Saturday, October 22, 2016

No More Body Shaming Wonder Woman

October 21, 2016 is a milestone in women's history, as well as history overall, because Wonder Woman was named honorary Ambassador for the Empowerment of Women and Girls. At an event at the United Nations, Under-Secretary General for Communications and Information, Cristina Gallach, introduced three powerful women, and two of them have officially worn the garb of the Amazon princess. Diane Nelson, President of DC Entertainment and of Warner Bros. Consumer products introduced Lynda Carter, television's first Wonder Woman, to speak, followed by Gal Gadot, the latest woman to wear the Garb of Justice.

I'm not going to rehash the events of the day yesterday. My focus is on something altogether different—the body shaming of Wonder Woman. Some of the concerns or complaints about having Wonder Woman be this ambassador revolve around how revealing her costume is. A petition against this declaration stated:
Wonder Woman was created 75 years ago. Although the original creators may have intended Wonder Woman to represent a strong and independent “warrior” woman with a feminist message, the reality is that the character’s current iteration is that of a large breasted, white woman of impossible proportions, scantily clad in a shimmery, thigh-baring body suit with an American flag motif and knee high boots –the epitome of a “pin-up” girl. 
By the way, "Google" pin-up girl, and this is what you see:


How do those women look like the one above? Easy—they don't. Diana's not a pin-up girl.

Ever since her inception in 1941, Diana of Themyscira (or, Paradise Island), has been chastised by men and women alike for her costume/armor. Derided as a "star-spangled bating suit," Wonder Woman's garments have received more than their fare share of criticism. In additon, Wonder Woman herself, the pinnacle of Amazon training, has been shamed for her body.

Diana's costume began as a bustier/cuirass and a skirt back in 1941. Over the decades, the skirt became culottes, then shorts, and it even became a skimpy bikini-style bottom when Mike Deodato drew the character in the 1990s. No superhero costume seems to have received more criticism than this one. The question I am left with is why?

People who see Diana see her as a role model, a strong woman who can handle herself, and someone who guides people toward peace, understanding, and compassion. It seems to me that if someone has an issue with what she wears, the issue isn't about Wonder Woman: it's about the idea that a woman's appearance will diminish her power. Diana's costume started out as a representation of her connection to the American cause during World War II. Now, in the picture above by Nicola Scott, it's a stylized version of Greek armor with a cuirass or breastplate and a leather skirt that takes its inspiration from the pteruges of ancient Greece. Since when is showing thighs a bad thing? In fact, in the full image by Ms. Scott (see below), notice how much skin actually shows—very little. While it is true that other artists may raise the skirt a little in their own style or may show more arm or leg, nothing about the costume she wears is "skimpy" or "revealing." In fact, Superman wears a skin-tight costume that reveals every muscle or other "bulge" on his body. Yet, I rarely ever see any comments about his blue suit.

Why is a part of the human body a cause for shame or ridicule?

Wonder Woman has never used her bare arms, thighs, or exposed collar bone/cleavage to intentionally play on sexuality or seduction (which some might see as a poor role model for people). She has always been comfortable in her own skin, as it were. On Themyscira, women are free to do as they see fit with expression. Some have been shown to wear traditional robes or tunics, while others wear less clothing. I'd even imagine that, "off panel," many Amazons are naturists. Is there something so disdainful about a woman's body—or any body—that would encourage girls to act inappropriately? No, and to say so speaks of misogyny and a patriarchal view that women should be covered for modesty's sake.

Diana's message to the world is not "wear as little as you wish" or "let's show men our bodies." Her message is about equality of the sexes, empowerment, compassion, love, truth, and wisdom. In this most recent incarnation of her costume, the colors and pattern have less to do with the "American cause" and more to do with empowerment in general: they are bold colors—red, blue, gold.

Another thought I had was this.

Let's say the plus-size hero, Faith, had been a cultural icon for 75 years. Let's also assume that the United Nations wanted to make her the Ambassador for Empowerment of Women and Girls. Once that announcement would be made, you better believe people would cry out, "Wait, a fat girl is a role model? Wouldn't she show kids it's okay to be overweight?"

Yes. And, so what? If people are happy being who they are, then who is anyone else to criticize?

I, of course, applaud that Faith exists in a world of men and women heroes whose bodies look like Greek sculptures. We need representation of ALL types in the world of superheroes. I think it's wonderful that children can look at Faith and see a woman who is making a difference, and that her size doesn't matter.

People will criticize because they think it's their right to be heard, ignoring all the good that Wonder Woman has done in her 75 years. 

Has Wonder Woman's costume gotten her attention? Hell, yes, it has. But, it's become an icon of the power of the individual. When women wear this costume as cosplayers, they walk prouder, stand taller, and look more confident. That's what the costume gives them.

People need to stop body shaming Wonder Woman for having an athletic, honed, Amazonian physique and wearing a costume that shows it. People also need to stop being afraid of what a body looks like and start thinking about what it can DO to change minds and change the world.
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