I’m a fan of superhero comics, so, although we spend most of our time talking about strength of character, I have a special place in my heart for women who display great physical strength. That’s one of the reasons why my collectible Wonder Woman figurine shares a shelf with my Virginia Woolf plushie.
also the reason for the focus of this post. Superhero comics are
well-known for their portrayal of impossible women’s bodies. These women
often have the kind of statuesque physiques that could only exist on an
actual statue, with torsos so narrow it seems as if they’ve had some
vital organs removed. As if these women weren’t already in danger of
snapping at the waist, they all seem to possess the most common superpower. Perhaps the (usually male) artists are operating under the
assumption that women can relocate their internal organs to protrude
from their chests.
most obvious example of this phenomenon is Power Girl, a superhero so
well-endowed that her insignia is a boob window. There is a story,
circulated through the comics-reading community and addressed by blogger
Ragnell, that the character’s impressive cup size is the fault of Wally
Wood, the artist who drew the character when she was first created.
Wood supposedly decided to see if the editors were paying attention to
his work by increasing Power Girl’s bust size every issue. Unfortunately, it
took several issues for anyone to notice, so she’s been stuck with
gravity-defying, back-breaking breasts ever since.
the unrealistic breast size of these characters is certainly indicative
of their over-sexualization, I would argue that there’s another aspect
to this decision. In order to perform acts of tremendous
physical strength, female superheroes need to have a well-defined
musculature. However, because physical strength is so thoroughly
associated with masculinity, the artists feel that they need to
over-enhance the character’s feminine appearance. What’s the best way to
do this? Long, flowing, easily-pulled-in-hand-to-hand-combat hair and
So it was with delight that I found this review of Venus with Biceps: A Pictorial History of Muscular Women
by David L. Chapman and Patricia Vertinsky. Although I haven’t yet
purchased a copy for myself, I’m more than willing to get the word out
about what looks to be a very interesting work, that not only discusses
issues of gender identity, but also collects a number of images of
unrepentantly strong women.
even better than knowing that this book exists, however, is seeing
similar images make their way back into popular culture. MAC has
recently launched a new cosmetics line called “Strength,” and its
advertising is a thing of beauty. Not only is the face of the line a
bodybuilder, Jelena Abbou, but the tagline of the campaign is the
greatest I’ve read outside of that amazing 1980s Lego ad: “Flex your
femininity with a colour collection that’s fearless, elegant and strong.
Strike a powerful pose, stand out, redefine the notion of beauty -- and
do it with strength too irresistible to ignore.” That’s advertising
even Wonder Woman would love.