In her latest column Charlie Says: Body image in comic books seems only reserved for the incredibly skinny or muscular, and not usually indicative of the numerous body shapes and sizes that our society actually possesses (even when a comic book is supposed to be “realistic” and “grounded in real life”)
There’s this overarching thought that comics have to be sexy and straight power fantasies, with big, bright glossy covers that usually don’t reflect anything that happens in that particular issue. For the more risque comic books out there – usually from smaller presses that need to catch a reader’s attention somehow – you can get variant covers that feature full nudity or fetish costumes. Women twisted into “sexy” poses that aren’t physically possible or are just downright uncomfortable – but you rarely get a male version for the female gaze.
Valiant Comics decided then to cause huge controversy in the comic world when they announced Faith. Centered around Faith “Zephyr” Herbert who just wants to carve herself a niche in the world (sounds pretty normal, right?) and the outcry came from the fact that she’s a large lady. We’re talking thunder thighs and a double chin – it’s fantastic artwork! – finally we have a more realistic woman take to the skies for justice. And her character is this fabulous three-dimensional construct with desires, faults and dreams – none of which are to do with her size of physical self. Take a bow Valiant!
Issue 1 sets her up in the reader’s mind as a force for justice, who’s been through some difficult times with her previous team, but now she’s walking her own path, making her own decisions with her very own secret identity. And okay the creative team went down the way of the orphan trope, and some of the dialogue is a little clunky at points but this is just issue 1 and these things take time. Faith is well worth a read, if only to show the comic book world that we do want more characters like this. Money speaks a lot louder than all the opinion pieces and shouting on social media put together.
Another fantastic representation of large women has to be Bitch Planet’s Penny Rolle. She’s this huge woman who flips the universe a birdie and a hearty “stuff you!” No sign of the “I have body issues” and trying to make herself physically smaller trope. This woman is truly and beautifully non-compliant. She’s huge and proud and good gracious we would do well to teach girls that being big isn’t a problem. We see Penny forced to undertake a test whereby a mirror will reflect how her “perfect” self would be using her own brain waves (science is involved). And the final conclusion is that Penny is already perfect in her own mind – and that’s all that matters. (Although the patriarchy isn’t too happy about that!)
Even Penny’s entrance into the prison is big and beautiful – “Where’m I supposed to put my other tit?” – she demands because the uniforms are tiny compared to her. For the foreseeable series we see that she only has one strap done up and the management still haven’t catered to Penny’s size. Very indicative of society fashion at present: if you’re a larger person forget having current fashion trends catered to your size. You get light, floaty plastic-material tops that make you sweat like a pig or you have to make your own clothes. Even some plus-size catalogs use skinny models but just put them in fat suits rather than hiring larger people.
Body image in comic books is not great. We’re still seeing white beef cakes and super-skinny women, and even sometimes their body shapes are impossible to obtain no matter how much you work out. It would be great to see some more different body sizes and shapes for both men and women. Yeah, comic books are an escape, they’re supposed to take you away to this fantastical place just for a little bit. But wouldn’t that be more realistic in our own minds if we could have some different shaped people present? Check out Faith, you should be reading Bitch Planet anyway (they’re both on Comixology!) and let’s drum up some support for comic books using different body shapes and sizes! (And let us know by commenting if you have other comics that look at different shapes and sizes!)