Social Justice Warriors vs. Positive Body Image in Comics

Spider-Woman

CREDIT: Marvel Comics

I was prompted to write this blog by a recent click-bait article on BuzzFeed that has so far garnered in excess of 1.6 million views.  Go ahead and click above if you have not seen it yet, I’ll be here when you get back.

I have numerous problems with the BuzzFeed article, mostly because it offers an incomplete and slanted view of women in today’s comics and while pointing out a problem (that is not as bad as they make it seem to be) does nothing to offer any kind of solutions.

The Images

They haul out images from the past to illustrate their point.  Can I look at images from the history of comics and find stuff to illustrate any point I’m trying to make?  Sure.  That said, look at the image of Spider-Woman that heads this blog.  On the left we have the Milo Manara image that caused a huge internet furor back in 2014.  Guess what?  Spider-Woman has been changed since then, perhaps because of that furor.  Look at the image on the right, that’s a cover of Spider-Woman from a couple of months ago.  But using the image on the right is not going to help make the point the article was trying to make.  Let do this with a few more images in the BuzzFeed article:

Wonder Woman

CREDIT: DC Comics

On the left we have a boobs & butts image from a number of years ago.  I can find any number of these images of Wonder Woman if I look for them.  But look at the image on the right by Renae de Liz from the new “Legends of Wonder Woman” series.  This is how DC is portraying Wonder Woman today.  But the image on the right doesn’t support the premise of the article, so it’s not used.

Red Sonja

Red Sonja.  OK, her costume has been a chain mail bikini for most of the past 40 years, you’d be hard pressed to find an image that isn’t kind of pander-y……  Except guess what?  In the new Red Sonja series debuting next month her costume has been changed to the look on the right above.  Better?  A matter of opinion to be sure, but things are moving in the right direction.

The Models

The BuzzFeed article makes a big deal of having “average woman” try to get into the poses of comic book women and comment on how difficult those poses are and how they make them feel.  Guess what?   You could get results much like the stuff in the article if you had average people trying to duplicate poses done by real-life yoga masters or professional athletes.

women-yoga_00386287

Image Credit: (left) wallpoper.com (right) Baltimore Sun

Heck, I can’t duplicate the poses of a yoga expert or professional athlete the same as I can’t duplicate poses they put Spider-Man or Batman into.  The women in the Buzzfeed article would be similarly challenged trying to duplicate the images above.

But I’m told, the purpose is not just to duplicate the poses but to bring light to the conversation of women being over-sexualized in these poses (in comics)”.  Fair enough, to which I will direct people to my point above that we’re seeing less of these poses in comics published today, which is why they had to go to the archives for images to use in the article.

Comics vs. Super-Hero Comics

The article talks about “stereotypical comic book poses” and reinforces the stereotype with the general public that COMIC BOOKS == SUPER-HEROES.

This is not the case.  Taking aside that even super-hero comics are (slowly) moving away from the “boobs and butts” emphasis that was more prevalent in the past, there are plenty of comics published outside of the costumed heroic genre that portray very positive and realistic images of women.  These comics don’t further the agenda of the article so they are ignored. 

CREDIT: Image Comics

We get quotes from the women in the article like Nina: “I get that comics are stylized and that’s fantasy. But why does so much of the fantasy revolve around half-naked women contorted to show off their boobs and butts?”  There are plenty that don’t Nina.  Try reading Velvet or Shutter.

CREDIT: Image Comics / Marvel Comics

Or Candace: “Man, we all look so crazy, and have such an unrealistic expectation to look incredible. This pretty much goes for men in comics too. I mean, yes, I would be ripped if I was tearing through the city skyline but would that also call for rapid boob growth and my clothes to disappear? Nah. I didn’t realize how insane the proportions were until we were actually photoshopped.”  Well, not all proportions are unrealistic and not all costumes are tiny in comics, Candace.  Try reading Lazarus or Ms. Marvel.

Summary

 The BuzzFeed article does ZERO to implement any positive change.  Don’t like over sexualized super-hero comics?  Then don’t buy the comics that use over sexualized imagery to sell comics and support ones that don’t do that. There a plenty of comics on the stands that don’t (of the 100+ titles I buy monthly there is very little of this type of thing in them).

On the plus side, the frenzied protests of the past seem to be working.  Mainstream super-hero comics have far less of this today than they did even a couple of years ago.  Moving out of the world of super-heroes, this has really not been an issue for quite a long time.  But do we need to continue to haul out that Manara image every year or so to generate clicks??

What can you do to help?  Educate people you meet on what comics are and what they are not.

  1. Comics ARE a form of entertainment that has fascinating stories to read in every genre you can think of.
  2. Comics ARE NOT just super-heroes.
  3. Women in super-hero comics ARE portrayed in positive ways, not just boobs spilling out of tiny tops and butts with tiny thongs.

Pick the comics that support the positive images.  Tell your friends about them.  Skip the ones that you don’t like, there are plenty of great comics out there to enjoy.  Move out of the world of super-heroes, you may be surprised what you can find if you look.

Bob Bretall (bob@comicspectrum.com)
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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