October 7, 2013

Failing Wonder Woman

We're big superhero fans in this house.
I had dreaded that moment. I knew from the first time I heard the words, "It's a girl!" that the moment would come, and I prayed that somehow, magically, it wouldn't. That somehow my children would be impervious.

Yet there we were.

Looking up pictures online for Halloween costume inspiration.

An aside- I LOVE making costumes. And I LOVE making costumes based on existing characters. Here's my favorite costume I've ever done for M:

Naturally, I gravitated towards showing them my favorite kid-friendly comic book characters for their inspiration. They were delighted, exclaiming over every picture of adults in cosplay gear.

"Look! There's Batman!"
"Is there a picture of Superman hugging Supergirl?" Lo and behold, there was.
"What other Super Heroes can you show us?"

I pulled up a picture of a group of cosplayers dressed up as the Justice League.

"See girls? There's Batman, and Robin, and the Green Lantern, and Wonder Woman!"

SI shook her head. "No, that's not Wonder Woman. That's her sister."

I stared at the screen.

"Why do you say that?"
"That lady is too plump to be Wonder Woman.

Before I go on- I just want you to see the picture. The EXACT picture.

That woman? She looks amazing. And accurate. I stared at her and my heart fell.

"She's not too plump to be Wonder Woman. She looks fabulous! She looks great! She's a Super Hero!"
"But, Wonder Woman is... not so plump."

I stared at the picture again, and I bit my tongue.

I wanted to ask her if she thought the Green Lantern was too plump. Or Batman. But I didn't. I didn't want to drag my four year old into a conversation that involved criticizing people's bodies.

I wanted to tell her that drawings of people, like their beloved Disney Princesses or superheroes, aren't realistic. That people don't look like drawings, they look like people. But I didn't say that either. Instead I turned off my browser and announced it was bedtime.

While they brushed their teeth, I stared at the images of Wonder Woman that I myself had presented to them.

And I was ashamed again.

I keep Barbies out of my house for a reason. I don't want my children to believe that this is how people are supposed to be shaped. I don't want my daughters to believe that, because their thighs touch or their breasts swell or their waists exceed eighteen inches, that they are somehow flawed, broken, wrong.

I want them to look at their bodies with joy, acknowledge their humanity, and relish in the ability they have to use their bodies. In health. Not in shame.

But in my desperation to find female characters to share with them, characters of strength and courage, I have brought this into their lives. This expectation that to dress up like Wonder Woman, they have to match an invariably male illustrator's masturbatory ideals.

And it's not fair.

It's not fair to them, and it's not fair to me.

My twin daughters are four years old. "Fat" is a word that simply does not exist in their vocabulary. We say "plump" sometimes, and we occasionally refer to the baby's cheeks or bottom as "chubby," but we NEVER say "fat" in this house.

And I'm glad for that.

But I would like them to have some real women- not girls- to look at. Because while children associate themselves with other children, they look up to adults. They see adulthood as an end result- as a goal. They see the adults in their lives, real and fictional both, as benchmarks for success in life.

And as I wrack my brain to think of the female role models I've provided for them in books, and television, I am ashamed of myself for what I see.

Mary Poppins, heavily corseted.
Shelly Duvall, waif-like in her Faerie Tales.
Cartoon after cartoon of women with waspish waists and willowy limbs.
Batgirl, Wonder Woman, Super Girl...

And I ask myself- where is the diversity? Where are the short women, the broad shouldered women, the "plump" women? Where are there characters who represent beauty AND strength, and aren't meticulously cast as physically insubstantial?

And what messages are they getting, and where, that only forces them to see those inconsistencies with female characters? Because the male drawings of superheroes are JUST as absurd, JUST as unrealistic.

But they don't notice that.

All they notice is that Wonder Woman's sister is a little plump.

And already I have no vocabulary to explain to them that this is wrong. That their bodies, that every body, is capable of joy and activity, and equally worthy of whatever costume they choose.

And for the first time, I feel self conscious when they look at me. Afraid that when my children see my body, pouchy from the task of creating them, my children, they will dismiss it. They will deem me "too plump" as well.

And I am terrified that the voice in the back of my head that constantly says the same, that nagging voice we all have that wastes no time to point out our every imperfection, will shame me to silence.

And if I can't stand up for my own body, against the perceptions of my own children, they will only learn what they see.

Shame. Fear. Loathing.

I did this to them. Not just by bringing these images into our home, but by failing to point out from the first that these are FICTION. That nobody looks like Cinderella, or Tiana, or Wonder Woman.

I just hope there's still time for a little of the damage to be undone.


  1. I think it's an unavoidable battle. We are not very strict with what toys and shows my girls are allowed to watch, but they sometimes laugh at how ridiculous their monster high dolls look because they're SO skinny. I try not to make it a "thing," but I also really encourage my kids to be HEALTHY. We talk a lot about health in our house (I'm kind of a health foodie, so it's a constant for us). We eat healthy foods because they help our bodies work properly (not to stay skinny). We don't eat junk food because there are no nutrients for our bodies to absorb, and they can actually make us sick if we have too much (not "they make you fat"). I don't know how else to approach it, but I get exactly what you're saying. My daughters are now 16, 8, and 7. It's really hard.

    1. Oh man, 16 is HARD! I remember being sixteen, and by then I'd pretty thoroughly internalized a lot of the messages in the media about my body. Good for you for keeping the conversation about health and reality!

  2. Oh, girl, you just hit it smack dab on the head, didn't you? The perils of raising girls. You think it's just going to be so awesome, these beautiful creatures in your life, with their giggles and hugs and kisses. And then you remember all the crap that women go through, both from men and from OTHER women. So we judge ourselves and we judge others and we keep this horrible circle going. Maybe it's because that's how Americans are. Maybe that's how life (for us) in the South can be. There's still time for you and your girls. Still time for you to show them how beautiful all women - all people - are, without being judgmental and without being ashamed. Just make sure to love yourself, and they will always see that.

  3. It's so hard because all of the super hero girls and the princesses- they aren't shaped realistically. But do we keep them completely away from our kids? It's hard to decide.

    1. I know! I don't want to be *that* mom, you know? The one who bans all the fun toys they want to play with? But at the same time... you're right. It's just so hard to decide. :(

  4. This is something that we should remember when dealing with both genders of children, because I should be teaching my son how to respect and appreciate women, regardless of how they look. It's not your failing at all, it's society and the messages we are constantly fed. Even four-year-olds pick up on it, and regardless of what you allow into your house, they are going to be exposed to it at some point "out there." Maybe it's better to start talking about it now.

    1. It's worth remembering that more and more, boys are getting the same sorts of messages! Anorexia is becoming a bigger and bigger problem with boys. Particularly exercise anorexia. Definitely talk to your son about physical expectations and reality!

  5. I do not think you are the one to blame. Our self reflection is something that all humans ponder. I believe the important message is acceptance, that no one person is alike, but is valuable as a person.

  6. Okay, first of all, please stop beating yourself up. This is a cultural phenomenon; it is impossible to single-handedly do away with it. I promise. Please believe me.


    Third, the only thing you can do is what you are doing. Talk to them about it, question their assumptions, ask them why they think that. And I agree with Jessica Sweeney -- it's my responsibility as a boy mom to teach him that's not what real women look like. We're all in this together. HUG.

  7. The best way, I hoped when my children were still at home, to teach the value of being comfortable in their own skin, was to appear to be comfortable in yours. I pretended really hard, so that my daughters would see that I was happy and healthy and shaped like a person. I was disappointed when they all turned out to have body issues when they grew up, even though *I* thought they looked great. I think most women object to porn because they feel it sets unrealistic expectations that they can never live up to. My husband always told me that I needn't worry -- the reality was always better than the 2D fiction. I suspect that is the case here, too. I recommend telling your daughters that these are pictures from people's imaginations, and that NO ONE looks like that in real life. That if they did, they wouldn't have the strength to be superheroes. A little plump is good -- it gives Wonder Woman strength.

    1. You did great, mom. Unfortunately, you were fighting a battle against an increasingly superficial society. I've always thought you looked beautiful and healthy. <3

  8. You're probably not going to find the right role models in cartoon characters, but that's OK because you don't want your daughters to grow up to be cartoon characters. I think you should expose them to real women in the real world who are powerful and look like... women. They should know who Hillary Clinton is, and perhaps Oprah, or Queen Latifah, or some muscular female athletes -- whoever will get their attention. Part of the problem is that people in entertainment are what they see most, and they're the most likely to look anorexic. But there are real women out there who could at least somewhat counterbalance the cartoons. Hillary is as close to a real Wonder Woman as I can imagine!

    1. If Hillary runs, I'll make sure to make them "Poppa Supports Hillary" t-shirts. They won't have your face on them. :)

  9. Wow. That's upsetting, but not really surprising. It's so hard to even find NOT inhumanly skinny fictional characters for our kids to look up to, and few of the non-fiction ones are better. I worry about it a lot, especially since my daughter is built like her father (good old broad-everything Norwegian stock) and will probably never be thin or waif-like. I want her to love her body for all it does, not for how it looks. It's just sad that our society seems so hell bent on crushing girls' self esteem and making them want to look like something that isn't even possible.

    1. My husband and yours seem to be built a lot alike! M's idea- get the girls into sports. If they get excited about wheat their strong bodies can do, they'll be less susceptible to shame over them. He's a big fan of rugby. ;)

  10. Luckily at the moment I have two boys... Too be honest I'm not sure I would know how to even raise a little girl. I do believe that they should stop making fictional characters from looking like everyday barbie girls and make them more realistic with some curves on them. I have curves and although there may be days that I hate them (mostly when I am looking at fake photo shopped images of other woman I am not ashamed of it and no child should ever be either.

    1. Agreed! I'd love to see a princess with some real shape to her!



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Vote for me!

Visit Top Mommy Blogs To Vote For Me!