- Olivia Luchini
Superheroines vs. Women's Bodies
In 1934, Detective Comics (or DC) was founded by Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, which ultimately led to the creation of a new character archetype, the "superhero," through Superman in 1938. While the technical first superheroine came in 1940 through the character Fantomah, a "mystery woman of the jungle" who protected it with supernatural powers, this character was briefly used and mainly served as a background character in her respective series. Many identify Wonder Woman as the first true superheroine. She first appeared in All Star Comics #8 in 1941 through a company that ultimately merged with other companies to become DC.
Now that we have a little background in the timeline of women's emergence into the comic book industry, let's discuss the triumphs and failures of superheroes versus the body of a woman.
Right off the bat, I feel the need to disclose that I am unabashedly biased toward women in comics. Before I even began elementary school, I already saw myself very clearly in the characters of Wonder Woman and Hawkgirl in the Cartoon Network animated series, "Justice League." These women were unapologetically strong, tough and intelligent, while also appearing feminine. To this day, I swoon at the way women get to be portrayed through superheroine roles. Heck, I cried four times upon seeing "Wonder Woman" (2017) for the first time. These characters are often powerful, wise and kind, all of which are great features to teach young children about.
On paper, Wonder Woman could actually align relatively well with what I am searching for. According to my Wonder Woman encyclopedia from 2003, Wonder Woman is 5'11 and 140 pounds, which is actually considered of normal stature if you look at BMI calculators. However, in my offical DC Comics Encyclopedia from 2004, they state her to be 6'0 and 165 pounds, moving her up several BMI points, placing her closer to overweight than underweight, though she remains normal. In current editions of Wonder Woman comics, they estimate her to be 6'2, but they do not provide a weight. Though I don't find too many issues with Wonder Woman's statistics, I do firmly believe that she would weigh more than 165 pounds because of her muscular build within most official artwork AND because she is meant to be "stronger than Hercules."
So, on paper, we might consider Wonder Woman the closest character we have yet to find of a tall, strong woman who is not portrayed as slender or lanky. Praise Diana Prince!
In addition to Wonder Woman, DC has several other tall women who are also very strong. Powergirl is 5'11 and Starfire is 6'4, making her taller than both Superman and Batman (though you'd never know it if you watched "Teen Titans").
In terms of Marvel, most of their iconic superheroines are below 6'0. Mystique is 5'10, Storm is 5'11, and Gamora is actually meant to be 6'0 and 200 pounds, which you wouldn't quite derive from her cinematic interpretation in which her actress is 5'7 and about 120 pounds. I actually find Gamora's on-paper stats to be a great example of a TSC.
One hero that REALLY disappointed me was Captain Marvel. Carol Danvers is Marvel's upcoming hero and considered one of the most powerful in their cinematic universe. She is meant to have super strength, super speed, and super stamina. However, her statistics say that she is 5'11 and (hold onto your hats) 124 POUNDS. This makes her BMI underweight. It seems kind of terrible in contrast to Wonder Woman who is one inch taller and 40 pounds heavier, but Captain Marvel was created by two men, so there might be some disconnect on average weights per height, I suppose.
So what the f*ck am I going to complain about? (and so sorry for the length of this post already, but you wouldn't BELIEVE the amount of research this took)
Well, there are a few things.
First and foremost, though the statistics of these characters present strong, accurate depictions of women who would conceivably be able to have super strength and more, and while they are all protagonists, and while they are all feminine for the most part, there is an area that tends to do our girls dirty: the artwork within the actual comics.
Ah, art. You see, you're not presented with the numerical heights and weights of these superheroines when you crack open a comic book. You have to infer their statistics based on the cartooning done by mainly male artists. Because of this, women in comics are often sketched with extreme hourglass figures. Even today, you will find comics of Wonder Woman in which her breasts are spilling out of her armor, and more often than not, it's in an issue illustrated by a man.
With a simple Google of "female superheroes sexualize," you will receive a mountain of evidence that women in comic books are posed in inhumane ways in order to flaunt all of their most sexualized parts. While we read Wonder Woman was 165 pounds and cheered, we now see a comic of her and realize that her artists put all of that weight into her chest and butt, leaving her midsection completely skinny.
Starfire, Powergirl, and Black Widow have to fight crime in costumes that prioritize their cleavage over their powers. (I wanted to insert a gif her of Powergirl, but all of the ones available were actually from pornographic interpretations of her character, so take that as evidence)
It becomes increasingly evident that, though these characters might appear to be TSCs (tall, strong, chunkies) by their statistics, they fall flat when they are realized on paper, becoming fantasies for the male readership that comic book companies have always catered to.
Ultimately, superheroines have a great opportunity to represent the exact body that I am writing about, the TSC. Yet, they fall flat in an attempt to stick to the status quo of the male readership that they began writing for many decades ago, who seemed to demand superheroines that male heroes could overpower and that they could fantasize about. Through improvement of art, there could be the representation that I crave.
For now, I find that the superheroines of the world are the closest we have to the TSC in popular culture. Tomorrow, I am excited to explore Cartoon Network's "Steven Universe," the show that inspired this blog. I might revisit Marvel comics in the future through the form of a critique of the character "Big Bertha."