Wednesday, March 04, 2015

"Finally, comic book women get a real bodies make-over"

Title in quotation marks because redraws have been going on for years.

I am referring to this article which has been doing the rounds.  A facebook friend asked me what I thought of it so I thought I'd tidy up and post it here.

The motivations of the team behind this are explained as follows:
When the team at saw Buzzfeed's Disney princess makeovers, they decided they should take these super-human ladies and give them some super human bodies. Their hope is that when viewers see these realistic waistlines, they will be able to better relate to the characters. After all, being powerful doesn't have to correlate with being a double-D, size 2 cat lady,

I'll admit that I'm more inspired by men's physiques in comic books than I am by women's physiques.  I'm not sure if this is because I have a fairly relaxed attitude to gendered bodies or because men are shown as being more muscular than women, but if I think about who I most want to look like it's hook handed Aquaman, every time.  I know I'll never look exactly like him, I know his physique is caricatured, but when I think of visual motivation for working out and getting a six pack he's who I think of.

I don't lady comic characters unrelatable because they can be drawn ridiculously.  I think the world of Wonder Woman, even when she's drawn by Mike Deodato.  Relatable doesn't just mean 'looks like me'.

Having said that, I like the idea of re-drawing characters to look more normal.  It made me realise that some art which I consider realsistic really isn't - the thigh gaps for example.  I think that some of the redraws aren't quite right though - they aren't athletic enough.  There's a difference between tits an ass, normal realistic bodies and athletic.  I don't think there's a problem with making superheroes (and villains) look atheltic if their power set and skills demand it.  For example, the Flash should look like a runner.  Guy Gardner is an ex PE teacher, John Stewart is an ex marine.  I'd be surprised if they didn't keep fit, but they shouldn't look like triangular beefcakes.  Aquaman and Mera should look like swimmers.  Batman and Black Canary should look like martial arts experts.  Wondy should look like a gladitorial athelet.

Some of the redraws don't look right.  Black Widow doesn't look as fit as a physically active spy should be.  Her spying is a core part of her character, and if she doesn't look right I can't relate to her.  If she looks like she spends more time behind a desk than out in the field I'm not interested.  Catwoman, Ivy, Power Girl and Phoenix work for me.  Rogue doesn't.  Given the amount of time the X-Men spend training she shouldn't be as soft as that around the middle.  The same goes for Storm.

In making these characters look like normal everyday women that we can now supposedly relate to, they've taken away some of the power fantasy.  If I'm going to be inspired by a superhero I'll be inspired by their strength of character, their morals and what they can do with their bodies and how capabel their bodies are - but I'm someone interested in fitness and what exercise and training can do to the body.  Not everyone is.

To simplify, often lady superheroes are drawn to be fancied by men, and male heroes are drawn to be power fantasies for men.  Female characters should be power fantasies for women too, but to dot hat, you have to understand how bodies and exercise work.


Feminist Avatar said...

This does raise some interesting questions about the nature of the athletic female (and for that matter male) body. Having very defined muscular is not true of all types of athletes, male or female. And indeed, the muscular types we see on tv in movies etc tend to also be on quite rigid diets to minimise body fat - and may not even be that 'fit' (ie they might do lots of weightlifting and toning, but less running or stamina work). You can have excellent muscle-tone with a layer of fat on top to 'diguise' it, because you aren't too worried about showing off your sixpack (or indeed in some cases be viewed as 'fat' - as are some athletic members of the health at any size movement).

Given that many superheroes are fit because of what they do, not because they spend hours in the gym, it is feasible that they might not be observably muscly as they wouldn't necessarily be focused on presenting an 'ideal' body - just on getting the job done. I would also note that to get the typical male superhero body would require 5-6 hours in the gym everyday in real life. And while superheroes are called on to get physical regularly, would it amount to 5-6 hours every day? (This is ignoring the musletone caused by magic/radiation/alien-genetics etc).

I would also note that few of these redrawing substantially reduced bust size, apart from some particularly egregious examples, where in the redraws the breasts remained reasonably large. And as a general rule (with the occasional notable exception), natural breasts require a certain level of body fat. Women with high levels of visible muscle tend to have low body fat and so smaller natural breasts. So in that sense, the waists and bodies of these redraws are about getting more 'average' proportions in play. This of course raises the really interesting question of why the breasts are being used to define the proportions of the rest of the body. Why not slim women with few curves - can they not be superheroes? What about pear shaped women with big bottoms etc etc?

I get your point that we shouldn't have to have soft, flabby women as superheroes - we can aspire to more - but at the same time, there is no typical athletic body that can be pointed to as a model to copy.

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SallyP said...

There are tons and tons of female athletes, and they all have different body types. But comic book artists only know how to draw one...maybe two body types. Heck, they only know how to draw one face, for that matter, just change the hair color!

Men are all drawn as big and brawny, of course, but at least, with some of the better artists, there is a bit of variation. I applaud them trying to change things, but doubt very much that it will become the norm.