‘She’s a rude, belittling fat-shamer’: How Peppa Pig became every parent’s worst nightmare

Is Peppa Pig a force for good or a force for evil?  (iStock/Getty/Alamy)
Is Peppa Pig a force for good or a force for evil? (iStock/Getty/Alamy)

Reshmi Bennett, a bakery owner and children’s author, was not prepared to lose her battle with TV’s most divisive pig. Like so many youngsters, Bennett’s six-year-old son had been wooed by the porky charms of Peppa Pig, the anthropomorphic superstar of children’s animation, who hit TV screens for the first time 20 years ago today. But once Bennett sat down to watch the programme with her little boy, she was horrified. “Peppa’s so dislikeable,” she tells me. “She’s rude, entitled and belittling. She’s also a sore loser and unsupportive of her friends. She fat-shames her dad and ... [is] mean to her little brother.”

Bennett says her son quickly grew out of watching Peppa after he was put on a (potentially healthier) diet of Paw Patrol and Numberblocks. But her concerns about the character aren’t hers alone. They echo one of the great debates currently defining modern parenthood: is Peppa Pig a force for good or a force for unbridled evil? Is she too rude and entitled for the children who worship her? Or does she merely mirror childhood in all its complexity?

The four-year-old piglet undeniably has her good moments and her bad. Her programme, which began in 2004 and has kept her locked in preschool age ever since, takes viewers through her day-to-day activities. We’ve seen her and her brother George get covered in mud after diving into puddles in their garden. We’ve seen her play with her friend Suzy Sheep. We’ve seen her behave nicely when she visits the dentist. She’s adorable! Some of the time, anyway.

Some parents find Peppa unbearable, calling her a cheery, pink menace. Or rude. Or a bully. They do have a bit of a point. She often bosses George around, and berates her father for his weight – telling him his tummy is “too big”, and even using “Daddy’s big tummy” as the password to enter her treehouse. She is also known to turn her snout up at the food that’s made for her.

Bennett tells me that the way Peppa speaks to her brother is particularly egregious. “She [excludes] him whenever her friends come round, and [is] unempathetic when he’s ill,” she says. “I also dislike the way they portray Daddy Pig as a hapless, halfwit moron and how everything falls on Mummy Pig’s shoulders – her mental load must be unbearable!”

Nicole Ratcliffe, who works as a family sleep specialist, tells me that Peppa Pig is banned in her home. Her issue, much like Bennett’s, is the show’s portrayal of parental and gender roles. “There’s a Peppa Pig book called I Love Mummy Pig and the theme throughout is ‘Mummy we need you!’” she says. The book sees Daddy Pig try and fail to do nice things for his wife on Mother’s Day, but everything goes awry. He botches the breakfast. He takes the family for a surprise day out at the beach... but it’s snowing. Then the picnic he made blows away in the wind.

“Dad is beyond useless, and every attempt at doing something nice for Mum results in her having to save the day while the kids and Dad expect her to do everything.” The final straw for Ratcliffe was when Daddy Pig gave Mummy Pig a half-eaten chocolate bar as a gift. “I haven’t ever read a book that has got me so angry in the way it is teaching young children to accept that [mums] will fix it all and they do it without thanks,” she says.

Peppa is a child herself and she is exhibiting real authentic child behaviour. What good children’s TV does is allow children to see themselves in characters on screen

Jackie Edwards, Children’s Media Foundation

Peppa Pig has been on the chopping block several times before. In the show’s early days, its maker, the animation company Astley Baker Davies, had to reissue several episodes after complaints. Most notoriously, the Pig family were accused of risking injury or death by not wearing seatbelts while in vehicles. In a different episode, Peppa was seen riding her bike without a helmet, causing helmets to be hastily added for repeats.

Australian television banned an episode for teaching children not to be afraid of spiders – a potentially deadly lesson in a country filled with poisonous ones – while American parents have complained about the character’s “rudeness and impatience”. Others were simply bothered by the fact that their children had picked up Peppa’s British accent, calling gas stations “petrol stations”, or saying “yuck” instead of “eww”.

Some of these complaints are more trivial than others, but they speak to a feeling that Peppa Pig – particularly in conjunction with her naughty behaviour – is too complex and divisive a character for traditional children’s TV. For Jackie Edwards, though, who is part of the Children’s Media Foundation’s executive group and was formerly the BBC’s head of children’s acquisitions and independent animation, this is a good thing.

Daddy Pig being laughed at over his ‘big tummy’ (Channel 5)
Daddy Pig being laughed at over his ‘big tummy’ (Channel 5)

“I feel very sorry for Peppa because she’s a good pig,” Edwards tells me. “Peppa is a child herself and she is exhibiting real authentic child behaviour. What good children’s TV does is allow children to see themselves in characters on screen.” Edwards believes that it’s actually a good thing for Peppa to occasionally be rude, or enact bad behaviour every once in a while. “We’re all lots of things at the same time, aren’t we?” she says. “We can all be happy, sad, funny, kind, and sometimes a bit naughty... Peppa’s real.”

Edwards says that shows like Peppa Pig present a good opportunity for parents to talk to their children about their behaviour. “Peppa is often kind; she says please and thank you. She models good behaviour, but it seems to be the naughty behaviour that parents always pick up on.” This, Edwards says, could result in teachable opportunities for parents rather than a reason to change the channel. “Children’s TV is a really valuable aid to development, to seeing how they fit into the world.”

Plus, she adds, Peppa would be a bit boring if she wasn’t sometimes the sassiest piglet in the world, wouldn’t she? “I absolutely think any character who is ‘perfect’ is going to be very dull indeed,” she says. And despite occasional criticism from parents, Peppa must be doing something right if the world’s children find her so compelling. “Having a one-dimensional perfect character is not going to have any appeal for children,” says Edwards. “They can smell inauthenticity before anyone else.”