You might wanna buckle up for this one, because I’m about to dive into a show that got too real at numerous times. Think of an early 2000s teenage cartoon with ten times the drama, and you’ll get Braceface. Much like other tween series like As Told by Ginger, Braceface centers a awkward yet smart teenage girl who longs for popularity, with two best friends by her side. Oh and I definitely don’t want to forget crushes and mean girls. Sadly, this show came and went with only three seasons to religiously watch, but there are some major aspects of Braceface that set it aside from any other kids show.
It still surprises me that this show ever aired on Disney Channel, but it did. Sharon Spitz and her life with braces seemed quite miserable for a teenager, but despite the show being centered around her metal mouth, there are numerous topics touched in this series that was way too real. For that reason, I consider Braceface to be the realest teen series to ever air. Sure, there are shows out there covered most of the topics that would’ve never been spoken of in a kids show like 40 years ago. But they often sugar-coated it. Braceface straight up set these topics on the table and didn’t bother to tone it down much. I give the series all of the credit in the world for that, because it takes guts to feature some of these issues on kids networks like Disney Channel. Let’s dive into these said issues.
1) When the subject of divorce came up.
The topic of divorce comes up in many shows aimed at kids and teens. It’s sometimes censored by networks in order to maintain a kid show’s innocent image, but that definitely wasn’t the case in this show. In Braceface, Sharon’s mother and father are divorced. Sharon and her brothers seem to live a nice life with their mother and you get the impression that they understand the divorce but are not too upset about it. In episode 9, titled “The Divorce Thing”, this subject is brought to the table when Sharon’s mom is dating again and her father comes to visit. She attempts bring her parents back together, but has to face the harsh reality that somethings people who once loved each other grow apart, even your parents.
2) When Sharon got her first period. DURING HER FIRST DATE.
Menstruation in a kids show? You would have never thought you’d see that topic, but in episode 8, titled “The Worst First Date Ever. Period.”, Sharon meets her monthly friend sent by mother nature for the very first time. While on her first date with her crush Alden, Sharon starts to experience painful cramps to the point where she thought she was experiencing appendicitis. Alden calls the ambulance and Sharon is sent to the hospital, where she finds out that she has actually started her menstrual cycle. I’m a little skeptical about how the episode played out. All I can assume is that Sharon’s mother obviously never had that little talk with her before, because from what I’ve learned in my 21 years of being a female, is that I’m pretty sure menstrual cramps hurts way less than something as serious and life threatening as appendicitis.
3) Underage drinking.
If this series hasn’t gotten real for you yet, then how about we discuss the time Sharon got drunk from rum and cokes when visiting her dad in Miami. In episode 14, titled “Miami Vices”, Sharon gets sick of her mom’s strict rules and wants to let loose by going on vacation to Miami to visit her rock star dad and indulge in his “cooler” life. Sharon learns that her dad can be just as strict as her mom despite his career choice, when he finds Sharon drunk and partying with his friends. Once again, still shocked that Disney Channel allowed this to air, but bravo for the writers and directors for creating this episode, because it shows that these things tend to happen for teenagers. On vacation in Miami, strict mom with rules isn’t around, out partying with rock star dad’s cool friends, and there’s alcohol? Like I said, it happens.
4) Sexuality and the unfortunate adversity that comes with it.
Yes, there was an openly gay character on Braceface, and yes, he faces awful mistreatment from other students because of it. This has to be the absolute realest topic ever displayed on Braceface, due to the fact that Dion being openly gay was one of the reasons that the third season did not air in the U.S. But before he was openly gay on the show, his sexuality was wrongly called into question by other students in episode 27, titled “The Social Fabric”. Sharon was paired up with Dion as a part of the senior mentor program at their school, and she found herself in a dilemma of choosing whether to drop him as a friend to avoid harassment as well or stick by him. Homophobia and bigotry is alive and well, especially towards young people in schools that are a part of the LGBTQ+ community. I applaud Braceface for touching on this important subject for its viewers.
5) Love and relationships.
Having a crush can be a very stressful and confusing time as a teenager. You think that the person you’re “in love” is the only person you’ll ever be smitten over. Braceface proved this to be the case when displaying the affection Sharon had toward Alden. We soon see the two dating in season 2 but Alden doesn’t find it easy being Sharon’s boyfriend. The two break up in episode 30 titled “Dear Alden” when Sharon wrote a letter of frustration about him and it accidentally ends up on the school website. Alden later starts dating a girl named Marlo, but we discover that he still has feelings for Sharon on the last episode. It was just a crazy rollercoaster with these two. Maria also began dating Alden’s best friend Brock towards the end of junior high and onward.
6) The dangers of extreme diets.
This is one of Braceface’s more infamous episodes that was often aired on Disney Channel, and I’m glad it was. In episode 34, titled “Skin Deep”, Nina’s makes disparaging comments about Sharon’s body, which causes Sharon to go on a crash diet before participating in a fashion show. Maria and Connor take notice in the effects of Sharon’s dangerous diet and they began to worry about her. While Sharon walks the runway, she collapses from starvation. Another great episode to school the kids on how harmful body shaming can be. It’s straight up bullying and I hope other girls who experience what Sharon experienced talk to someone instead of resorting to crash diets. Speaking of bullying…
Introducing Nina. She’s a mean girl, but not a typical one. I like to think of her as slightly less wicked than Miranda Killgallen, but still wicked nonetheless. Nina and her bullying antics have gone too far at times. She’s basically the reason that Sharon starved herself and fainted on the fashion runway. Dealing with blatant bullying and mean girls is a common theme in shows with teen characters, and it’s another topic that Braceface did well on. Something that is painfully obvious about bully characters like Nina is the insecurity that they have for themselves. Being in their own skin hurts them so bad that they unleash all of their fury on the protagonist character.
8) Blatant Racism.
If there’s any subject that I’m glad Braceface touched on it’s the subject of racism and pushing offensive stereotypes. In episode 35, titled “Grey Matters”, Maria began dating an Arab boy named Cloud. Sharon can’t help but think that Cloud might be abusing Maria. On top of it all Sharon’s grandfather began making racist comments towards Cloud such as asking Maria if she’s “a part of his harem” and asking him when he’s going to “get his own camel”. To ignite an even bigger fire in his bigoted furnace, he states that he shouldn’t lend it to Maria because “Chinese are such bad drivers”. Words cannot simply describe how furious I was after watching that scene. Oh wait, they can. I wanted Cloud to bounce that basketball off of Sharon’s grandpa’s head twenty times in a row. Cloud was the coolest when handling those offensive comments by throwing jokes right back at him. But Sharon… OH SHARON. You naive little… you know what. At least she learns at the end, especially when she gets a dose of her grandfather telling her how he let her mother marry a “rockstar… and a jew no less”. Kudos to Braceface for teaching viewers the sad reality of bigots.
9) Underage smoking.
The peer pressure that many teens are faces with is unfortunate. In episode 52, titled “Up in Smoke”, Sharon moves in with her father and his girlfriend. She meets her potential step brother named Griffin, who’s a juvenile delinquent. He persuades Sharon into smoking a cigarette with him, until she finally takes a puff and finds it disgusting. The second time a use of addictive or mind-altering substance has been featured on this series.
10) Body image issues.
Just so you know, this episode was banned in the U.S. and several other countries. In episode 58, titled “Busted”, Sharon is tired of being seen as a little girl and decides to enhance the look of her breasts with a pump bra. She soon runs into trouble when she starts attracting unwanted attention from the wrong kind of guys and when her bra ends up malfunctioning at a party. It’s understandable that this episode was banned, because there are certain lines, and I guess Disney Channel decided not to cross this one. What I don’t understand is how so many episodes got away with being aired on Disney, not that I’m complaining. This show was a fantastic addition to the lineup of my childhood, but I’ve always imagined it airing on The-N (what TeenNick used to be called). It definitely catered more to the teenage audience rather than kids, and this list proves it.