Off My Mind: Female Superhero Costumes - Practical or Exploitive?

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Posted by G-Man (37025 posts) - - Show Bio

When reading the recent issue of Birds Of Prey, I started thinking again about the practicality of the female superhero costume. While spandex has pretty much been a requirement for all superhero characters, sometimes it feels that the female characters are forced to cross the line with what is practical.
 
I don't have a lot of experience wearing spandex. I have worn a pair of spandex shorts underneath my running shorts back in high school during my track & field days. Spandex is said to have some practicability. Looking at two of the Birds Of Prey, I have to wonder how Huntress' "window" showing her tummy or Black Canary's one-piece bathing suit look (with the fishnets, of course) helps them fight crime.
 
"Comics are mainly written for boys." Whether or not that's the case, what is the message being conveyed? 
 == TEASER ==

I believe it's been said before that the reason Power Girl chose her costume design was for distraction purposes. This would allow her to knock out the bad guys when they weren't paying attention. If that's the case, I would question why someone with her strength and speed would need a distraction. 
 
I've heard from some female readers that the way women are portrayed can be a turn off to comics. Most heroes are drawn in a idealized but why are certain parts of female characters focused on and certain parts of male characters are not? There are other times where certain body types simply look impossible. Yes, I know you can say that "superpowers" are also impossible but the laws of physics and gravity say that some things just couldn't happen (see image to the right).
 
It may be that society wants to see "pretty" people. In most TV shows and movies, 95% of the people have a "Hollywood" look. In comics, most characters have "perfect" bodies (must be a side effect of gaining superpowers naturally). With female characters it seems the focus is often placed on their bodies rather than their character. Power Girl, Huntress, Black Canary...they're all strong female characters and I'm not talking about physical strength. Perhaps some women feel empowered wearing certain outfits but I don't feel it's absolutely necessary. Does wearing skintight or revealing clothing make a character better? Perhaps a better question is would you be comfortable reading a comic in public with these stylized women on the cover? Those unfamiliar with the comic might wonder what type of book you're actually looking at.
 
I'm not suggesting we do away with the revealing costumes altogether. I understand that some readers might really enjoy comics or characters that have them. I just think that there should be more to the characters, especially to the female ones. They deserve to be seen as more than just a body. Often, female characters that can literally kick ass are not taken seriously. I don't buy comics just because there's a female wearing a revealing outfit. I'm buying comics for the characters and stories. 
 
I'm also not suggesting all female characters should cover themselves up and wear big bulky trench coats either. There may be practical purposes to wearing tighter clothing to allow for more movement during combat or in stealth situations. But what practical purposes are there to Huntress' tummy costume? Am I the only one that thinks female characters should get a little more respect?
#1 Posted by kingfrogger666 (166 posts) - - Show Bio

lol

#2 Posted by Namor1987 (1890 posts) - - Show Bio

Yeah make them more credible

#3 Posted by .Mistress Redhead. (27119 posts) - - Show Bio

The thing for me is, I love the costumes, I adore the fantasy of it all but what I don't like is the readers creating the sexual innuendos. The women most of the time are drawn with class, but readers do their own art that sexualises them far to much.

#4 Posted by Icemizer (181 posts) - - Show Bio

Most villians they fight are male. Males are distracted by tummy window. Male loses fight to scantily clad woman. 
Ok maybe thats a tad simple after all they do fight female villians. However distraction is a major part of fighting whether you are feinting a punch, flapping your cape, using a smoke bomb, or bouncing your plentiful assets in your opponents face.

Now that I have made these costumes seem almost reasonable lets face the fact that most artists are men and most men love the female form. That they endow these women so well must be working because the books continue to sell. And that after all is what it is all about. If super skinny, blue haired, three fingered women sold comic books I am sure that is what you would see drawn.

#5 Posted by Baddamdog (2223 posts) - - Show Bio

ermmm think you're forgetting a serial perpetrator!!   

Practical. XD
#6 Posted by icefrog0 (14 posts) - - Show Bio

In Birds of Prey, Canary pointed out if she had abs like Huntress, she'd be showing them off too.

#7 Posted by Freddy.Mercurial (152 posts) - - Show Bio

Babs is DEF a serial perpetrator...  NOT THAT THERE'S ANYTHING WRONG WITH THAT!  :D

#8 Posted by G-Man (37025 posts) - - Show Bio
@Baddamdog:  I decided to stick to DC (even though I had to throw in that ridiculous Lady Deadpool pic). There's also Emma Frost, even if there's a reason she wore what she did.
#9 Edited by hdorman1 (4662 posts) - - Show Bio
@Baddamdog said:
" ermmm think you're forgetting a serial perpetrator!!   

Practical. XD "

he he he 

#10 Posted by Jake Fury (18979 posts) - - Show Bio

It's just a tool by the writers to sell more comics. The images are visually appealing to young males. Heck, I'm 34 and they're appealing to me. I've often been at my LCS and picked up a comic to flip thru it if there's something on the cover that catches my eye. The female body is a beautiful thing, whether it be an actual photograph or artwork from a talented writer.  
 
Online
#11 Posted by etragedy (1091 posts) - - Show Bio

Comics have always emphasized physique - it's one of the ways to convey physical prowess through art since antiquity. That has historically meant skin tight costumes, or lots of exposed skin, male or female. Also, drapery is one of the hardest things for artists to render properly. This isn't inherently sexist, this is just the facts when it comes to art - and is pretty much applied to characters of both sexes.

#12 Posted by Jake Fury (18979 posts) - - Show Bio

Seriously, if they were concerned about their protecton during fights they'd all dress like the X-Men from the movies.
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#13 Posted by blaakmawf (187 posts) - - Show Bio

The spandex makes sense because it is form fitting and provides minimal impediment to movement. Every step beyond that is clearly exploitation. As a heterosexual male, I'm not complaining, but I can see how it would make female readers feel upset or even insulted.

#14 Posted by MisterMollusk (104 posts) - - Show Bio

The writers are man nerds, the artists are man nerds. I completely agree that the females deserve more respect. There's this flawed assumption that when a woman decides to fight crime, the first thing she does is jump into some creative lingerie. 

#15 Posted by MisterMollusk (104 posts) - - Show Bio
@blaakmawf: Riiiiiiiight. I'm sure the spelunking of the lower majority of their costumes are doing loads for their movement.
#16 Posted by IronSpidy-Rooney (356 posts) - - Show Bio

Well in all honesty its just pure fantasy. Some people just decide to take it to seriously 

#17 Posted by darkxman123 (198 posts) - - Show Bio

red sonjas adimited using here coustme to keep men from not noticing her sword before its to late 

#18 Posted by NightFang (10150 posts) - - Show Bio

Nothing wrong with showing a little skin, here and there.

#19 Posted by sora_thekey (8180 posts) - - Show Bio
@icefrog0 said:
" In Birds of Prey, Canary pointed out if she had abs like Huntress, she'd be showing them off too. "
So is Huntress showing off?
 
i agree completely with Tony on this one... Sometimes the outfits make me wonder the credibility of the strength of the female character (that was a lot "of"). Sure it might be the appeal for male readers but let me put it this way...
Rogue is mostly covered to prevent any physical contact (or at least she was) and using the same artist that @Baddamdog: mentioned who drew Psylocke he also drew Rouge:

She's completely 'covered' here and yet that sexiness that (I'll admit it) we all love is still there. So there is not so much a need for 'windows', fish nets or "distractions"...
#20 Posted by Hamz (342 posts) - - Show Bio

I fail to see how changing a character's outfit is somehow meant to make me, as a reader, respect the character more. I also fail to see how the way someone dresses their character in a comic is somehow disrespectful to the character's gender.

#21 Posted by Gambit1024 (9890 posts) - - Show Bio
@hdorman1: LOL
#22 Posted by doordoor123 (3721 posts) - - Show Bio

Ummm i kind of agree with you G-man. 
I read comics for the stories and not whose in the story or what theyre wearing. 
But women deserve respect? Thats where i draw the line.
(im just kidding)
Not only do the female characters look like a bunch of hookers, but they dont update theyre constumes. When i think of those vagina crotch costumes some heroes wear, it makes me think of the 70s. If Black Canary wore pink leg warmers and a matching headband what would you think? Nowadays very few people wear such revealing clothing. Unless of course they are sluts or models.

#23 Edited by KingsCastle (108 posts) - - Show Bio

Well...admittedly those female characters costumes are probably not very practical but comic book character's costumes in general rarely are. You have characters wearing their underwear on the outside (Superman) and you know that in real life a cape could easily get stuck when the characters move around as much as they do.
 
That said I can't really argue against comic book women showing off their bodies more. I like Huntress' costume a lot and I think its nice to see her tummy. ^_^; I also have to agree with Icemizer. I know that if I was a criminal I would be really distracted if I saw Huntress wearing that. ^_^;

#24 Posted by RiceFox (153 posts) - - Show Bio

Ah, along with this, I've always wanted to see some chubbier guy comic characters. Sometimes it feels a little off putting, when my flub sits down to stare at the Greek masterpieces of male anatomy.
 
Might be hard though, because they all keep in good shape. >_<

#25 Edited by mimschkin (626 posts) - - Show Bio

I've aired my opinion on this plenty of times on this site so I'm not going to bore anyone by writing a huge essay. I'll just say, if a book has realistically-proportioned character art (male and female), I will buy it (if it's a book I'm interested in anyway). If the art is grossly misrepresentative of the human form, I probably won't, because I don't find it attractive. It's that simple.
That image of Huntress up there - yes the outfit is revealing, but she's drawn in a way that is not overtly sexual; the pose, the proportions, the fact that she has muscles!! I'm actually really loving that image, who drew that? I guess if it's generally a leering sort of image that's clearly just there to please the male audience, then I'm not ok with it. If it's a good image that happens to have a revealing outfit (more revealing than any male character's outfit), then it's still not that great, but at least the artist is trying to get away from the stereotype so it's a step forward I guess.

#26 Posted by HexThis (903 posts) - - Show Bio

I'm always surprised at how defensive the reaction is to the notion, the mere suggestion women get the short end of the stick when it comes to comics. Is there any denying it? Besides dissecting the costumes to determine what indicates sex and what doesn't, just look at the numbers. Not as many women read comics and I think it's largely because they're alienated by these images, it seems to solely appeal to men. 
 
Apparel is extremely important, costumes are important, artists spend a lot of time defining the iconic images of these superheroes for marketing and comic books as a whole are a very visual landscape. They transcend even the page to cartoons, action figures, and movies. And mainly, from what I've seen, a lot of what defines a strong, capable woman in the eyes of men is 1 part kick ass and two parts of the classic cop-out "comfort with one's own sexuality" (a trait men seem to never need to beat the crap out of someone). A great example is the recent portrayal of the Black Widow in Iron Man 2, she just so happens to have a portfolio of images of herself in lingerie (so covert), she just happens to have to change in front of Happy (and the director of the film btw), she takes a pose between every judo move, and though she is kick-ass, she's mainly there for closeups and glamor shots. The Black Widow, in spite of the fact she's one of the most relevant characters in that whole movie only got a few lines.
 
I've also seen an uncomfortable amount of up-skirt shots of female characters which is another thing that really irritates me. I read an issue of X-men: Manifest Destiny where the recently downgraded (and suddenly helpless) Tabitha Smith aka Boom Boom goes out to shop and there are like 4 or 5 panels that peer dangerously near her upper thigh. Why would an artist take that perspective? Women generally don't wear skirts in hopes someone will look up them, as a matter in fact, men get arrested for doing so but almost any female character who wears a suit that involves a skirt gets an upper-thigh or pantie shot, it's firstly dumb but also extremely creepy. 
 
And if you've any doubts as to how much regard certain titles have for their female characters check out something like that new "Marvel Girls" issue by Chris Claremont and illustrated by a pornographic artist where he has them conveniently bound and gagged in certain situations, making constant O-faces, and hanging around in thong-bikinis.

#27 Posted by Sliver Slamurai (20 posts) - - Show Bio

if you're talking function-over-fashion, the X-Men uni's in the films basically made it impossible to fight in (they couldn't even step over a short brick wall).  it's all about the aesthetic, unforch.

#28 Posted by zombietag (1499 posts) - - Show Bio

dumb. i hate how all comic book girls are "sexy" and wear almost no clothes and if they are wearing clothes its always skin tight. whats the point? its a comic. i know sex sells but it just takes away from the stories sometime because theres not enough diveristy. i mean, people get mad because artists "draw girls all the same" but i got news. they almost always have the same body type exactly! kinda lame

#29 Posted by Cherry Bomb (3189 posts) - - Show Bio

Female superheroes' costumes are supposed to be revealing. It distracts their enemies. :3 

#30 Edited by ComicMan24 (147108 posts) - - Show Bio

I have heard the argument that women wear these costumes to distract men and I agree with it. But there is a difference between revealing and the costumes female superheroes wear. They are clearly exploitive. For example which superheroine would wear fishnets and bikinis to fight crime? They offer no protection and I imagine that they must not be very practical.
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#31 Posted by Kid_Zombie (824 posts) - - Show Bio
@doordoor123 said:
 Nowadays very few people wear such revealing clothing. Unless of course they are sluts or models. "
Highly disagree, Women wear way more reveling clothing then ever before. You obviously never been to Toronto, La, or new york on a hot summers day ha ha especilly since thoughs short shorts are so in right now.  Its crazy these days what women where ha I'm not complaining but its true.
 
Anyways back to the aticle, SEX SELLS. They draw women unpossibly hot, but they draw men that way also. Is the uniforms for sex appeal then funcion, of course. But you do get a few women in comics with good costumes, Mockingbirds new costume is sweet really like hers.  I like in comics when the make fun of the costumes, Like when Ulra Girl has Ms.marvels old costume she has to keep picking out the wedgie ha ha
#32 Posted by Nova`Prime` (4165 posts) - - Show Bio

It always surprises me how many people get worked up over this topic. The fact the women are drawn sexy is because comics have always been and will always be marketed towards boys/men. Heck even the comics targeted towards girls/women are drawn in revealing costumes. Its just the way the business is run, they have created a fantasy world so the heroes and heroins look like they don't belong in this world.
 
Also spandex would be the preferred clothing for a crime fighter because it doesn't imped movement and it breathes rather well.

#33 Posted by Krakoa (555 posts) - - Show Bio

I don't think less revealing costumes will encourage respect. There are still parts of the world where women are treated abysmally and socially wouldn't dream of wearing revealing clothes. Anyone who's read Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale will tell you that modesty will not necessarily facilitate respect.

#34 Posted by dvorak (187 posts) - - Show Bio

They're all fictional characters, so I don't see why this is even relevant. 

#35 Posted by danhimself (22651 posts) - - Show Bio



#36 Edited by Golden Cod (430 posts) - - Show Bio

You know what's funny?   The distraction argument is also used by Punisher.   The explanation for putting a big white skull on his chest was to draw enemy fire towards his kevlar armor rather then his exposed head.
 
...and lets not forget how the white-on-black slims down his waist line :P
 




 

I think there needs to be a parallel spoof world where superheroes dress in "revealing costumes" and thus make supervillains recoil in horror...   Think of the time when Deadpool wore Marvel Girl's costume.
 
#37 Posted by Leliel (1452 posts) - - Show Bio

Distraction to the villains? I'm sorry I don't want to stare at your boobs once I conquer the world I have all I want women, men even horses if I wanted yes, 18 of them. Come on guys if your Kang the Conquer or Doctor Doom a very good looking woman naked is not going to cost you the world and if does well shame on you

#38 Edited by Nyogtha (353 posts) - - Show Bio
@MisterMollusk:  Women do it too, even more over board than men at times. Though it is true, men are the majority. It's half marketing, half aesthetic. If you think about it, would a woman really want to wear baggy clothes that are unflattering? I'm not saying all women want to wear a one piece latex bathing suite like Pyslocke, but could you see Lady Jaye from G.I. Joe wearing Duke's baggy uniform and not her form fitting one? No woman looks good in a potato sack.


I've never seen Lara Croft have larger "assets" than this. Joyce Chin did that.

Amanda Conner did this one.
#39 Posted by Dipic (128 posts) - - Show Bio
@sora_thekey said:

" @icefrog0 said:

" In Birds of Prey, Canary pointed out if she had abs like Huntress, she'd be showing them off too. "

So is Huntress showing off?
 
i agree completely with Tony on this one... Sometimes the outfits make me wonder the credibility of the strength of the female character (that was a lot "of"). Sure it might be the appeal for male readers but let me put it this way...
Rogue is mostly covered to prevent any physical contact (or at least she was) and using the same artist that @Baddamdog: mentioned who drew Psylocke he also drew Rouge:

She's completely 'covered' here and yet that sexiness that (I'll admit it) we all love is still there. So there is not so much a need for 'windows', fish nets or "distractions"... "
Yeah, but Rogue is drawn in a very unrealistically sexual way here... and on purpose. It has a very Eastern (well, Japanese) influenced art style... well, because, duh, it was drawn by a Japanese artist. This is for Kotobukiya's "Bishojo" (which literally translates to "beautiful young girl")  line of PVC sculpts.
 
I get you point you're trying to make which is that female characters can be drawn to look sexy without having their clothes (or lack thereof) be completely provocative by showing lots of skin, but I don't this is a good example. Again, Rouge (like every other character in this line) is drawn in a anime-style that overly sexualizes her, and though no skin is shown on her body, her outfit is very tight to excentuate her curves and figure.
 
In other words, it really isn't that much better, and though slightly more practical than having skin exposed, not by much.
#40 Posted by Dipic (128 posts) - - Show Bio
@dvorak said:
" They're all fictional characters, so I don't see why this is even relevant.  "
Worst. Logic. Ever.
#41 Edited by RaydelFugeo (26 posts) - - Show Bio

I think lady characters should have more armor, and less revealing costumes. I think female character are less empowered when they have giant boobs and skinny waists. Female characters are strong and meaningful, but when artists and writers and fans want to see "hot chicks in costumes" rather "a strong women heroes"  women in comics take a few steps backwards.

#42 Posted by warrenwhite (12 posts) - - Show Bio

" I'm not suggesting we do away with the revealing costumes altogether. I understand that some readers might really enjoy comics or characters that have them. I just think that there should be more to the characters, especially to the female ones. They deserve to be seen as more than just a body. Often, female characters that can literally kick ass are not taken seriously. I don't buy comics just because there's a female wearing a revealing outfit. I'm buying comics for the characters and stories."

   AMEN. I think there isin't much character development for female superheroes. I've personally never heard anyone, specially any girl say  something like "I feel identified with this or that situation that happens to this or that superheroine".
#43 Posted by xerox_kitty (15762 posts) - - Show Bio
@G-Man: You didn't mention the impractical boots this time (because running & kung fu fighting is oh-so easy in high heels ;) 
 
To be honest, I'm bored with the majority of spandex outfits.  Fashion in comics is seriously lacking.  And I don't mean Millie the Model sporting the latest Tim Gunn... There's no sense of style, personality or functionality; the basics of what goes into all our wardrobes.  If it has to be figure-hugging there are still ways of making it look unique & attractive without suggesting that the artist can only draw naked women (and then relies on the colourist to make it look like she's got clothes on).
#44 Posted by mothore (14 posts) - - Show Bio
@doordoor123 said:
" Ummm i kind of agree with you G-man.  I read comics for the stories and not whose in the story or what theyre wearing.  But women deserve respect? Thats where i draw the line. (im just kidding) Not only do the female characters look like a bunch of hookers, but they dont update theyre constumes. When i think of those vagina crotch costumes some heroes wear, it makes me think of the 70s. If Black Canary wore pink leg warmers and a matching headband what would you think? Nowadays very few people wear such revealing clothing. Unless of course they are sluts or models. "
What you talkin bout, Willis?
#45 Posted by Darkchild (41126 posts) - - Show Bio

Yep had a comment to make but im sure you all know what it entails 

#46 Posted by Secret Identity (224 posts) - - Show Bio

Feminism is a bit of a sticky topping for me. Whilst I agree with equal rights, respect and all that I don't think that, if a woman wants to dress a certain way they shouldn't. Even if the only reason they do it is to arouse men. There was a feminist petition at my university that was all in aid of getting a "Playboy Bunny night" baned. My problem is that the people going are not being forced to go or to wear revealing outfits if they choose to go. So at that point it becomes about women wanting more, not wanting equality. The equal thing to do would be have a playboy AND playgirl night. Not stopping it all together. 

Now, with comics you obviously have a different thing all together. This isn't about equal rights its about equal representation. In terms of body form all comic characters are idealised, male and female. So really there is no lack of fairness there. Because, honestly, what % of people actually look like that?  
 
Costume choices however, are somewhat different, and I think stem from older media taboos. For example many years back it would have been totally inappropriate to show a female's bare legs. That was still the case in photo realist media even as it started to be used in drawn/rendered media. This being the case, rendered media had a bit more of an open passage to run more revealing imagery. And so they did. Costume designs being what they are means some of these will stick, become iconic and cause up raw if changed. Black Canary's fishnets for example. They are as much part of her character as Superman's blue and red with red boots, cape, and speedos. Granted other characters have had costume changes and got away with it no problem or were just created with a full body costume. Huntress is one of those characters who fits that category. Her costume changed to become one which logically seems more practical (although whether you have a bit of thin fabric over you stomach or not doesn't really make any odds to practicality to me) where she was fully covered. That fits her character but she has had a costume without so inevitably she will flip-flop between them depending on your artist and what the character looks like in their mind. (Just look at Green Arrow's costume consistency over the last year or so.) Male costumes tend to be far focused on assets because penises are far more taboo. There are plenty of characters who go around bare chested or have their costume ripped to shreds at regular intervals but male bodies have far less notable assets making this seem less important. In the end its all how you look at it. Because both sides of this (and any other feminism argument) can be argued equally from either point of view. 
 
I have no interest in revealing costumes on fictional characters. (People who do, worry me) So I don't notice them. But I do like costumes to stay somewhat continuous and appropriate. Black Canary's fishnets, Superman's Red and Blues and Lady Blackhawk's uniform all work fine for me. 
 
In the end, it's all how you look at it.

#47 Posted by Mediant (329 posts) - - Show Bio

Spandex is so 20th century.~  Isn't it mostly leather, latex, and pvc nowadays?

#48 Posted by BaronVonDredd (250 posts) - - Show Bio

This is exactly what I've been trying to talk about for several blogs.

#49 Posted by Rothschild (1311 posts) - - Show Bio

I can name alot of  Female Characters who dont wear revealing clothes: 
 
-Renee Montoya (the Question)
-Donna Troy 
-Soranik Natu(Green Lantern Corps)
-Batwoman 
-Dust 
-Ice (justice League International) 
-Ravager 
-Jubilee 
-Celia Reyes 
-Dawn Granger(Dove 
-Jade (Current) 
-Mera 
-Alura(Current) 
-Spiral 
  
I can go on... But hey, the dude have always worn Skin tight, testicle huggin uniforms... 

#50 Posted by TheMess1428 (2176 posts) - - Show Bio

Is Wonder Girl's outfit bad? Why not mention Wonder Woman's outfit? I personally like Supergirl's outfit. It seems appropriate for her age.

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