October 11, 2013

Over the last year or so, folks all over the internet have produced a lot of commentary about women heroes, costumes, depictions of women heroes, the unrealistic contorted poses we see women strike on various urban fantasy novel covers, and so on.  Author Jim C. Hines famously demonstrated how ridiculous those poses are, when it isn’t sexy women making them.  Kevin Bolk made this wonderful picture of what it would look like if all the male Avengers held that ass-out pose that is de rigueur for women supers.  This week, folks have been pointing me to this set of artwork redesigning various women heroes in more sane outfits and body types.  Here’s another set of redesigns, in a slideshow.  Let’s just go ahead and look at Women Fighters in Reasonable Armor while we’re at it.

I’d like to try to sum up in a nutshell why all these discussions, while visually instructive and astonishing, miss the underlying issue.

Mass media — comics, movies, etc. — don’t design women heroes to look like heroes.  They design them to look like pinups.  These creators/artists/designers aren’t looking at real-world kick-women like Mia Hamm or the Williams  sisters or Cecily Fay (link goes to YouTube clip).  They’re looking at Bettie Page.  They’re looking at issues of Playboy and a whole catalog of pinup art for some kind of model on how to depict women.  It’s not that these designers think these unrealistic depictions and costumes are somehow realistic and reasonable.  It’s that they don’t care.  Reasonable heroism is not in their specs.

The whole issue came to a head for me a couple of years ago when that awful, awful new Wonder Woman TV costume design went public.  I talked about it.  This is why we can’t have nice things, ya’ll.

Until that changes, until designers take women heroes, women on book covers, and women in heroic art in general, and design them to look strong and capable and heroic rather than making them look strictly sexy, in the narrowest possible definition of sexy, we’re going to keep having this problem, and we’re going to have to keep talking about it.  Until we convince both the creator and consumer sides to reject the aesthetic we’ve all been trained to think of as normal for the last generation or so, we’re going to have to keep talking about this.

12 Responses to “Pinups”

  1. Toni Says:

    I think you hit the nail on the head. Until we have an option of more realistic action figures to buy, no one will be able to compare the sales. If someone builds it, I will …throw money at it.

  2. “…and design them to look strong and capable and heroic rather than making them look strictly sexy.”


    My friend Kelly wrote a fantastic article about this last year (and almost broke the interwebs in the process!):

  3. Phenix Nash Says:

    I love the realistic armor and hadn’t seen the Jim Hines. I will share!

  4. Carrie V. Says:

    Karen, that’s a great article! We can’t have too much about it. I keep thinking eventually we’ll all make a difference.

  5. Carrie, I agree. I think we all just have to talk about it whenever we can. I also like that the actress in the new fan made Wonder Woman trailer did so much work to build muscle before shooting. I mention it here on my blog (with links):

    Thanks for the reply, by the way. I’ve been a huge fan of your work since the first Kitty book!


  6. Jill Says:

    You actually have a better chance to be a superhero, if your skin is more protected from nasty cuts, abrasions and the occasional acid spill. Also, I bet it’s hard to find an excellent swordswoman with boobs larger than a C cup. Just because you don’t have the range, or the ability to look down so well….

  7. David Bowles Says:

    Sex sells, and American corporations will continue to use and promote pinups. Frankly, I’m not sure how that changes, unfortunately.

  8. Carrie V. Says:

    Sure, sex sells. Too bad they only seem interested in selling to the adult hetero male population. What we’re doing here is saying “Hey, there’s another market here that also spends money, yanno.”

  9. David Bowles Says:

    I don’t claim to understand the business or marketing mind. I suspect they have “data” of some type to back up their approach to marketing. Or maybe it’s just inertia from the 50’s and 60’s. It’s hard to tell.

  10. David Bowles Says:

    They’re gonna revoke my man card because I prefer the more reasonable costumes more 🙂

  11. Griggk the goblin Says:

    While I agree wholeheartedly with every comment made here, there’s just one thing that bothers me…why are writers and artists sitting around waiting for other writers and artists to champion their cause?

    If there’s a market waiting for non-pinup super-heroines, exploit it, I say! Why wait for DC or Marvel to rake in your dough, when you could be raking it in for yourselves?

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