You know that rush you get after watching a superhero movie? That burst of energy and power that makes you want to get up and feel stronger? So you go onto the fitness section of your favorite website or magazine and see “10 Top Moves to Get a Superhero Body Like [insert name of most recent superhero].”
And, hey, if you’re really motivated, you start working out every day.
You become eager to get that superhero body and feel good about wanting that healthy look and not the concerning supermodel body.
But your Google searches start to become, “Moves to make your boobs perkier, waist-thinning moves, and how to workout legs without getting big calves.” You dissect the superhero body into parts, chop the body up and see which pieces match your chopped-up body until you realize not all of them will. You become frustrated.
Sounds exaggerated, right?
Well, let me take you back to a moment in my eighth-grade year.
A friend and I were walking to class when she pulls me back a little and whispers, “Do you see her legs? They’re disgusting.” She pointed at an athletic classmate’s legs. Her calves were muscular, bigger than the average middle school girl’s because she was an athlete. I had never thought of calf size until that point. And just like that, there was another body part for me to worry about. I still hear the word today. Disgusting.
But that’s just middle school bullying, right?
A recent trend on Instagram is leg contouring.
Can’t let them look disgusting, right?
None of the female heroes I know have “disgusting” calves. Catwoman, Black Widow, and now Wonder Woman all look very similar to me. This extends beyond calves.
They all have the same slim hourglass figures.
You might be saying to yourself that these superhero movies are about strong bodies fighting evil so naturally they will recruit these strong women. That is true, but remember that not all strong bodies fit this template.
Think of Olympic gymnasts. They are as close as it gets to superhuman strength, and yet they are short, flat-chested, and almost bulky-looking. This is not meant as a criticism, but admiration for the amount of work that went into that appearance. Yet they have faced criticism for their bodies. We also have Olympic weightlifters, some of whom we might label as fat if we see them in passing.
Again, they are as close as it gets to superhuman strength. Again, they are still shamed for their appearance.
To be clear, I am not attacking the bodies of the actors and actresses who play these superheroes. If that is what they look like when fit, then that is what they look like. Though, even their costumes work to emphasize this ideal thin, fit body. For example, Gal Gadot was criticized for having too small of breasts to play Wonder Woman, but they look perfectly fine to me in her costume built to emphasize them. To add to this, the articles about Anne Hathaway’s appearance as Catwoman and Scarlett Johansson’s as Black Widow were all about their diet and slim physique, not about how they got strong. Even in interviews with male costars who were asked about character development, they were asked about diet and what undergarments they wore.
So while I sympathize with these women, I am calling for a better representation of fit bodies in film and to stop idolizing theirs as the perfect, fit body. We need more women of color in these superhero films too, but with this may also come the representation of different bodies.
Think of Misty Copeland being an anomaly in the ballerina world, both because of race and body type.
Why does this representation matter? We just got a female superhero movie so can we not be satisfied with that? We cannot stop at the acceptance of one kind of woman. Whatever we see on television is what we perceive as normal. When all we see are the same body shapes associated with strength, then we assume that those bodies are the norm for what strength looks like.
If we see more boxy-calved girls, maybe my friend wouldn’t have perceived it as gross and weird.
Representation of bigger, healthy women also matters in a world when being fat is equated to being weak and incapable. It’s funny that the week I see articles emerging about wonder woman workouts is the same week that Roxane Gay has to defend her ability to walk a mile after public humiliation over her body.
We still need more films about women superheroes, but as we develop to accomplish that goal, we should be mindful of all women.
Not just the ones who look like they’re emerging from comic books.