Representation Featured in “Heartstopper”

The graphic novel turned hit Netflix series does a great job venturing into all types of representation.

Heartstopper does a great job representing sexuality and teen problems.

The Ticker

“Heartstopper” does a great job representing sexuality and teen problems.

Matlyn McShane, Columnist

Alice Oseman is a British author of many young adult novels, including “Heartstopper.” “Heartstopper” started out as a graphic novel on Tumblr, and over the course of a few years, became a world-wide sensation, eventually earning a show on Netflix. Not only is “Heartstopper” a great comic because it touches on relatable issues for queer teenagers, but it also shows a lot of representation on important topics such as bullying, self-discovery, and mental health.

“Heartstopper” follows a British school boy named Charlie Spring, a freshman who attends an all boys’ school. His life was fairly normal until his eighth-grade year, when someone outed him as gay to the entire school. In the blink of an eye, things took a turn for him. He started getting bullied at school, and everyone started seeing him differently.

The way they represented the bullying was really on point; boys were saying things to Charlie such as “you’re disgusting,” “he probably stares at us in the locker room,” and calling him various names. Throughout the comic and the show, he states several times that he’s “used to it.” Oseman took this as an opportunity to show what it’s like to be openly gay and how people treat you once they find out.

Nick Nelson, on the other hand, is one of the “jocks” of their school. He is a sophomore, plays rugby, and is friends with all the popular boys. Never once in his life had he questioned his sexuality. That was, until he met Charlie. When the two were assigned seats next to each other in class, they immediately clicked. At some point, Nick started to wonder if his feelings for Charlie were just friendly, or if there was something more. After they hung out one night, Nick started searching the internet for answers. This part specifically was especially relatable for people who have struggled with a situation like this in the past. Eventually, he got frustrated and started crying, while muttering “what’s wrong with me?” I think the way that Oseman wrote this scene was especially compelling because she made it really heartfelt, almost as if you could feel exactly what Nick was feeling in that very moment.

Nick having to come to terms with the fact that he liked Charlie and accepting that he was bisexual was portrayed really well. Though it took him a while to accept the fact (and accept himself), it was really well done and he dealt with it really healthily. He first told Charlie, but didn’t tell anyone else until he knew he was ready to do so. Some people feel the need to immediately come out as soon as they discover themselves because of pressure, which really isn’t healthy. Nick telling only his close friends, then getting more comfortable to where he felt like he could tell other people, including his mom, was definitely a less harmful way to do so.

The gay representation in general is done super well. Oseman didn’t press any stereotypes onto Charlie like a lot of other modern LGBTQIA+ media does. She made sure that he was a unique character with his own traits and interests, whose entire story didn’t revolve entirely around being gay. Sure, he got bullied for it, but that didn’t set him back or make him ashamed of who he was. The same thing went for Nick; he still enjoyed sports and hanging out with his sporty friends even after he came out. Nowadays, the media portrays queer people in a specific way, where all they talk about is their sexuality and they make it their entire personality when, in most situations, that just isn’t the case. “Heartstopper” is really great at illustrating this.

Elle Argent is one of Charlie’s closest friends, and she represents transgenderism really well. Having to transfer from an all boys’ school to an all girls’ school was not an easy switch for her, especially when she got bullied at the all boys’ school for being trans. Issues such as transphobic teachers, bullying and dress code issues are discussed. All of these are actual issues that trans kids in school face on a daily basis. When she moved to the all girls’ school, she expected people not to like her, so she just decided not to talk to anyone at all. Thankfully, she managed to make some friends who accepted her for who she was.

Tara and Darcy, some of Nick and Charlie’s friends, represent lesbianism and the process of coming out and how scary it could be. When Tara felt properly ready, she made a post on Instagram showing that she and Darcy were dating. People started leaving hateful comments, and word spread around school really quickly. Tara wasn’t prepared for this. She claims she “couldn’t even say the word lesbian” when she started dating Darcy, and now she’s got people calling her lesbian left and right. This is a prime example of, again, how quickly people change their views once you come out. It also shows just how scary coming out can be.

Cultural appreciation was featured throughout the comic, with Charlie being Spanish, and Nick’s father being French. Both of them were fluent in other languages. Their main friend group is also very diverse, with different colored people and different cultures. Elle’s mother is Egyptian, so she regularly visits Egypt and eats the country’s food.

Representation of mental health and things regarding mental health and eating disorders was a really large part of Charlie’s story. Volume four of “Heartstopper” ventures into mental health and how certain people experience depression and how it can lead to eating disorders. Charlie explains it as having good days, bad days, or waking up on some days and “just not knowing.” At some point he got diagnosed with anorexia and OCD, preventing him from having normal eating habits. He says “I feel like there’s this voice in the back of my head telling me that if I eat, bad things are gonna happen.” This not only made Charlie easy to relate to for some people, but it put people who maybe didn’t understand in his shoes.

“Heartstopper” is a great example of a comic/show that is about genuine teen problems and what it’s like to go through them. Not only teen problems, but queer teen problems as well. The comic and the show both do an excellent job at capturing emotions and letting you feel what the characters feel. In my opinion, it’s definitely worth a watch.