Failing Wonder Woman

4 years ago
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 Arrow 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.


Originally published at

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