Community Manager
3 Jul, 2018
GUEST BLOG: Body Diversity (or lack of) in the World of Comics

This guest feature comes from Holly ‘Bucky’ Ringsell of Dark Side Comics in Chelmsford. Make sure you take a look at what they’re up to on Facebook and on their websitewww.darksidecomics.co.uk.

There’s a problem with our comic characters, 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.

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?

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 there cent Ms. Marvel (a 16 year old,) the inhabitants of the brilliant Gotham Academy, (also children,) and Spider-Gwen. 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.

We need diversity. We need a range of body shapes, of men and women, in our media. Perhaps you’re unhappy with yourself. Perhaps you look in the mirror and despair when you see the marks on your skin, or the lumps you wish were n’t there, or the shade of your skin, but the days of hating ourselves for seemingly ‘failing’ to fit the mould can be behind us— Our bodies are exquisite.

Some of us have working feet, strong legs, big, squishy, comfy butts for sitting on, soft tummies perfect for cuddling, rock-hard abs for grating cheese (thats what you do with abs… right!?), hands that can draw and write, mouths that can sing, eyes that can read a sign from a mile away, soft skin, cool husky voices that you never want to stop listening to. We have laughs that are contagious, and smiles that brighten the room in even the darkest of times. Some of us are the greatest friends someone else will ever have, the kindest husband or wife, the perfect boyfriend or girlfriend, the totally-annoying-but-kind-of-awesome brother or sister, the strongest dad, or the safest mum. Some of us have brains that solve puzzles and problems, and some of us have brains that sell and sell and sell. Some of us know more than encyclopaedias, or more useless film trivia than IMDB. We can fix computers, or cars, we can kick a football, or kick butts. We can smell the fresh cut grass, feel the warm air on our faces, look up at those stars in the blackest of night, and maybe we feel a little insignificant in the grand scheme of things… But some of us save lives, and others make them. We’re only here for a limited time, a tiny slice of time and space within the greater, and ever-moving universe, but we can bring so much beauty to the lives of those around us, enjoy our short time the best we can. In the words of a great poet, repeated by a man who blessed us with endless happiness — “The powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.” Use your time on this planet while you can — spread happiness, be kind, and be at peace with yourself. If that means spending some time in the gym until you’re content, or eating that extra pizza slice, do what makes you happy. Read comic books, watch movies, spend time with your friends, families, acquaintances. Use your talents to bring diversity into comic books, literature, movies, tv. Do something to make the world awesome, whether thats chasing that dream job, helping a friend in need, or simply learning to be comfortable with yourself. We are capable of incredible things, our capacity for emotion is unparalleled and overwhelming, and our bodies hold within them impossible potential, just waiting to be unleashed. We are so much more than we give ourselves credit for.

We’re utterly, completely spectacular.

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