The Glorification of Unhealthy Relationships

In too many movies and television shows marketed for young adults and even children, the relationships that are portrayed as ideal can actually be toxic.


photo courtesy of the CW

Blair and Chuck from Gossip Girl are an example of a glorified relationship, that behind the scenes, is simply unhealthy.

Alyssa Bruce, Copy Editor

Throughout many idolized Hollywood films, television shows aimed at young adults, and even fairy tales, unhealthy relationships and mannerisms are normalized and even glorified. Since the media that young children and teenagers watch has such an immense impact on how they think and act, these toxic ideas that are ingrained into their brains are detrimental to their future relationships.

It is a no-brainer that topics like infidelity, grooming, and toxic or manipulative tactics used by romantic partners should not just be brushed aside. However, films have always depicted numerous situations where this occurs. The worst part, however, is that these movies and shows are often aimed at younger audiences. Being a teenager is a learning experience, and when such issues are portrayed as normal in television, shows, and movies, it can potentially affect how teenagers view issues in their own relationships.

One of the most idolized relationships for some teenagers are Blair and Chuck from Gossip Girl. Often referred to as “goals,” they are in fact quite the opposite of what a healthy relationship truly is. For most of the show, the two play games with each other, constantly scheming to cause issues in the other’s life. Bets and wagers are often used to win affection, which is not a productive mechanism in a relationship. Additionally, Chuck also cheated on Blair and even blamed the action on her.

This behavior, however, is overshadowed by the romanticized, rare moments that the pair actually have together. The struggles between the two are consistently downplayed, and they even end up marrying each other.

Such shows create a false reality for viewers. Some teens may also expect for their toxic relationships to end like Chuck and Blair’s, but in reality, only more issues arise the longer two manipulative people stay together. Chuck and Blair’s relationship should not be “goals.” It should instead be a lesson in what red flags to look out for.

Pretty Little Liars is another popular teenage show that normalizes unhealthy relationships– only this time, the show goes so far as to normalize something that is illegal. One of the main relationships in the show was between Aria, a high school girl, and Ezra, her teacher. Their relationship is presented as romantic and loving, when Aria is actually being taken advantage of by someone who is older and in an authority position. The show even attempts to turn viewers against Aria’s parents, who have the appropriate reaction of wanting to press charges after finding out about the relationship.  

Chuck and Blair’s relationship should not be ‘goals.’ It should instead be a lesson in what red flags to look out for.”

This depiction of a supposedly loving and harmless relationship between a groomer and his high school student normalizes the crime and sends the message to young teens that there is nothing wrong with a powerful adult preying on a naive child. 

Unfortunately, this issue is not something that has arisen only recently. It has always been a toxic part of entertainment.

Take Grease, a beloved film made in the late 1970s. Sandy and Danny, the main couple in the movie, are characterized as perfect, but they are not an example of a relationship to aspire for. The very ending of the film shows Sandy completely reinventing herself for Danny, shifting from an innocent, more classic style to a full leather outfit and bright red lipstick.

Of course, there’s not anything wrong with the second style, but Sandy only changes her style and, ultimately, her identity because of Danny. The film sends the message that if someone is struggling with getting another person to like them, changing who they are is the solution. Although the move may work in the short term, gaining another’s approval is not worth losing yourself in the process.

Even Disney movies aimed at very young audiences, such as Beauty and the Beast, teach potentially harmful ideas.

Although the film centers around fighting for love, there are aspects of Belle and the Beast’s relationship that are destructive. It is a given that the movie is a fairy tale, and thus it stretches many events that would not be able to occur in real life. Nonetheless, it is still the film’s duty to focus on sending positive messages to you children.

One such issue in the film is the fact that Belle manages to “change” the beast. She transforms him from a hateful, cruel monster to a loving man.

In theory, this seems harmless. However, the message to young audiences is that it is possible to change another person. In reality, there are too many situations where one person in the relationship stays with an abuser, or a toxic person, based on the fact that they think they can change them. It is not a person’s job to change their partner, especially if it is dangerous.

The film also pushes aside the fact that the Beast completely mistreats Belle before he falls in love with her, essentially showing viewers that it is permissible to disregard how another person treats you before they actually form a relationship with you. Instead, the way people act before they become attached to you is a good measure of who they are as a person.

The films and shows that young, impressionable teenagers watch can have an indelible impact on how they perceive and tolerate the developments in their lives. Thus, the glorifying and normalizing of unhealthy relationships can affect how those teens act and think in their own relationships. As many shows that display toxic relationships are directly aimed at teens and young children, the damage can be widespread.

It is not that teens should simply stop watching such popular movies and shows, but the films that encourage dangerous behavior need to be called out in order to depict that toxic mannerisms in relationships are not something to be normalized.