I haven’t posted about the DC Reboot yet, I’ve been out of work and the books I was planning to pick up seemed like an unnecessary expense. I can’t really write about something I haven’t read, so I haven’t had anything to say. Then last week’s comics hit and threw the ball into a court I’m a little more familiar with: the visual treatment of women in and around comics.
If you haven’t yet read Laura Hudson’s incredible editorial on Comics Alliance about the treatment of Superheroines in the DC Relaunch, do yourself a favor and check it out. There have been plenty of other reactions to last week’s comics. Today, an interview with a 7-year-old, via io9 sparked off a discussion on Twitter today about whether it was appropriate for the writer of that piece to be showing pictures like the ones in question (from the T rated Red Hood and the Outlaws) to her child. I think it’s fine for her to use them as a teaching tool, perhaps because I have more memories of my mom talking about Barbie being an unrealistic representation of the female form than I do of actually playing with Barbie dolls.
Thinking about my mom, about Barbies and about unrealistic representations of the female form made me realize have something to say about this topic. I wanna tell you about Christmas last year.
You see, my mom is the Batman of Christmas shopping and she still has us give her christmas lists (due by 9 pm on Thanksgiving Day) because she enjoys the challenge of finding the best price on a set of Rock Band Instruments or whatever. So, while I was putting my list together last year, I added a bottle of Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab’s Heroine perfume. It seemed like a great idea because I like a lot of the notes in the scent, I like the idea of helping out the Hero Initiative and I never seem to pull the trigger on buying whole bottles of perfume .
So imagine my surprise Christmas morning when I open a bottle of perfume from my Mom and it isn’t Heroine. It isn’t even a BPAL scent, it’s this. That’s right, it’s Twilight perfume. Volturi Twilight Reign Scented Body Mist in the Romance shade. Now, I like Twilight a bit, and I would have just laughed it off as a fantastically terrible thing to own if it hadn’t been for my mom’s answer when I asked her why she hadn’t gotten me the BPAL. “Erin,” she said, “have you seen the picture on that website?”
I hadn’t actually, because I’d read about the perfume on Geek Girl Diva’s blog and she cuts off the picture a bit, making my memory of some generic tough girl with a gun a bit incomplete, see:
The woman in that picture is covering her breasts and her junk and that’s it. When forced to look at the full picture without the distractions of the BPAL website, I’m completely disgusted. Compare it to the Twilight thing on the left, which despite being utter crap as far as perfume goes looks so very much classier. No wonder my mom chose the one over the other.
And who exactly is to blame for this? No one and everyone. I know Adam Hughes is capable of drawing beautiful women without making them look like porn stars, I know BPAL is a company run by a woman and I assume the folks at The Hero Initiative are pretty darn smart, so why does she look like that? Well, maybe the art is supposed to be a generic comic book heroine and that is what we get in 2010 when we depict a generic female heroine: art that makes my mom think I ignored every one of our discussions about how Barbie is an unrealistic standard of feminine beauty.
This is cost of cheesecake, the cost of the inescapable assumption that depictions of women need to be aimed at the lowest common denominator. Greg Land on the cover of the Women of Marvel trade. Greg Horn’s Emma Frost covers. Star Sapphires. Catwoman. Starfire. It’s the look on my mom’s face when she drew my attention to that picture, her decision to buy a product based on the story of Bella motherfucking Swan rather than one featuring our generic depiction of a comic book heroine.
Whether or not cheesecake is the norm in comic books, it is the face we present to the world too much of the time. I wish I knew how to change that, but refusing to buy cheesecakey things doesn’t seem to be working, so I’m adding my voice to the crowd. I don’t condone cheesecake, it isn’t a defining factor of comics for me, so please stop using it to represent comics.
ETA: I went over time by about an hour writing this, but when the timer rang and I was still in my stride I decided to let myself write until it was done.