Body Diversity In Comic Books
There’s a problem with our superheroes, and it all comes down to their bodies.
Take a look at any standard artwork of Catwoman and Black Widow. Star Sapphire and Storm. Harley Quinn and Scarlet Witch. Notice anything odd? They’ve all got the same body shape. Now take a look at a random selection of six women… Their bodies are all different. In case you don’t have six women around you right now, I’ve included a handful below — these are all randomly selected friends of mine.
What’s going on? Why are our super heroines drawn with such little diversity, when women in reality have such a wide range of shapes and sizes?
Ideal Body Shape
There’s no doubt comic characters are often supposed to represent the ‘ideal’. For male characters, thats typically handsome and extremely muscular, with the iconic Dorito shaped bod. For female characters, its typically big breasts, small waist and big butt, with a pretty face thrown in to boot. Comic books are absolutely a visual medium, and the characters within them should often be pleasing on the eye as well as portraying what we’ve come to perceive as an ‘ideal’ body type… But that’s not to say diversity should be tossed out the window (along with the A cup bras.) It’s important — both for representation, and for a healthy relationship with reality.
Male characters suffer from this too, but generally fall into one of three categories;
1. Monstrous – Hulk, Man-Bat, The Thing, Killer Croc.
2. Hunk – Captain America, Batman, Colossus, Superman.
3. Athletic/Slim – Hawkeye, Nightwing, Spider-Man, Arsenal.
Whilst still not particularly diverse, it’s still considerably better than the female characters. Even ‘Hunk’-sized females, (like She-Hulk and Wonder Woman,) fluctuate wildly depending on the artist, and are often slimmed down to better fit with the ‘average’ size of other ladyheroes, with the only exception to the rule being the recent Ms. Marvel (a 16 year old,) the inhabitants of the brilliant Gotham Academy, (also children,) Spider-Gwen and the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. So whats the big deal?
We’ve fallen into poor habits. The 90’s saw an explosion of boobs and pouches, (THANKS ROB LIEFIELD!) and it’s a habit the industry seems lax to grow out of. We increasingly insist on elements of realism in our comic books, with darker stories and functional costumes, yet Catwoman is still sporting tits that would get her stuck in an air vent. Storm’s boobs would be up around her ears every time she flew into the air, and Elektra’s would be hitting her in the face with every backflip. There’s plenty of voluptuous booty that would get in the way of shimmying up drainpipes, and there’s no chance cheeks of such a size wouldn’t devour a spandex based costume. It’s still mind-blowing to me that Power Girl’s boob window is a thing.
Boobs are great. So are butts. And little waists. But they’re great in moderation — they’re great on the right characters, on characters who have been designed to have them, instead of simply copy-pasted, cookie cutter templates used for every damn female character. I want ladies with big butts and small chests, big chests and small butts, curvy waists, not-curvy waists, thick legs and long, narrow legs. I want characters drawn above an American size 10 (thats a British 14.) Did you know the average dress size in the UK is a 16, with the US being a 14? That’s what our average women are… So would it be out of the question to include some in comic books? I’m certainly not calling for a comic-wide adjustment of characters, and I’m definitely not asking for them all to be dressed in woolly pullovers from head to toe — just that we have a little more diversity.
IDW’s recent Jem & The Holograms is an utterly perfect example of what I mean. The title features a greater body diversity within its four main characters, than Marvel and DC do across their entire line. Image’s Bitch Planet does the same, as does Boom’s Lumberjanes — there are comics, and publishers, out there, pushing for a greater diversity in body types in comics, but it takes an almighty push for that to transfer over to The Big Two.
Why Is It Important?
Body confidence is a hot topic, and surely always will be. Men, women and children are constantly bombarded with images of how we ‘should’ look, images to strive for, despite the fact they’re often unrealistic and edited to an unattainable level. We’re pressured, by the media, by years of negative reinforcement, to fit into a certain mould, despite the fact we’re all so utterly different. I can spend every waking hour in the gym, but I’ll always have a flat chest and a big butt — Short dudes will always be short dudes, and girls with naturally thin legs or waists will always have those — yet we’re almost forced into hating ourselves, endlessly comparing ourselves to unattainable ‘ideals’ constructed by a flawed media system. Our little girls and boys are growing up being force-fed the same media, everywhere from Netflix and TV to magazines and billboard ads. It’s unavoidable… But it’s not the ultimatum.
Comics are my forte, they’re the thing I sell every day, and I get to witness men, women and children look at buff studs like Batman and Superman and top-heavy models like Catwoman and Black Widow. But I also get to see them pick up books like the Lumberjanes — a comic book about an all-girls camp where they fight monsters, a group of girls both diverse in personality, looks, interests and even featuring a growing gay relationship. People pick up Bitch Planet and realise being big, or skinny, or athletic, it ‘aint bad because you can still kick ass. We need more. We need skinny dudes that aren’t creepy bad guys, and more athletic dudes like Nightwing and Gambit. We need heavier dudes who can square up to the likes of Batman, and we need lithe, flat-chested women who can shuffle through air vents. I don’t want the big-chested men and women to disappear — I want the rest of us to join them.
Originally posted on Need To Consume in April 2015