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Comic Books and a History of Unrealistic Female Body Types

There is no Plain Jane among the superheroines. That's because they all have corsets instead of capes!


Everyone, regardless of age, has picked up a comic book at least once, mindlessly flipping through its pages; some end up reading it, while others merely glance at the countless pictures and then close it. In fact, if you inquire around, you'll find that comic books are what got a lot of people hooked on reading. As for me, I've always been the type to flip through the pages, gaze at the pictures, and keep it back within 10 minutes. Don't get me wrong, I love a good 'save the world from evil' story just as much as the next person, but personally, I can't relate to those overly muscular superheroes and bikini-clad superheroines (often just present as eye candy, sadly). Their body types are far from reflecting reality, which takes away some of my enthusiasm.  Comic Books And a History of  Unrealistic Female Body Types

Everyone, regardless of age, has picked up a comic book at least once, mindlessly flipping through its pages; some end up reading it, while others merely glance at the countless pictures and then close it. In fact, if you inquire around, you'll find that comic books are what got a lot of people hooked on reading. As for me, I've always been the type to flip through the pages, gaze at the pictures, and keep it back within 10 minutes. Don't get me wrong, I love a good 'save the world from evil' story just as much as the next person, but personally, I can't relate to those overly muscular superheroes and bikini-clad superheroines (often just present as eye candy, sadly). Their body types are far from reflecting reality, which takes away some of my enthusiasm.



While we give the film and influencer industry a lot of crap for setting unrealistic body goals, we forget that these trendy and publicly adored comic books have been doing the same forever. Have you ever thought about how these characters' bodies are presented and how it may affect our perception of attractiveness? There might even be a case that comic book bodies present an idealised and hyper-sexualised depiction of the human form, with the gender most widely depicted with such out-of-touch body types being females.


heena, was one of the first women to make it big in the comic book industry. Sheena exudes sexuality while running around with her mate in her leopard-skin bikini. Other early comic book women were similarly sexualized. Phantom Lady, a pin-up girl whose costume gradually revealed more and more skin, rose to prominence in the world of masked crime fighters in 1941. Sheena and Phantom Lady vanished from comic book pages, unable to sell books while dressed more formally. Females who managed to survive the new rules were far less sexual. So it may appear that women were relieved of their role as sexual sirens for a time. But, in these more conservative times, women in comics faced new challenges. In comics, the 1990s were a particularly notable decade for inconceivable body proportions with few clothes to hide them. Marvel published a swimsuit issue in which busty heroines lounged in bikinis around a pool. The covers of the X-Men classic, Black Cat, Power Girl, and Black Widow, for example, have females with barely-there outfits that leave little to the imagination.

Traditionally, superhero comics have catered to a male consumer base, which writers and artists have learned to cater to. A study compared waist-to-hip ratios among comic book characters, the average U.S. woman, and the popular pornography sample, one of the most commonly examined aspects. The findings revealed that characters from comic books had higher waist-to-hip ratios than the average American woman and the pornography sample. This implies that artists in comic books may emphasize dramatic curves and hourglass figures, possibly altering societal perceptions of aesthetic appeal. It is critical to acknowledge the role of popular culture in shaping our ideals of beauty and critically examine the impact of these illustrations on body image.



Whether we look at Western comics or ones here in India, there is a substantial female representation, but at a cost. Women are stereotyped as attention-grabbing objects. Forget about the content; the covers only show the women in attire that will only make men ogle at them; after all, who really cares about the story as long as you get to see perfectly toned female bodies in an outfit that probably gives her little to no space to even breathe.


I guess the books are more like a "bodice ripper" than a "page-turner." The outfit is exceptionally skimpy and revealing, regardless of whether the character is a rebellious Shakti, intelligent Chandika, or powerful Devi. The attire associated with Shakti is quite deplorable, with the flesh flaunted here and there. The same is valid for Vamp Nagina. While Devi is always dressed in skin-tight lycra, the Snake Woman often exposes her skin in a "femme fatale" fashion. Aside from that, these characters' poses are ridiculously awkward and outrageous.



Have you ever thought about who the first female in the comics was? Not a superheroine, but a voluptuous queen of the jungle named Sheena, was one of the first women to make it big in the comic book industry. Sheena exudes sexuality while running around with her mate in her leopard-skin bikini. Other early comic book women were similarly sexualized. Phantom Lady, a pin-up girl whose costume gradually revealed more and more skin, rose to prominence in the world of masked crime fighters in 1941. Sheena and Phantom Lady vanished from comic book pages, unable to sell books while dressed more formally. Females who managed to survive the new rules were far less sexual. So it may appear that women were relieved of their role as sexual sirens for a time. But, in these more conservative times, women in comics faced new challenges. In comics, the 1990s were a particularly notable decade for inconceivable body proportions with few clothes to hide them. Marvel published a swimsuit issue in which busty heroines lounged in bikinis around a pool. The covers of the X-Men classic, Black Cat, Power Girl, and Black Widow, for example, have females with barely-there outfits that leave little to the imagination.


Furthermore, these characters had enormous breasts and toothpick torsos. If these women had been confirmed, they probably would have tipped over if they tried to stand up. Although the figures of women in comics have become less absurd in recent years, they remain highly idealized.



As the comic book industry sculpts bodies to convey "power," one becomes aware of the sexualized dimension that defines the comic book heroine. Women with voluptuous breasts and a narrowing waist are the gold standard in this genre, dressed in revealing, skin-tight clothing. Within this industry, hypersexualization is the norm. But for what purpose are we selling messages about empowerment and strength? Is it necessary for a solid body to be a sexy body? To what extent can "feminism" be bought and sold while dressed as a sexualized cat? As a reader, you inhale the ideology of the characters, the relationships between them, the story's setting, the characters' body structure, mannerisms, language, etc. Comic producers should therefore create the world they want to see in their everyday lives, in their comics.


1 Comment


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Aug 06, 2023

"There is no Plain Jane among the superheroines. That's because they all have corsets instead of capes!" favourite quote. The study mentioned has piqued my interest to read more about the topic. Much required perspective!!


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