Tuesday, June 05, 2007

A Serious Musing on the Female Body

Jamie Eason
Originally uploaded by Heidi Meeley
With all the discussions of late about the Mary Jane statue and the Heroes for Hire cover, I have been thinking a great deal about body types and what is attainable. I have also been pondering what a healthy woman would look like, and what it would take to maintain that.

This weekend I was able to have some interesting discussions with both women and men about realistic expectations and the portrayal of female bodies in comic books. One lady I spoke to felt strongly that a strong woman isn't afraid to dress sexier and more provocative. She also felt that the woman in question would dress more to please herself then to send a message of seduction to the men that might see her. It was an interesting point, and one that would naturally merit both immediate opposition and insight a great deal of thought. That discussion isn't the point here, but it really made me think.

As a woman who has battled her weight my entire adult life, I have always tried to dress modestly. Ideally, I want to look strong and healthy. I want to be able to wear a tank top or sleeveless shirt on a warm day. I like to wear shorts and skirts, and I like them to be above the knee. I don't particularly like lowcut blouses, but I like some breathing room in the neck. If I looked like the lovely Jamie Eason (pictured), an Oxygen cover model, I would most likely wear a two piece swimsuit to the beach without regret, and you know what? I would do it for myself. Hmm...

It really made me ponder how attainable a healthy, attractive body is to attain. As someone who works out six days a week, and lifts weights as well as doing cardio, I know it is quite difficult. I have been battling the "last 15 pounds" for the last month and a half, and it is driving me nuts. Several of my friends this weekend said that they find themselves in that position as well. That is why when I see Selina Kyle struggling into her Catwoman outfit after giving birth to her daughter, I really appreciate the realism of it all.

I loved Digital Femme's post about what a female super hero would look like if she were a real woman. Cheryl Lynn found pictures of fit women and made them into heroes. It was an eye opener. It also made me really respect Cheryl Lynn's point of view. She reads Oxygen like I do, and has a healthy appreciation for the amount of effort put into being so toned.

I would say that my point is this: I want to see female super heroes at least look healthy. As much as they work out and have to depend on excellent physical health to fight crime, they would have similar bodies to those I see in the fitness magazines I read, or the ladies I see at the gym. This means that the arms are toned and strong, and that the legs have powerful and toned thighs that have a muscular edge. As Cheryl Lynn points out, the waist wouldn't be so thin, but more cut and defined as well.

There will always be a market that showcases women as victims. Those are not books I am interested in reading. I want to read about Wonder Woman kicking ass. I love it when Power Girl and Black Canary stand toe to toe with the guys. The fact that these ladies are chairwomen of their respective teams makes me insanely gleeful. I am not always thrilled with the outfits the ladies wear, but I usually focus more on the overall fitness and general appearance. I have no doubt that the Huntress or Black Canary could kick my ass, and I know they have worked hard to do so.

Bottom line: I want my female heroes to look strong and healthy. While I don't necessarily know if I will ever attain my personal goal of having a fit body like the models in Oxygen or Flex, I know I have a hell of a lot better chance of looking that way then I do of looking like Mary Jane, who is a super model. I will never be 5'10 and stick thin, but I can be in good shape and have a long, healthy life. That is what matters in the end.


Anonymous said...

Great post, Heidi. I appreciate the honesty behind it.

I also picked up on another one of those great and profound differences between men and women, and how they view their respective worlds (whether real or fictional). Something I've noted is that women generally tend to see fictional physicality in a comparative light. In other words, how do the women of fictional environments, in this case comic books, compare to the physical appearances of "real" women? I've seen similar discussions surrounding things like Barbie Dolls, and how their physical proportions compare to "real" women.

Obiously, these are all great conversations to have, and I'm not AT ALL saying it's silly, weird, wrong, etc. It's just very different from what a man's perspective might typically be. You'd be hard pressed to find any guy wondering why the cartoonishly exaggerated biceps, pecs and abs of comic book superheroes are nowhere near the average man's (much less the average male comic book fan's)...or wishing comic books would feature more realistically proportioned men. In fact, I think most men are more focused on the comic book distortions of female anatomy than the male, if you know what I mean.

Again, I'm not trying to invalidate what you're feeling, Heidi...but at the same time, it's a fascinating glimpse into, in many ways, a "foreign" way of thinking to someone for whom fiction-to-reality body comparisons are almost completely off the radar.

As far as you know, have any of the women bloggers talked about anything like this....about why body type comparisons (whether to comic book heroines, Barbie Dolls, women celebrities, etc) seem to be more of a concern for women?

Dan said...

You're drawing an entirely false analogy, Mark. Batman doesn't have biceps and abs like an average man's because Batman is not an average man. If the norm was to draw Batman looking like me - average muscles and a beer belly - it would seem absurd.

Similarly, Wonder Woman should be drawn as muscular and athletic, just like her male counterparts. But far more often than not, Wonder Woman more closely resembles a photo of Jenna Jameson than a photo of Jamie Eason. No, she's not drawn like an average woman, but she's not drawn like the right sort of exceptional woman, either.

The issue isn't that female heroes don't compare to "average" women, it's that they don't compare to the male heroes.

Lisa said...

Mark - it seems to me that it's not that men don't compare themselves to other characters, it's that men don't compare themselves at all. I think we've all seen those ugly, overweight guys with the "no fat girls" t-shirts or guys who rip on women for being fat or ugly, while looking pretty out-of-shape and ill groomed.

Somehow, men seem better at accepting themselves than women are. Women compare and compete, trying to improve while it seems like men are either happy with what they are or want to improve themselves - but they don't need to compare themselves to someone or something else to do so.

James Meeley said...

Somehow, men seem better at accepting themselves than women are.

You know, Lisa, I think you just might have hit upon the reason why women take so much issue with the why women are shown physically in comics (especially superhero ones) and why men don't.

Women generally do tend to compare themselves against other images (be they real or fictional) a whole lot more than men ever do.

It explains so much, also, about why men don't get offended as easily at things like the MJ statue or Heroes For Hire cover art, as often as women seem to do. Wish I knew the answer to give women the "gift" of not caring about physically comparing themselves to other images, like men tend to do.

Great discussions and thoughts being brought up here, which seem to be bringing a lor of insight into recent events in the comics blogoverse. Good show, everyone!

Heidi Meeley said...

Mark, I really appreciate your comments on this. It IS interesting how differently men and women approach the portrayal of their own in comic books. I have always enjoyed it when artists portray Power Girl as more muscular, or give Wonder Woman a ridge around her shoulder to show her powerful arm. It seems more realistic to me. I am by no means forgetting the fantasy aspect of the comic book portrayal, but sometimes I want to see a more realistic vision brought to life.

I don't even want to get started on fashion magazines and Hollywood stars. As a young girl, I was always really upset that I would never be tall and thin. I am short and have large muscles, which wasn't in vogue back then. It is easier to embrace myself now, but back then it was hell. Sometimes if I would read a Wonder Woman comic book and she would kick ass and take names, it would help me to get over some of my self esteem issues. I know that may seem odd, but it is true.

I know that there will always be the Barbie doll style exageration featured in books, but I also hope for more realistic portrayals that I can show my niece as she grows up. I don't want her to think we all have to look like Gisele or Heidi Klum, and I don't want her to think that she has to have a huge rack like the warrior chick on the cover of a comic book. Hopefully I can have a positive effect.

In the meantime, I really wanted to show that a real woman can look great, and that it can translate into the comic book format.