Do you remember, as a kid, watching your favorite cartoon and realizing that you were focusing a little too much on one of the characters? Lots of the characters were great, but there was one in particular who was so smart, so cool, so good at vanquishing bad guys.
You probably didn’t tell anyone at the time, but you had a crush. And it was on a fictional and perhaps non-human cartoon character.
The tiny torches of love you carried might now seem like an embarrassing, aberrant blip on your path to adulthood. But after surveying The Huffington Post offices, we can safely say you’re not alone. Lots and lots of us had cartoon crushes.
What’s more, having those nascent infatuations is totally normal. “It happens all the time. Kids have crushes on comic book characters, and why shouldn’t they?” said Amy Lang, a parenting and sexuality expert and the founder of Birds+Bees+Kids, a Seattle organization that helps parents talk to children about sex. Lang said that kids’ crushes on cartoon characters are a natural extension of imagination-based play that permeates so much of young development.
“Kids' imaginations can take them to places that adults can’t go,” Lang said. “Maybe we [adults] feel weird about the fact that we have a crush on Spider-Man, but kids don’t have those filters.”
Watching fictional relationships on screen can help young people form social ideas as they grow and test out romantic ideas in a safe way, too. “My first crush was on Mighty Mouse, and I remember fantasizing being that little mouse tied up on the railroad tracks and that he would swoop down and save me,” said Sharon Lamb, professor of counseling psychology at the University of Massachusetts.
But Lamb said that can be part of the problem, too. If our cartoons enforce stereotypical gender roles early on, they’re hard to get rid of later in life.
“It wasn’t very good for me to have these fantasies of being a helpless victim all the time, even if it’s a mouse, right?” Lamb said. “I think these early crushes do sort of orient you to culture … I think they teach you norms, cultural norms of attractiveness and sexuality.”
That’s not the child’s fault, but it does mean that the men and women in charge of the cartoons children watch should feel a responsibility to accurately reflect the society we live in. “Let’s get [children] a variety of kinds of cartoon characters to have crushes on, instead of big, bulky he-men and victim girls and women,” she said. Instead, they should see characters of all “sizes and ethnicities and races and relationships.”
“The more [kids] have a variety of cartoon characters, the better off everyone is, because I think that we’re made physically and psychologically to be attracted to a variety of kinds of people.”
For many of us, that includes a cartoon character or two, and that’s just fine. Seriously, just look at who we were attracted to as kids.
1. Gaston from "Beauty and the Beast"
Of course, I'd suspected I was gay from an early age, but all it took was Gaston from "Beauty and the Beast" to REALLY confirm it. That moment he rips open his shirt to reveal his chest hair was pretty much an epiphany. - Curtis Wong, Gay Voices deputy editor
Gaston from "Beauty and the Beast" is the hottest cartoon character ever -- and made me realize I was gay before I knew what gay was. Even though he was the bad guy and a total creep, I secretly wanted him and Belle to end up together. - Anonymous
2. Archie from "Archie Comics"
Every time my family went on a road trip, I'd buy an Archie comic book at a rest stop. He just seemed really cute and sweet and was always taking Betty and Veronica out on nice dates. Those comics also taught me an important childhood lesson: whether you're nice and pretty and blonde or popular and sexy and brunette, you'll probably never be good enough to hold the attention of an average ginger man. - Emma Gray, Women senior editor
3. Aladdin from "Aladdin"
Remember the climax scene in "Aladdin," the one where Jafar turns into a giant snake? You know, when the house-sized serpent takes Aladdin and constricts him in full view of the enslaved Jasmine, and there's this ... look on Aladdin's face that you'd have to be preeetttty gullible to think was actually fear? Or how for Jasmine, slowly being buried alive in sand, there can never be enough time, but for the rest of us, as Aladdin writhes to escape doom's embrace, there is simply too much of it? All I remember is rooting for Jafar to swallow him whole. I was 8. - Raillan Brooks, Highline associate editor
4. Optimus Prime from "Transformers"
My first crush was Optimus Prime from the '80s "Transformers" cartoon. He was such a buff daddy -- the way he took control of every situation and always saved the day drove my 5-year-old self wild. - Noah Michelson, Gay Voices executive editor
5. Robin Hood from the animated Disney version
I don't know if it counts as ~*sexual awakening*~ but I had a huge crush on Robin Hood. From the Disney version. So the fox one (fox/foxy puns abound). Thanks to the Internet, I know I was not alone in this crush, but it's still sort of embarrassing, and actually really impressive on Disney's part that they were able to make a cartoon fox so hot. - Hollis Miller, Voices associate social editor
6. Ernie from "Sesame Street"
I know this isn't technically a cartoon character, but when I was about 3, I had a HUGE crush on Ernie from "Sesame Street." Something about those annoying songs and horizontal stripes really got to me, or maybe it was all the partial nudity of Ernie in the bathtub. Anyway, I don't know what I was thinking -- Bert is really more my type. - Hilary Hanson, news editor
7. Dimitri from "Anastasia"
Dimitri, from the classic animated film Anastasia, was the bad-boy heartthrob that could take you on a historical journey. Because what's hotter than being a con artist that actually has a heart of gold? I rest my case. - Chanel Parks, Style associate editor
8. Rogue from "X-Men: The Animated Series"
For me, it was Rogue in the original "X-Men" animated series. I don't know if it was the Southern accent, or the hair, or the fact that she could have beat me up. Probably all of the above. Plus the skintight suit. Yeah, the skintight suit played a role, also. - Andy McDonald, Comedy editor
9. Ariel from "The Little Mermaid"
Any answer from a heterosexual male other than Ariel from "The Little Mermaid" is a damn lie. - Anonymous
I have a theory that "The Little Mermaid" made me more attracted to redheads. Although, not more attracted to people who are half fish. Also possible that it may also be due to the 1980s cartoon version of April O'Neil in "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles." - Anonymous Midwestern man
I cannot begin to count the amount of redheads (dyed or real) that I have pursued since. She was the original manic pixie dream girl, wanting to experience life outside of the confines of her home, had a cool pet for a sidekick, and styled up the fins. I have just always thought it was odd that she fell so hard for someone so basic. - Matt Ramos, Politics intern
10. "Totally Spies!"
I remember watching this show all the time and can't bring to mind even one plot line or other character besides the spies, which is probably telling of the sort of focus that only comes when something new and intense comes along. The blurring of everything that paled to these bright red-, green- and yellow-suited masters of teen espionage, I do now wonder what intel they were retrieving, as it was the second Bush era, and this very well may have been more bleak than I remember. Oh well, though, they were very attractive drawings. - Todd Van Luling, Entertainment writer
11. Baby Simba from "The Lion King"
Baby Simba, come on. I love(d) the way he yawns. The way his back ripples when he walks. The way he shows no fear in the face of danger. The way he sounded so much like my subpar human crush, Jonathan Taylor Thomas. I just knew he was going to grow up to be such a hot lion one day. - Priscilla Frank, Arts writer
12. Bonkers from "Bonkers"
I don't want to talk about it, OK? - Anonymous
13. Josie from "Josie and the Pussycats"
I dare you to find a young, straight boy who wasn't in love with Josie. She was foxy and cool. She was a rockstar. At first, I didn't know what I was feeling. Did I want to be her? No, I later determined. I just wanted to be around her. Alone. All the time. Forever. Please. Please? I think it's no coincidence that the two most intense, long and ultimately painful relationships I have had were with red-haired women who wore lipstick. Though neither one of my ex-girlfriends played guitar. - Alexander Kaufman, Business editor
14. Professor Utonium from "The Powerpuff Girls"
He has a silky radio voice and great hair. Even though he is a mad genius who invented all of this cool stuff on accident, he is also really nice and likes pancakes. - Maddie Crum, Books and Culture writer
15. Jessica Rabbit from "Who Framed Roger Rabbit"
Jessica Rabbit literally oozed sexuality and self-agency in a way that my little queer eyes had never encountered before. I still think about when I first saw her on my TV screen while living in the South. In many ways, it fed the early beginnings of my queer liberation of self. - James Michael Nichols, Gay Voices deputy editor
16. John Smith from "Pocahontas"
When I first saw "Pocahontas," I fell in love. Not only was Pocahontas my spirit animal, but John Smith was, well, hello handsome! Now, I realize how spot-on I was in pinpointing my type. John Smith is sort of like an animated Chris Hemsworth. And that man is pure perfection. - Leigh Blickley, Entertainment senior news editor
17. Thomas from "Pocahontas"
Floppy-haired sadboy Thomas, from “Pocahontas,” was probably the first cartoon character I was totally in love with. My childhood self was just like, “Whoaaa.” Thomas leaves his family to venture off to the New World in an ill-fitting but adorable beret, and he falls off the ship at one point because he is, as this Disney Wiki describes him, “sweet, innocent, determined, clumsy.” I was a nerdy kid, so I was really into all those things. He grows up over the course of the movie, and snooze-fest John Smith teaches him how to shoot a gun, and Thomas finally does all the right thing(s) and whatever. I don’t remember the whole plot, but I definitely remember his hair. - Grace Maalouf, news editor
18. Kovu from "Lion King 2"
Kovu's appearance in "Lion King 2" coincides beautifully with my nascent thirst for guys with daddy issues. Although Scar was decidedly not Kovu's father, the ensuing forbidden romance between Kovu and Simba's daughter could not have better crystallized the meaning of sexual tension for me and a generation of pubescents. - Anoymous
19. Trent from "Daria"
The smoldery older brother of Jane Lane was the first er, person, to make me think that cartoon characters could be hot -- even more so than Tom, the guy Daria eventually ends up with. Of course, it’s only now that I realize how much of my dating life has featured IRL versions of the guitar-playing, chronically underemployed, mad-at-the-world cartoon character. Life imitating art, or something. - Jill Capewell, Entertainment news editor
20. Meg from "Hercules"
The year: 1997. The film: Disney's "Hercules." The girl of my dreams: Meg. She was tough, she was independent, she sang and she was like, super cute. I may or may not have dressed up as Hercules that Halloween, possibly in hopes of finding my own Meg. - Erin Whitney, Entertainment associate editor
21. Tuxedo Mask/Darien from "Sailor Moon"
I don't know about sexual awakening, but I had the BIGGEST crush on Tuxedo Mask/Darien when I was younger. He's the main male character/love interest in "Sailor Moon" and he was incredibly dreamy. I know for a fact I'm not the only one that feels that way! - Carolina Moreno, Latino Voices editor
22. Li Shang from "Mulan"
Again, I wouldn't call this a "sexual awakening" so much as an innocent schoolgirl crush on the warrior dude from "Mulan." (I just Googled "Mulan guy" and found out his name is Li Shang.) Eight-year-old me watched the montage that went along with "Be a Man" and was like, swoon. Definitely jealous of Mulan when he stays for dinner (or "forever") at the end, too. In my defense, though, Li Shang is still one of Disney's hottest cartoons. I stand by that. - Sara Boboltz, Entertainment editor
23. Goliath from "Gargoyles"
A part of me wants to say Trent Lane from "Daria." But I don't think that's true. I think it was Goliath. There's something about being slightly terrified and also sexually awakened. I don't know ... muscles, kind of vampire-y, tragically heroic. Yup, it was Goliath. - Katherine Brooks, Arts & Culture senior editor
24. Debbie Thornberry from "The Wild Thornberrys"
One of my first crushes I can remember was on Debbie Thornberry from "The Wild Thornberrys." With her ripped jeans, unbuttoned flannel and messy blonde hair, she had the late-'90s grunge look down to a science. She also closely resembled my babysitter at the time, who I was convinced I would one day marry. - Anonymous
25. Batgirl from "Batman: The Animated Series"
I think for a kid overloaded on Batman cartoons and merchandise, the answer is obvious: Batgirl. Not that this mattered much to a kid who was just excited to see a drawing of spandexed breasts, but she evaded the sometimes problematic depictions of other female characters in her universe: She wasn't outwardly sexualized like Catwoman. Her modus operandi didn't revolve around seduction like Poison Ivy's often does. And she didn't beg for attention like Harley Quinn.
Instead she just did her thing confidently and with a little knowing wink. She was fiery. I would definitely have let her kick my teeth out and whisk me away to prison on a grappling hook. And I wasn't alone: Robin obviously loved her too, as you can see in this page from 2007's "Nightwing" Annual #2 comic book. I feel you, Robin. - Damon Beres, Tech editor
26. Malificent from "Sleeping Beauty"
The animated Disney evil queen in Sleeping Beauty. Not the latter-day Angelina Jolie version. It's difficult to say why, but there it is. - Greg Beyer, deputy features editor
27. Marge Simpson from "The Simpsons"
Was unaware there was another option. - Maxwell Strachan, Sports and Entertainment senior editor
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