to understand her the way that Adora did, so Adora leaving basically brought her entire world crashing down around her.
The problem is that they both had completely different world views, due to the difference in the way they were raised, and therefore had completely different priorities. Adora was raised to believe that she was only worth her successes and what she can do for others, and Catra believed she was worth nothing at all. Whilst Catra believed that Adora was the only good in the world, Adora believed that the world outside the Fright-Zone (where they were raised) was full of good. Adora wanted to protect others and do the right thing, and becoming She-Ra was the catalyst in her doing so. Catra didn’t believe that the world was good, so she wanted to rule it with the only person she could trust. The world was Adora’s priority, whilst ruling the world was Catra’s. All of this forced them to become enemies, despite the obvious love they still had for each other. After the pain of losing the only thing she cared about, Catra wanted to keep hurting Adora because she believed that Adora no longer cared about her after everything they’d gone through together.
Now I don’t condone Catra’s actions at all, but it was clear that she hurt others because she had grown up being hurt by almost everyone else. When Adora left she felt betrayed and resentful because she was willing to give up on all of her dreams to allow the person she cared about to achieve hers. She stood at the sidelines, prepared to be a sidekick despite how sad it made her, after taking all of Shadow Weaver’s abuse and watching Adora get all of her love and attention her whole life. It’s the first time in a TV series where I was actually really rooting for the villain. I wanted her to change and face up to all of her wrongdoings so that she could be reunited with Adora again, and she could see that the world wasn’t the way that she thought it was. The final season luckily allowed room for her to grow and begin to own up to her crimes, and ultimately reunite with the love of her life.
This wasn’t an instant thing, so Catra spent a lot of the season making up for her wrongdoings and apologising, even admitting that she was working on making herself a better person, Allowing the once villain to gradually make changes, work on herself and think about the people that she’d hurt is a great message for younger viewers. Rather than a villain being redeemed by doing one good deed, we get to see the work that really needs to be put in for a person to re-earn trust and forgiveness.
Adora is a character who seemingly had it all together in the beginning of the show, making difficult decisions because it was the right thing to do and working hard to achieve her goals. Adora had to fight the person she cared about in order to do the right thing, because she realised that the people she had grown up with were doing awful things. Soon after leaving the Horde, her anxieties finally begin to come to light. She was forced into a destiny that she had never asked for and treated herself as a martyr, similar to the previous versions of She-Ra, who had to forget their dreams and future plans to give their lives to save the planet.
Being raised believing that she was only worth what she could do for others, she blamed herself for everything that went wrong and took the world’s problems on her shoulders, refusing to ask for help and pushing herself until she physically couldn’t any more. The concept of pushing yourself past your own limits and giving up your dreams for others is commonly explored in Chosen One stories, but rarely portrayed as a negative thing. The difference is that She-Ra and the Princesses of Power actually addresses these negative behaviours and their origins; She-Ra basically gives each character their own therapy session in Season 5.
Catra recognises her wrongdoings and works through her issues, and she even begins to help Adora work through her negative self-beliefs that Shadow Weaver had planted in her as a child. Catra and Adora finally each stand up to their abusive parental figure, admitting that she ruined their lives and refusing to adhere to her standards or beliefs any longer. It may seem dark, but children need to be taught that some parents are abusive, and it’s healthy to distance yourself from them. They should learn the difference between a protective mother and a harmful one.
The characters that Catra had abused during her time in the Horde learn when it is healthy to leave a relationship (despite your feelings towards that person) and then eventually begin to forgive her when she puts the work in to become a better person. Princess (now Queen) Glimmer struggles with the death of her mother and ultimately pushes everyone away, but in the end she acknowledges her grief and works on rebuilding her friendships over time. The characters openly discuss and recognise their own negative behaviours towards themselves and others, and put in the work to rebuild bonds, rather than just expecting everyone to suddenly forgive them.
Now I can’t write about She-Ra and the Princesses of Power without acknowledging the multitude of LGBTQ+ relationships within the show. The show features characters like Bow who has two dads, who we get to see in an intimate and loving relationship, as well as Princess Scorpia who is shown with two mothers. This is brand new territory for me as a queer person who grew up never seeing LGBTQ+ couples represented at all in kid’s shows, let alone as parents.
I found myself smiling from ear to ear when I realised just how normalised the representation was within the world of She-Ra, and that other children will now get to grow up seeing themselves represented on screen. There are also the Princesses Netossa and Spinnerella, who are wives that get to openly be in love without having to hide the relationship beneath subtle hints here and there. She-Ra and the princesses of power really normalised lgbtq+ relationships within their world and I was so grateful for that. It’s the type of thing I WISH I had got to see in children’s shows when I was younger, as it teaches tolerance and acceptance, and it meant a lot to me.
I could instantly tell the show was written by a lesbian woman because of the character designs alone; the different body types and the attributes that the women found attractive in one another are different than the typical way lesbians are written by straight people. Sapphic culture is typically much more accepting of different body types and celebrates women who have more traditionally masculine features. Just think about it, how often do you see female superheroes who aren’t skinny, tall and feminine? How often do you see lesbian couples who don’t fall into the stereotypical ‘tomboy’ or ‘perfectly sculpted supermodel’ category?
Lesbians are often portrayed in the media for the enjoyment of men, and so they fall into men’s beauty standards for women. The women in She-Ra all have completely different body types, and many of the women in the show are much more grizzled and strong than the men. They’re not overly sexualised, and they’re all wonderfully different. Even the way that the characters interact is so much more realistic and relatable than any lgbtq+ content I’ve ever seen from any straight creators. SPOP is a perfect example of why we need more than just straight White men working on shows and films, because they can’t give the same insight into characters from different ethnic backgrounds, sexualities and genders than real people from those groups can.
Now if you’ve watched the show, I’m sure you’re waiting for me to bring up the relationship between Catra and Adora. It was so incredibly obvious to me from the first season that they were in love. Before I’d seen the show, I had heard that people shipped them but I had no idea if they were canon or not. I wasn’t sure at all up until the Princess Prom episode in the first season, and then it became very clear to me that there were romantic feelings between Catra and Adora. The way that they looked at each other, the way that they got jealous, constantly vying for the other’s attention and even the way they interacted made it seem like they had a romantic history.
It was so obvious that Adora was not straight. The way that her eyes lit up when looking at the biceps of a grizzled woman, specifically when she encountered Huntara, was a clear giveaway. I almost died with laughter because oh my god she’s so incredibly gay. Even the way she smiled when Scorpia picked her up in her muscly arms and when she lead Perfuma in the dance at the Princess Prom made it so clear to me that she was a lesbian. She was queer-coded from the very start.
So despite believing from the beginning that Adora and Catra had feelings for each other, and that a lesbian show runner wouldn’t spend four seasons queerbaiting her audience, I found myself sobbing at the last episode of the show. Even though I believed that they would end up together, actually seeing it happen, two female protagonists in a kid’s show admit their feelings to one another, plan a future together and even sharing a kiss before saving the world made me realise just how much I’d needed to see that growing up, and how much I believed that I never would. I’ve seen so many animated shows depict two characters of the same gender as more than just friends, only to pair them off with whichever character of the opposite gender was nice to them in the final season. Actually realising that I had in fact, spent five seasons watching a show about a female superhero who was in love with another woman, gave me a form of validation that I so desperately needed as a confused queer kid.
An animated series about a female superhero who is a lesbian is extremely ground breaking, because it breaks the boundaries of what children have been allowed to see represented in cartoons. Showing little girls that they can feel like superheroes and love women all at the same time is incredibly progressive and a wonderful lesson for future generations. It's a lesson that I wish I’d have learned as a child, because that sort of acceptance might have allowed me to realise and accept my own sexuality much sooner in life. It might have even prevented the shame and confusion I’d felt for so long.
As well as the WLW and MLM representation, the show also features Black, Hispanic, Asian and Inuit main characters, allowing more than just White children to see themselves represented as heroes on screen. Bow and his family in particular allow us to see representation that is rarely found in any kind of media; young Black men who aren’t portrayed as aggressive and hyper masculine, and Black gay parents. Gay parents are difficult to find in kid’s media in general, and Black Gay couples are basically nonexistent in kid’s TV. Uplifting and empowering young people of all different races and skin colours, and making children feel like they can be heroes is more important than ever during the current Black Lives Matter movement.
Show runner Noelle Stevenson has created one of the most well-written and progressive reboots to date, giving children all different kinds of heroes to look up to who go on journeys of growth and self-discovery. The emotional final season taught us important lessons about hope, forgiveness and choosing happiness in a world that tries to oppress. The show normalises same-sex couples, different body types, flawed characters and standing up for yourself and others, even when it’s the difficult option. Based on previous 80’s cartoon reboots, I initially went into the show with low expectations. However, I quickly found myself enthralled in the character’s journeys and in tears for the entirety of the final episode. If you’ve been putting off watching the show like I initially did, I urge you to give it a watch. You won’t be disappointed.
Check out She-Ra and the Princesses of Power on Netflix now!
Click here to find out how you can support the Black Lives Matter movement: https://blacklivesmatters.carrd.co/
Resources for LGBTQ+ youths: https://www.thetrevorproject.org/resources/
Resources for those suffering with abuse: https://www.helpguide.org/articles/abuse/child-abuse-and-neglect.htm