I found myself alone with a remote in my hand this past weekend, and I stumbled upon an excellent documentary on PBS (cause that’s how I roll). It’s called Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines, and it was spectacular. I can’t describe it without a lot of superfluous gushing and fan-girling, so I’ll let them sum it up:
Directed by Kristy Guevara-Flanagan and produced by Kelcey Edwards, Wonder Women! is a fun and warmly witty look at how popular representations of powerful women often reflect society’s anxieties about women’s liberation.
The documentary was fantastic. It was full of inspirational stories told by women and girls from all walks of life – different races, different sexual orientations, different life experiences – all centered on how the image of a strong and empowered superheroine positively impacted their lives. There was a single mom (and huge Wonder Woman fan) who had come to America in her 20s, put herself through college, and was now raising a strong and self-confident daughter of her own. There was a young girl who got picked on and bullied in school whose love for comic books (and Wonder Woman in particular) gave her the self-confidence she needed to hold her head up high on a daily basis, and inspired her to look beyond her current situation and into a bright, light-filled future. It was very moving, very funny, and I highly recommend it to anyone who could use a good “HELL, YEAH! GO ON, GIRL!” every once in a while.
Now, I’m a tremendous geek. I love comic books and superheroes. I grew up watching (and loving) the brilliant (and only slightly dated) TV adaptations of Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, Superman…heck, I even watched Shazam!
But as I was watching the Wonder Woman documentary, hearing about how revolutionary the idea of a female super hero was (and is), seeing the impact this character has had on women and women’s roles over the years… I was struck by the realization that, despite my love of comic books and positive role models for women and girls… my life was impacted not at all by Wonder Woman, or any female super hero. I watched the documentary trip through the decades, showing all of the strong and powerful women who rose from the embers sparked by Wonder Woman’s flame: Charlie’s Angels, The Bionic Woman, Ellen Ripley, Sarah Connor. I started thinking, I grew up in an era when women’s liberation was at its peak, and while I wouldn’t say I was surrounded by positive female role models in pop culture, they were definitely out there, and definitely well within reach in my nerdy little world. So… why did Wonder Woman – and all of those strong and powerful women – not have the impact on me that they did on those women in the documentary, and thousands of others?
Because these women looked at Wonder Woman, and saw themselves. I looked at Wonder Woman, and saw a tiny little waistline and gigantic boobs.
Most girls look at superheroines and see a projection of their fantasy-selves – they see a woman that they could one day grow up to be. I saw a thin, beautiful woman – something I would never be. The same applies to the rest of those pop culture superheroines I grew up with – Charlie’s Angels, The Bionic Woman, Buffy Summers, all of the female X-Men (don’t get me started on that name), and pretty much every single superhero to ever grace the cover of a comic book. All thin, all beautiful, all completely and totally NOT ME.
So that got me wondering (in a purely rhetorical way, of course): Why no fat super heroines? There are countless numbers of male super heroes who don’t all have rippling biceps and six-pack abs, and their powers and abilities are no less valued than those of Superman or Batman. Where are the plus-sized X-Men (ugh…that name again) who are strong and beautiful and a valued member of the team, and FAT? We want to inspire our daughters to be independent and self-confident and to teach them that it’s okay to be strong and to stick up for yourself. So why doesn’t that apply to ALL girls? Why doesn’t that apply to the girls who need it the most??
Where is my strong, body-positive, fat-as-hell, ass-kicking superheroine??
Let me know what you think. Were you positively influenced by female super heroes as a child? Were you able to look past the fact that they didn’t look like you, and see just the “power within”? Are you bothered by the fact that there has never been a fat female role model in pop culture, or are you happy taking what we’re given, and adapting them to suit your needs?
Sound off – shout it to the rafters! LET YOUR VOICES BE HEARD!!
(Sorry…too many comic books…)