As an introvert, seeing yourself reflected in the TV shows you watch can be critical to developing a positive sense of self.
Seeing yourself reflected in the TV shows you watch can be critical to developing a positive sense of self. As recent studies have shown, this fact is especially true for viewers of historically marginalized backgrounds.
But for media representation to be genuine, characters of every background should also embody a diverse range of personality traits. TV viewers don’t only want the stereotypical protagonist who is loud, outgoing, and charismatic. We also need bookworms, shy folks, and oddballs of every persuasion.
As a white dude, I have no shortage of reference points to look to on TV. That’s where the representation problem begins — too many white dudes and too few characters representing anybody else.
But as an introvert and highly sensitive person (HSP), I get a special thrill out of having a hesitant, soft-spoken protagonist to root for. I gain so much from watching my favorite onscreen “quiet ones” navigating complex social interactions and learning to express their authentic selves.
Here are five of my favorite introverted onscreen icons you’ll probably recognize from a TV screen near you.
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5 Introverted Onscreen TV Icons
1. Fabiola Torres: Never Have I Ever
Netflix’s show Never Have I Ever follows the high school misadventures of Devi Vishwakumar and her two best friends, Fabiola Torres and Eleanor Wong. Using whip-smart humor to explore challenging themes like grief and sexuality, the show is a refreshingly original coming-of-age tale based on parts of the adolescent years of creator Mindy Kaling.
Within the show’s main friend group, Devi, the hard-headed protagonist, and Eleanor, an aspiring actor, are the most vocal. Fabiola is the quiet one — at ease among her best friends and her Robotics Club teammates, but especially anxious about riskier social interactions.
Though she dominates academics, Fabiola’s confidence wanes when it comes to navigating new relationships at Sherman Oaks High. In Season 1 of Never Have I Ever, she is also coming to terms with the fact that she is attracted to women. As she fakes her way through a relationship with classmate Alex, a male, she begins to develop feelings for another classmate, Eve, a female.
In an endearing moment of introversion, Fabiola comes out as gay to her robot, Gears Brosnan, before having the conversation with any of her friends or family members. In addition to being both hilarious and moving, this scene illustrates the introvert’s gift for careful self-reflection. By talking to Gears, Fabiola is coming to terms with an intimate part of herself before she feels comfortable showing her true colors to the world.
She does eventually come out to friends and family, and she does finally end up dating Eve, but she does it all at her own speed. Sound familiar, introverts? Like her, I’ve also chosen to figure out dating at a pace that can feel tortoise-slow compared to some of my more extroverted friends. For a viewer like me, Fabiola’s story is proof that there is nothing wrong with carefully cultivating a sense of self before we’re ready to share our lives with others.
2. Bubbles: The Powerpuff Girls
For those unfamiliar with this Cartoon Network classic, The Powerpuff Girls is about three crime-fighting kindergarteners created by an improbable science experiment.
On the surface, each of the three Powerpuffs brings a balance of basic personality traits to the group. Blossom is the confident leader, Buttercup is the courageous enforcer, and Bubbles is self-contented, a source of levity and relief. However, over the course of the series, we get a complex look into the challenges and insecurities that come with each girl’s personality.
While Bubbles usually has her head in the clouds, the episode “Bubblevicious” gives us a glimpse into her more restless, introspective side. The story begins with each Powerpuff taking turns in a simulation that helps them train to fight supervillains. When Bubbles goes into the game, the girls’ creator and guardian, Professor Utonium, dials the simulation’s difficulty level down from “Danger Level 9” to a measly 2. “You see Bubbles, you’re just not ready for the higher levels yet,” he explains.
That night, Bubbles lies awake worrying about how much her family babies her. To quiet her doubts, she sneaks into the simulation room and takes on Danger Level 9, pummeling a bunch of monsters while her family’s insults echo in her mind.
For the rest of the episode, Bubbles goes on proving how tough she can be on her own. When she gets in a bit over her head, though, her sisters come to bail her out. In the end, she has learned an important lesson for the sensitive and self-conscious: Staying true to your “head-in-the clouds” self is a legitimate form of strength, but there also isn’t anything wrong with relying on friends for support.
As a highly sensitive introvert, I often feel like I’m being coddled and underestimated, which then makes me want to prove that I can align with society’s ideas of toughness. A character like Bubbles helps me to avoid these unnecessary comparisons, recognize my strengths, and feel no shame about any aspect of my personality.
Do you dream of being witty and funny?
Even if you’re usually the “quiet one,” you have a playful side — you just need to learn how to access it. Our partner Michaela Chung can teach you how to tell hilarious stories and to be funny in conversation and over text (even if you tend to overthink things and feel self-conscious in social situations). Click here to check out her online workshop, How to Be Funny in Conversation Without Trying Too Hard.
3. Nate Shelley: Ted Lasso
Ted Lasso, on Apple TV+, tugs at the heartstrings with an underdog story about an American football coach who helps reverse the fortunes of AFC Richmond, a losing UK soccer club. Though Ted knows virtually nothing about soccer, he helps the team improve by making a point to genuinely connect with every member of the AFC Richmond organization.
One of the most critical relationships Ted forms is with Nate Shelley, who begins the series as the team’s equipment manager and groundskeeper. Used to operating unnoticed in the background — except for when he is getting bullied by the player — the introverted Nate is shocked when Ted asks for, and then later remembers, his name.
As he continues connecting with Nate, Ted gives him a new nickname, “Nate the Great,” which foreshadows the major role that he will play in AFC Richmond’s success. By being the first person to actually acknowledge Nate, Ted discovers that he is an incredible soccer strategist and ends up relying on him to help guide the team in the right direction.
Nate’s expanded role works wonders for the team, whose newfound success closely aligns with his own ability to help guide the players who used to look down on him. In fact, in an exciting plot twist, Nate becomes so successful at guiding players that he eventually gets hired to manage AFC Richmond’s rival, West Ham United.
Although at times Nate acts as the show’s villain, his rise is also significant. Like Nate, I’m not usually the first to start a conversation, but I make sure to put myself in spaces where opportunity can find me. For example, I started my career as a freelance documentarian by first taking a job at an organization that did the kind of community work I was interested in documenting. The same is true for Nate. Because he loves soccer, Nate works a job that allows him to at least be around the game.
4. Lisa Simpson: The Simpsons
As the stars of the longest-running show on U.S. cable television, Fox’s The Simpsons, Marge and Homer Simpson, along with their kids Bart, Lisa, and Maggie, are one of the country’s most famous families.
Lisa is the quiet, responsible foil to her popular, troublemaking brother, Bart. She studies hard, pours her heart into social causes, and often seems perfectly content to wail on her saxophone rather than play with kids her own age.
Like any kid, though, Lisa experiences self-doubt when she starts worrying about the acceptance of her peers. In the episode “Summer of 4 Ft. 2”, Lisa tries on a more hip personality after she gets made fun of for being a teacher’s pet. During a family vacation to the beach, she stylizes herself as devil-may-care skater and falls in with the cool kids.
Even though Bart tries to sabotage Lisa by telling her new friends what a nerd she is back home, his plan backfires when his big reveal just makes the cool kids like her even more. Before the Simpsons leave town, the new friends decorate the family car with seashells, thanking Lisa for all the interesting things she taught them about the creatures that live in the ocean.
In this episode, Lisa models what Dr. A.J. Drenth, author of The 16 Personality Types, calls the introvert’s tendency to be an “identity seeker”, someone who is constantly revising their sense of self as it relates to their larger purpose in the world. When she realizes the need to connect with her peers, and perhaps care a little less about school, Lisa shifts her purpose. By the end of this episode, she isn’t just learning for the sake of learning; she’s learning in order to be able to connect meaningfully and share her curiosity with others, as introverts are wont to do.
The lesson Lisa takes away during this episode is one I’ve recently learned to embrace myself. As a fellow “identity seeker,” I care a lot about self-reflection and finding myself in the writing I do. Though I used to just write “for myself,” I’ve recently found fulfillment in seeking an audience for my work. It’s interesting to reflect on my own introverted nature, but it’s even more fulfilling to share those reflections with others.
5. Honeybear: Betty
A spin-off of Crystal Moselle’s 2018 film Skate Kitchen, Betty follows a diverse group of women who are carving out space for themselves in the male-dominated skateboarding culture. The series rides high on the strength of gorgeous cinematography, exquisite musical direction, and the kinds of characters you seriously want to hang out with in real life.
Though she is the quietest member of its ensemble cast, Honeybear is the spiritual center of Betty, embodying so much of what makes the series great. While more extroverted characters, like Kirt and Indigo often dominate the dialogue, Honeybear is a steadying force, supporting her friends by capturing their best tricks on video, and expressing herself in creative ways, through dance and the music she plays on her signature collar speaker.
Over the course of Betty, Honeybear gets a great plotline that depicts the unique difficulties introverts can face when exploring romance and intimacy. As a timid person who has done plenty of self-inhibiting when it comes to dating, I nearly jumped for joy when she made a move on her crush, Ash. I also really felt for her as she figured out how to communicate effectively in a relationship, a task which can be especially difficult for us introverts.
While Honeybear’s dating life is an inspiration to hesitant romantics everywhere, she’s at her best when reminding us of how much fun an introvert can have on their own. During Betty’s Season 1 finale, a scene that shows her dancing alone on a rooftop is some of the most life-affirming content I’ve ever come across.
I saved Honeybear for last because she’s the introverted character I’ve felt the deepest connection to in recent years. She gets lost in life’s music, dresses a lot louder than she talks, and doesn’t always need to speak in order to experience a sense of belonging. Whenever I feel anxious, or feel weird, about social dynamics, Honeybear reminds me of how much introverts contribute to a group even when we don’t have much to say.
I hope these characters can help provide uplifting reminders to my fellow introverts. We are supportive, thoughtful, creative people capable of handling life’s challenges in our own way and at our own pace. I’m excited to hear about some of your own quiet onscreen TV icons in the comments below.
You might like:
- 6 TV Shows and Movies Introverts Should Watch in 2021
- 12 Popular Movies With Introverted Main Characters
- 6 ‘Weird’ Things Introverts Do That Are Actually Completely Normal
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