“It Isn’t the Mane Thing About You” seems to teach that being fabulous is partly mental. While most cartoons having this sort of episode go with the moral of “Looks don’t matter,” this episode seems to go at it at a slightly different, more mature angle of encouraging confidence and good self-image.
My Little Pony has never had an episode addressing vanity (at least over physical attractiveness.) Although Rarity does get hung up on her appearance, this was never treated as a character flaw because she never crossed the line into outright vanity. She showed her internal beauty in the second episode when she didn’t hesitate to cut off her own tail and give it as a gift to a crying sea serpent who’d lost part of his mustache.
The writers at My Little Pony seem to understand that caring about your looks, even to the point of being fashion conscious or obsessed with modern style, is not necessarily a bad thing.
Other girls’ cartoons call vanity on that sort of personality. This episode’s writer, Josh Haber, breaks the pattern that so many male writers fall into. Overall (Barber being an obvious exception) male writers see a love of shoes or dresses as materialistic. When a beautiful character clearly knows she’s beautiful, many male writers associate that character with villain archetypes they’ve seen, such as the pretty cheer captain who bullies the other girls.
More liberal male writers may even see “fabulous” personality traits in a character as a negative stereotype in women, or an attempt to enforce gender roles.
But My Little Pony, throughout Generation Four, has provided diverse personalities in the protagonists and displayed, through their interactions, why Rarity is just one more example of diversity rather than a negative archtype.
Her friendship with Apple Jack, in particular, never fails to show Rarity’s character depth. Apple Jack, a rough and tumble farm pony, couldn’t be more different than Rarity. But the episode “Honest Apple” explained how similar they are in the deeper, more important ways. Rarity, in her own way, works as hard and takes as much pride in her work as Apple Jack. In “Honest Apple”, AJ learned that a passion for fashion isn’t that much different than the pride she feels when ponies enjoy the products of Sweet Apple Acres.
My Little Pony shows several examples of Rarity’s strength of character, but if she does have one flaw, it’s that she can sometimes be a little sensitive or self conscious.
In ” It Isn’t the Mane Thing About You,” Rarity loses her mane and starts wearing a black hooded cloak like a Death Eater. Soft spoken with her head down, she notices ponies treating her as if she were invisible.
Studies have shown that people who fit society’s definition of attractive are treated with more courtesy, but these studied can’t determine how much of that is because of a person’s appearance and how much is because of a person’s confidence.
Rarity comes to the conclusion that her confidence was the problem and decides to own her mangled mane rather than hide it, mixing it with multicolored plugs and going for a more punk look.
The ending confused a little. From the build up, it seemed the point of the episode would be to teach Rarity that looks don’t matter. Even from the title of the episode, that seemed to be the point. But looks do matter to some people, and while that’s OK, sometimes they have to be taught the right mindset.
MLP’s target audience is maturing to that age where they start noticing how the famous models look and may develop self-image issues. “It Isn’t The Mane Thing About You” seems to be directed toward that sort of girl who wants to be fabulous but thinks her hair is too short, or isn’t comfortable with her weight.
Media like “It Isn’t The Mane Thing About You” can encourage a girl to love the things about her that make her different. Even if a girl doesn’t have the sort of hair (mane) that would usually be seen in a fashion magazine, that doesn’t make her any less fabulous if she’s proud of her appearance and of the person she is.