In recent years, young Lisa Simpson has become a pop culture icon as well as an inspiring figure for late millennials and Gen Z. Found on T-shirts, hats, tote bags, laptop stickers, socks, memes as well as so much more, her fashionable likeness has become a marker of cool. However, it’s also worth mentioning how relatable she’s become over the years, becoming a character people can look up to and find solace in. With March being Women’s History Month, it’s fitting to shed light on a female character that everyone everywhere can learn a little something from!
Ever since “The Simpsons” first aired in 1989, Lisa Simpson, voiced by Yeardley Smith, has been the quiet voice of reason, often reminding her family of the value of morals. As the middle child, Lisa is an avid listener, a go-getter and a curious character whose stories and one-liners have captivated and entertained viewers throughout the 719 episodes of the cartoon. Her interests span academics, playing the saxophone, advocating for animals and always being true to herself and what she believes in. Her personality alone — as well as her persistence in just being herself — is a quality people can admire.
Throughout the past 30 years in Springfield, Lisa has experienced many ups and downs in life while growing through them for the better — even if she stays eight years old and in the second grade. Several episodes feature Lisa facing many common issues that plague everyone in the world, not only little girls. Thankfully, there’s beauty in those struggles; Lisa’s resilience and the way she overcomes them are inspirational to people of all ages, showcasing the strength in her unique personality.
One of the earliest hardships Lisa faces is in the very first season, in an episode called “Moaning Lisa.” In the episode, Lisa suffers from a period of hopelessness and depression, unable to find anything to feel happy about. She feels lonely in school, lacks motivation for her studies, is shot down by her music director and thinks that in a world with so many problems, there is little to smile about.
Her family has a hard time understanding her feelings; at one point, her father, Homer, notes, “She doesn’t look sad — she doesn’t have any tears in her eyes.” Her mother, Marge, even tells her to “shove your feelings way down” and to put a smile on and pretend until she actually does feel happy — which was something her own mother had taught her. But after Marge witnesses some bullies tease Lisa while following this advice, she immediately apologizes and takes it all back, telling her that her family will still be there for her when she’s sad — no matter what. It turns out that this is all Lisa needs: reassurance that her family cares about her, even if they don’t understand the feelings in her head.
While her family means well, it’s hard at first for Lisa to get the help she needs, which makes her feel lonelier than ever. This early episode is a great representation of depression since it looks different for everyone and can’t always be easily identified or understood by those not experiencing it. By the end of the episode, Lisa is seen smiling again, suggesting that she had been missing closer ties to her family.
Throughout the series, Lisa often experiences similar feelings of hopelessness and distress; audience members are reminded that while others don’t always understand one’s mental health, it’s always important to share those negative feelings with people that care so they can try to help however they can. Lisa’s character also encourages viewers to consider therapy since later episodes show Lisa expressing her feelings to professionals to try to make sense of them.
Another issue that Lisa contends with is her weight. Having this conversation in the show is extremely important, as body image insecurity is a common issue that isn’t discussed nearly as much as it needs to be. Young girls have long been frighteningly encouraged to buy into the false notion that equates thinness with beauty, which has long been reinforced by beauty products and pop culture. While a lot has changed since some of these episodes came out, this topic is even more relevant today thanks to Photoshop, diet products and other harmful products.
In several episodes of “The Simpsons,” Lisa is a victim of body insecurity, and they sometimes show the harmful ways that people may try to deal with these feelings. In Season 16’s “Sleeping With the Enemy,” Lisa begins starving herself, and toward the end of the episode, she gorges on a cake. Lisa’s restraint and overindulgence could represent bulimia, a harmful eating disorder that affects approximately 20 million women and 10 million men in the United States alone. While the show ends with Lisa finding comfort in what is deemed “the Simpson butt,” viewers not only see how Lisa embraces a part of who she is but demonstrates the harmfulness of childhood bullying.
Sherri and Terri, the pair of bullies who regularly torment Lisa, were the ones who first insinuated that “Lisa has a big butt” and that it was something to be ashamed of. Childhood bullying like this happens every day, shaping the negative perceptions people may have of their bodies from a young age. While kids say stupid and seemingly harmless things like this all the time, some of these comments are remembered forever and still affect the victims years later.
While this episode cannot provide a complete picture of the devastating impact of eating disorders, it at least offers a snippet of a terrible reality that affects millions every single day. It also sheds light on how words matter and how what people say has the power to do a lot of mental damage.
Aside from the important topics of depression and body image, Lisa also struggles to make friends throughout the series. Because of her obsession with books, playing the saxophone and her “slight tendency to know-it-all-ism” (as said in Lisa’s permanent record in Season 12 episode “Skinner’s Sense of Snow”), Lisa can’t always connect with her peers. Her increased maturity at the age of eight sometimes makes her a social outcast since she has little interest in what her fellow second-graders deem “cool.” Throughout the show, Lisa meets other overachieving bookworms just like her, but these friendships are often short-lived, as Lisa becomes insecure and envious and feels an obligation to prove herself.
Though her personality can be self-destructive, the audience almost always finds something shady about the new friend anyway, excusing Lisa for her jealousy-spurred behavior. While Lisa feels alone, she always has big-brother Bart to support her, as well as Milhouse, even if his obsessive crush on her makes her cringe. In these situations, it’s nice to be reminded that sometimes all you really need is one good friend.
Despite being only eight years old, Lisa Simpson has acquired a great deal of wisdom that people can learn from. Her experiences not only make her a resilient character but also makes these topics more accessible for viewers to talk about outside of the show. People take comfort in how similar their struggles may be compared to Lisa’s and may feel reassured and uplifted when they see her overcome these same insecurities. By conquering these challenges, Lisa has shown audiences how to embrace everything about themselves as she has over and over throughout the past 30 years. Taking pride in her unique interests, personality, intelligence and many other things, Lisa ultimately rejoices in who she is, what she believes in and what she wants out of life, which is a lesson worth learning at all ages.
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