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October 22, 2010

Of Bouncy Bits and Cleavage Windows

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Written by: Mac
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Let’s start off by being really blunt about this: some female comic characters’ proportions and costumes are ridiculous. (Note, I said some and not all.)

This has been a topic of much debate for years now, and there have been very valid points made on both sides of the discussion. Is there a correct answer? Probably not. Let’s look over some of the main points of discussion.

Practicality:

We all know that most comics are based in some form of fantasy and that most characters can survive things beyond normal human tolerance. We’ve all seen characters take a brutal beating with naught to show except a well-placed bruise or scratch. Does this mean that they should be wearing a thong into battle? (I don’t know about you, but I’m not into ass-floss.)

Whereas male characters often get some sort of armor, women are often left prancing around in their skivvies. What, you may ask, about Superman? He’s wearing body-tight spandex. Yes, he is…spandex that covers EVERYTHING except his face. He’s the Man of Steel, he’s bulletproof, and even he knows not to fight crime in his boxer shorts.

Let’s look at a comparison of two similarly super powered characters. On one side we have Superman, on the other, Power Girl. Both characters wear a one-piece suit. However, Power Girl’s is cut up to her thighs, bikini style. Her conservative neckline is completely negated by the “cleavage window” just below it. I don’t see Superman sporting a “junk window.” Argue it any which way you like, Power Girl’s costume is just not that practical aside from being able to feel a breeze while flying and kicking bad guys in the face.

Some may say that a sexy female costume serves the purpose of distracting villains shortly before they bash their heads in. If that is the case, I think the naughty bits of super men flapping about like weasels on crack would be far more distracting than a pair of tits.

Let’s also be sure to include shoes in this discussion. (Cause, you know, since I’m a chick, I must love shoes.) I’m sorry, but tromping around in six inch platforms is just as likely going to give you a twisted ankle as it’s going to punch a hole through someone’s intestinal track. They serve no real purpose, but the artist thought it would be sexy.

Objectification:

The objectification of female characters is inclusive of many details of their anatomy, but largely (and I do mean LARGELY) comes down to two: boobs. We’re talking basketball-sized gazungas that threaten to tear a hole in the space time continuum. Okay, perhaps that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but come on, have you seen the cleavage on some of these women? I hope the Justice League has damn good insurance to cover all the chiropractic visits these women will need.

But, you say, the men are just as objectified as the women. Yes and no. While they tend to be muscle bound beefcakes, they are somewhat anatomically sound. Some of the women I’ve seen look like they should snap in half at the waist from the weight of their Brobdingnagian bosoms.

We have seen male comic characters come in all shapes and sizes. Female characters sometimes remind me of the old Twilight Zone episode entitled “Number 12 Looks Just Like You.” You get a choice of a dozen cookie-cutter shapes, each as attractive as the last.

On another note, let’s talk villains for a second. How many unattractive male villains are there? Countless numbers of them. How many unattractive female villains are there? I’m having difficulty conjuring any up any more than one or two at the moment. (Of course, beauty is subjective, so let’s use the standard notions of what is beautiful, such as a good figure and a pretty face.) Even the majority of female baddies are voluptuous sexpots. You’d think at least a few uggos would want in on the action.

Sex and Sexuality:

As a friend of mine would remind me – breeding is a biological imperative, and the more attractive the person, the more likely they are to find a mate. While that’s all well and good, I think that’s stretching it a bit far when it comes to drawing and costuming female comic characters.

I get it. Sex sells. Always have and probably always will. (At least until we learn to shed our earthly bodies and become beings of pure energy. Then, who knows? We might get turned on by energy emitted by our microwaves or something.)

Don’t get me wrong. I like sexy female characters. I’m on my second faerie tale pinup calendar by the artist J. Scott Campbell. What I’d like to see is not a complete reversal where all of the characters are realistically shaped, but perhaps some more balance. Whenever I’ve seen this discussion broached in the past, there always seem to be a cavalcade of comments listing exceptions to the sexy superhero rule. The thing is, they’re just that: exceptions. Go to your local comic store and just glance at the covers for evidence of this.

As noted before, I don’t think there’s any one answer to this discussion, nor do I necessarily think there should be one. My point is that there are certain things that cannot be argued, things that simply are when it comes to women in comics. The list of examples is nearly endless. Argue it as right or wrong, but don’t lose sight of the facts. Oh, and my facts are up here.

Mac Beauvais
mac@comicattack.net
@Macabri

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13 Comments


  1. Kristin

    GREAT article Mac!
    That Power Girl panel bothers me…like, if you don’t want them staring at your chest, don’t wear a bloody suit that thrusts your cleavage into their faces.

    You might like a guest post I wrote this week for a manga friend of mine: How Strong is that Heroine in Your Manga, where I pointed out some amazing females in manga and anime, and highlighted a few of the major problems that weaken female characters.
    http://allaboutcomics.wordpress.com/2010/10/20/strength-of-manga-heroines/

    Sorry for that totally shameless plug. 🙂


  2. Eli

    Nice article indeed! Although I must admit that “junk window”… yeah that’s about the strangest thing I’ve heard in a while. I agree about some balance, but we all know that it won’t show up any time soon. Until then, I guess we’re stuck with Granny Goodness trying to balance the scales.


  3. Mac

    Glad you enjoyed the article!

    And I am a big fan of shameless plugs. ;D


  4. Jade

    My problem with this discussion, whenever it comes up, is that it takes the masculine fantasies to task, people defend those fantasies with exceptions, the exceptional status of those defences are pointed out and…that’s about where it ends. All parties confirm guilt or lack there-of with nothing actually changing save some creator’s becoming a bit more self-aware and throwing in that ‘little’ boob drama that Kris pointed out as a little conflicted.

    I think, and you poked this a bit with your calendar comment, that female readers need to be a little more forth-coming about what feminine fantasies these fantastical superfemales need to flaunt better. That’s what I see as the necessary follow-up that never follows up these complaints. What, exactly, should the counterweight to that balance be?

    Overall, I really enjoyed the article, I’m just interested to see some more solutions.


  5. Mac

    A well made point, Jade. Perhaps there is a follow-up article in the making related to that. I shall definitely ponder on it. It would be an interesting topic to explore.


  6. Billy

    You hit the nail on the head. Sex sells, and the overwhelming majority of buyers are men. I can honestly say though that it wouldn’t matter to me if the costumes were different, as in, less revealing. I don’t honestly think about it (lack of clothing), but years ago the costumes were less revealing and it didn’t bother me nor did my buying increases with the abscence of clothing. Good article!



  7. I actually had a conversation similar to this while at NYCC and the key word here is “balance”. The only females in comics without the perfect bodies in skimpy costumes are the extremely mutated, the sexy girl’s best friend (at times), or the woman that shows up in the 8th row in the background shot. And you’re right because they are the exception and yeah sex does sell but sometimes this shit gets overdone.

    I was actually glad when Ron Marz finally took over Witchblade and put some clothes on the character. Yeah she still has her good looking figure but she’s dressed a lot more practical in jeans, shirt, long trench coat. Even when she gets covered in just the Witchblade it’s a lot more tasteful than in the past. This actually helps me take her a bit more seriously as a character which helps to reinforce the writing of the story.

    I really can’t take the character seriously when she’s got a 32 FF bust and a 5 inch waist anyway lol



  8. Very good points! I happen to agree with you on them and I do my best to take said points into account in my own comic book, however small a point that may be. (how is that for a shameless plug?)



  9. […] Would buying it make me a hypocrite?” As you may recall, I wrote an article recently titled Of Bouncy Bits and Cleavage Windows that discusses many of the issues facing the physical appearances of women in comics. Because of […]



  10. […] hoping to soon. In the meantime, check out my articles for ComicAttack.net and ThinkLeet.com: Of Bouncy Bits and Cleavage Windows I Fight in Heels: Balancing Women in Comics Learn New Words With Horror Movies My Wolf Man […]


  11. Cedric

    Y’know, I’m agreeing with you, but, I’m seeing on Reality Shows like the Kardashians, and even the user community Sims 3 game Sims a prepoderance of BBs and CWs. Except that these shows are targetted towards women, and the designers of the cheesecakiest Sims are women. Also, speaking of manga, manga has *far* more nude scenes and “fanservice” than American comics. Yet, manga is read by far more women than American comics. Does this mean women tolerate this sexualization of women? Or that this actually makes it more appealing to them somehow?

    Two other thoughts,. The first: In a study, the same female models were shown to a group of men and women. When men were asked to recollect the models, they remembered her face, body, etc. The women, meanwhile, remembered what the women were wearing. The second: You’ll recall the 60’s television series Batman added Batgirl, who wore a skin-fitting costume. This was to target two demographics that the show didn’t yet reach: teenage girls — and their fathers. (:



  12. I mostly agree with you, Mac. I don’t think it’s always about sex selling. Sometimes I think it’s fun to draw certain things and easy to be creatively lazy. Maybe I mean that I don’t imagine these artists thinking “this is going to make a ton of money,” but more “this is going to look really cool!”

    We don’t really get multiple body types in comics until we get to the Indies. I mean in terms of effort it’s worth considering that developing a decline second, third or fourth type of body takes work creatively. I mean Betty and Veronica seem to be the same body, really. There’s a sort of creative economy going on there. I think even in terms of modeling, there’s creative work to be done. But as they say pop eats itself. Artists could look outside of the mainstream for a few different ideas.

    Well, now I feel like I’m rambling.

    And ‘Number 12 Looks Just Like You’ is probably my favorite Twilight Zone episode.



  13. Insightful and honest article. Where I agree on the scantly clad women of comics, I would also like to add that a majority of the men in comics also have exceedingly impossible physiques as well. Therefore before we judge the size of a woman’s breasts, let’s take a good look at the anatomy of superman and wolverine sometime.

    I believe this is a theme that will continue in mainstream comics, as long as the majority of the audience is a 16-40 year old male. The graphic novel seems to be the best place to print a real life female adventure. Thanks again.



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