A Weighty Issue

July 21, 2012 at 12:28 am (Elevation, fantasy, Fervor, Links, writing) (, , , , , , , , , , )

After reading the response an aspiring comic book artist was given during a critique of her artwork, I honestly took offense to some of what the critic had to say (you can find the response at this link: http://kxhara.deviantart.com/journal/Contest-A-Fat-Female-Superhero-315317673 ).

Truth is, our society has a warped idea of what is acceptable in the way of female body image. It’s unrealistic and most often unhealthy. Genre fiction, sadly, has tended to support these unrealistic ideals in the past. “It’s necessary for the fantasy,” you’ll hear. “It’s what they fans want,” you’ll also hear. “Heroes are supposed to be more than human – they’re supposed to be perfect,” is a common quote.

That might be your perspective, but it definitely isn’t mine, and I know for a fact I’m not the only one who feels that way. There is a sizable market of people looking for diversity in genre heroes and those who insist on supporting the supermodel/playboy bunny stereotype for heroines are definitely losing out on that market.

I understand that there is a visual element to comic books, but not every man finds a beach-ball bosomed, wasp-waisted woman attractive, and many women find those unnatural forms and silly comic book poses somewhat repulsive. I think there should be more effort to counter these market standards and demand something truer to life. I have found that with written genre fiction, the more mature fiction and not the trendy paranormal romance that holds to societal ideals, there has been an increase in character realism and presentation of varying body images. Not, however, without a fight.

At Hal-Con 2011, I had a discussion with Kelley Armstrong where she described how she had to stand her ground to keep one of her lead male characters described the way he was, rather than converting him to the industry expected teenage-heart throb. He turned out to be one of her most beloved characters with her readers, but only because she trusted her gut instead of towing the industry line. Realism is endearing. It is actually difficult to properly connect with a character who doesn’t have flaws, because the rest of us have them. Imperfection allows for empathy, or sympathy – depending on the circumstances.

Kelley’s not alone in fighting to present realistic characters. According to my husband, the book “The Moon Maze Game” by Larry Niven and Steven Barnes (2011) features some very strong female characters, at least
one of which is a “heavy” woman. And I have certainly read other well-written genre books with similar protagonists or supporting characters.

So changes are happening, at least on the written front, and I’m hoping to be part of that change. I have multiple characters who are described as overweight, several in my Masters & Renegades series, including Reeree, Burrell and at one point, Dee, and Mallory, a Fixer in my Fervor series, who makes her first appearance in Elevation.

In my yet to be published works, there is Kerza, my heroic witch from Sleep Escapes Us: “While Alina would not have necessarily described the girl as plain, she certainly wouldn’t have declared her beautiful either. She was fleshy in an unpleasant way, not voluptuous or zaftig. Her skin was so pale it almost glowed in the shadowy tunnels, her shaggy dark hair was a tangled mess that hung over her face, and she moved as lifelessly as one of the undead on the surface.” Far from the societal ideal, and while she cleans up a little as the story goes, she remains overweight for the duration of the tale.

There’s also my female protagonist in Intangible: “Silvana had tried. She had searched diligently for a job that would cover all of her expenses, but she was an unschooled teenager who looked strange, her auburn hair streaked with oranges and greens, her nose and brow pierced, overweight and wearing clothing that certainly didn’t match the latest trends.”

And don’t assume that because they are fat and not the “standard beauty” that these ladies exist simply as comic relief – “fat foils.” They are prominent active characters who are heroic and self-sacrificing. They also have romantic liaisons with men who are sincere, appreciative and respectful.

My point is, it is up to future writers and artists to demand such changes, by pushing boundaries and voicing our objections to ridiculous unrealistic standards. Wake up world. It’s time that genre fiction, comic books and graphic novels included, got real.

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