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Published on April 3rd, 2015 | by Holly Ringsell

9

Body Diversity In Comic Books

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There’s a problem with our superheroes, and it all comes down to their bodies.

comic women

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.

real women

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.

male heroes

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?

shehulk and wondy

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.

The Godyssey Leifield

*Shakes fist in the air* LIEFIEEEEEEELD!

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.

the-unbeatable-squirrel-girl-erica-henderson-concept-art-108686

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.

jem

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.

So what do you think, Consumers? Is body diversity an issue for you? Do you think more needs to happen? Let us know in the comments! If you enjoyed this post, please share and check out my pieces on Agent Carter and the recent Batgirl variant cover featuring Joker.

Holly Ringsell

Holly Ringsell

Pink and purple. Owner of Dark Side Comics. I have a lot of feelings about Steve Rogers.
Holly Ringsell

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  • Valkyrie

    YAAAAAAASSSS

  • Alias Darker

    there’s nothing wrong with their bodies, you’e drunk , they look awesome ! unlike the travesty with the jem picture . and why would a superhero be fat ? HOW could they with all the energy they spend fighting and training to fight ? even if they were fat to begin with , they would lose all the weight in a matter of weeks…
    ps : even jem and her girls could not be that fat with all the energy they spend world touring

    • 8nonamefitsme8 181

      They aren’t fat, clearly you don’t know what female and male body types are. Being “thin” is not the only healthy or “attractive” body type. Then again, I’m Black guy and am tired of my heterosexual wants being ignored. Come on capitalism, expand on your demographics!!! Storm is African she needs a phat ass, n’ wide hips on a tiny waist.

      • Alias Darker

        no one is saying you can’t have your taste . you’re still allowed to have a taste for fat women , but this has nothing to do with super hero girls ,, they can’t be fat AND fight supervillains , it’s impossible

        • 8nonamefitsme8 181

          Again, just because a woman isn’t “thin” doesn’t mean she is FAT. They are not medically overweight.
          But, if you mean they shouldn’t have that amount of weight on them, you would still be incorrect. Look at one of the most famous female athletes in the world, Serena Williams. She does all the training and extreme physical task one would expect from a top notch superhero. Yet, like the Black purple haired illustration, Serena is bottom busty, wide hipped and thick thighed. She, also has muscular arms, a thin waist, and abs. Being a healthy weight is relative to location (of fat on the body), height, and age. Race and location also play roles.

          • Iveru

            Body shapes are far more than just super thin and fat. There are almost as many body types as there are women.

            It’s funny that you call Jem as travesty because when it first came out one of the things that made me fall in love with it fast was that all the women were drawn with different body shapes because that’s so rare.

            Women super heroes are almost all drawn the same with very slight variations, and most with a straight male reader in mind and that needs to change

  • Zed

    What a load of cherry picked rubbish. The only reason the female characters had the same body shape is you selected ones that had the same body shape. Here’s a better selection. Big Barda, Kitty Pryde, Power Girl, Big Bertha & Runaways Gert.

    Not the same body type are they & I came up with that right off the top of my head, where as you sat down & pondered your make believe argument enough to not only write an article, but also to cherry pick data to support it.

    • Iveru

      I’ll try to break this down for you slowly with small words so maybe you can understand why this is an issue for women, because I think you misunderstood the problem here.
      Okay.
      Male super heroes are idealized versions of the male body with a male reader’s power fantasy in mind. It’s very rare for them to be objectified like female characters are as often the reader the creative team has in mind is straight men.
      With that in mind women are usually drawn for this presumed straight man to find them sexy with that being more important than who they are as a character which gives female readers the message that they don’t matter as an audience. And honestly, it’s only been in the past few years where women’s voices have started to get listened to.
      Women are tired of just having to be seen as sexy for straight men’s gaze or, if they do have a different body type, such as if they’re fat, most of the images they see in comics and out, are people telling them that they are ugly and grotesque (see, your example of Big Bertha.)

      Male characters are drawn to be seen as cool and powerful.
      Women are drawn to be attractive above all else. See- Power Girl. She has a bit of a different body shape in the form of huge boobs but that’s because it makes her more attractive to male readers. It’s good she’s a Kryptonian, because when someone actually has boobs that size, it’s usually accompanied by at least minor back issues.

      Obviously, there are exceptions, once again going with your example, Runaways was a bit better with differing body types, or at least the art isn’t as objectifying as a lot of comic art can be. It’s also a comic that got more female readers than a lot of other comics.

      You complain that this article cherry picks, but you’re doing the same thing to make you look better. As a woman who’s been reading comics for a long time, let me tell you, the exceptions of different body types are far fewer than the examples of all women having the same body shape, which is why when a comic comes around that is more realistic towards women’s bodies, it’s seen as so special.

      • Zed

        “I’ll try to break this down for you slowly with small words so maybe you can understand why this is an issue for women”

        It’s not an issue for women, it’s an issue for SOME women, specifically it’s an issue for women who specifically have that as their personal mental bugbear.

        “Male super heroes are idealized versions of the male body”

        Female super heroes are idealized versions of the female body, which is why you see the same body types in female created & consumed media, from romantic comedies, to womens magazines, to romance novels.

        “It’s very rare for them to be objectified like female characters are”

        Sorry but no, you cannot objectify a fictional character. Objectification is the philosophical process by which a PERSON is treated like an object. A fictional character IS an object & has never been, nor will ever be a person & so falls outside of the purview of the philosophical concept of objectification, as quantified by feminist philosopher Martha Nussbaum in the Nussbaum constant.

        “With that in mind women are usually drawn for this presumed straight man”

        So your theory is that harlequin romance novels, Cleo magazine & romantic comedies were created to pander to a presumed straight male audience?

        “And honestly, it’s only been in the past few years where women’s voices have started to get listened to.”

        Rubbish.

        “Male characters are drawn to be seen as cool and powerful.”

        Yes, by being drawn as being physically attractive, you know, just like the female characters are. Sorry but you are trying to apply what is called special pleading, where you try to tell me that a is different from a because this a is more a-ish than the other identical a which feels more b-ish than a-ish.

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