Comics, Design

The quiet suffering of female superheroes

Over at Geek Native last week, a post examining some artwork by Michael Lee Lunsford was posted and a heated discussion began in the comments section of the post. The artwork? It featured numerous female superheroes in outfits less revealing than what many of us are accustomed to seeing them in.

A lack of skin

It was kind of refreshing to see characters such as Supergirl and Elektra in outfits that looked far more practical than what they’re normally drawn in:

Michael Lee Lunsford Elektra redesign

Why did Michael do these redesigns? Just before you get all outraged that he’s trying to make you conform to some kind of “moral code”:

“Point of this: An exercise in character design, attempting to clothe the heroines nearly all the way and not making them painted-on, while still keeping the look of their original costumes in some way. Hopefully keeping them looking as iconic as the originally were. Just showing what can be done with a costume breaking outside the barrier of the norm.

“NOT the point of this: some moral code I’m trying to push on you.”

Meanwhile, the comments tell a different story

At the time of writing, the Geek Native piece on the drawings had had 735 comments. Including several argumentative posts that were going on and on about whether female readers needed to be catered to in this way and whether the alternative outfits are practical. Oh, and people missing the point over issues on sexualisation and objectification.

A poster dubbed Lyriael ended up making a lot of posts about the issues surrounding the outfits that female superheroes are often depicted in:

“[…] Many superheroines and their costumes are designed to titillate male readers – I think everyone can pretty much agree on that point. Male superheroes, however, are not designed to titillate female readers. I know many men find this hard to believe, but most women are NOT actually attracted to bulging, steroidal musclebeasts. Male superheroes are not designed to appeal to female readers, they are designed to appeal to MALE readers. Male superheroes are muscular and powerful because MEN want to BE muscular and powerful. Female superheroes are impossibly voluptuous and scantily-clad because MEN want to HAVE impossibly voluptuous and scantily-clad women.
Comics do exaggerate both men and women, but they are both exaggerated in ways that appeal, in general, to men and not to women.

“Also, I wasn’t aware that Kzinhome imported human media, but just so you’re aware, here on planet Earth, women DO read comics. And they criticize the rampant sexism poisoning the comics industry because it is offensive and alienating (and, in the long term, poor business strategy), not because they have “statistically lower self esteem” (lol).”

The comments that followed this extensive one a mixture of support and antagonism. I don’t completely agree with the above (I’m not so sure as many men are now obsessed with being huge chested like they were when Arnie was just starting his career).

The quiet suffering of female superheroes

I’ve never really believed that many female superhero outfits are practical. It’s the whole tight fitting around the crotch area that represents one of the most important problems with the average female superhero costume in comics:

Forget the sexualisation for a moment and just think about the pure practical nature of being a superhero that doesn’t have amazing healing powers and the ability to battle infections in the wink of an eye. I think only a female Kryptonian might be able to avoid the discomfort of thrush caused by wearing tight fitting outfits.

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One thought on “The quiet suffering of female superheroes

  1. not only thrush, but it also appears that they have to keep a tight waxing schedule. i would assume this to be a highly regular practice, you know, just in case someone needs their life saved at any given hour of the day. sadly, i suppose this is not that far off the average woman’s hair removal schedule either, (although that is quite frankly a guess because i remove my pubic hair a grand total of never…), but for the heroine living the double life of working for a living AND having a super alter ego on call, i fail to see much practicality….

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