(Wo)men in tights: Femininity in Wonder Woman

 The Amazons were created by a man to teach men love. In this heteronormative fantasy world, this means that the most important, Amazonny Amazons look like this.

Yup. Thin, white, cisgender, and in outfits of varying degrees of impracticality. Image source.

Now, I want to be clear. I’m not here to attack these women for how they look. What I’m interested in is the transparent fact that the Amazons with the most screen-time tick almost every single box for conventional, rigid beauty. By choosing leading ladies that conform to patriarchal beauty standards, Wonder Woman contributes to a mindset that codes beauty to goodness, and worthiness. This beauty often excludes fat women, women of colour, trans women, and women with physical disabilities. Women who don’t fit this mould do not have the opportunity to be seen as three-dimensional characters.

Funny how that happens, on a magical island completely isolated from everything else.

What really surpised me was how many women of colour there are in this film. It’s disappointing that none were really pivotal to the plot (you can see some of my thoughts on that here, and here), but director Patti Jenkins clearly did make an effort to diversify the cast, so props to her.

However, this diversity doesn’t extend into body types. Although there are both thin, and muscular women, there aren’t any fat Amazons.

Jenkins cast real-life athletes, yogis, farmers, personal trainers, and even Olympians to play the Amazons. It was so fucking hardcore and empowering to watch a bunch of women hold their own in a fight, and for their skill, not their beauty, to matter.

It would have been so frustratingly easy to cast a bunch of women who have the mildly unrealistic task of being slim, lightly muscled, but with super-secret nano muscles that allow them to beat the shit out of people much heavier than they are. Which is…kind of what happened.

My superpower is that I’m crazy strong AND skinny enough for boys to like me! From DC comics.

Despite her slim appearance, Diana can easily hold her own with the male power fantasies she calls coworkers. Because….goddess magic?

Gendered beauty standards play into this – the male superheroes are unrealistically beefed up, whereas Diana is smaller and looks more delicate. Not to beg for realism in a movie about superheroes, but it follows a much larger pattern of women being expected to be everything.

We have to be thin and curvy in all the right places, beautiful, perfectly styled, and now physically strong without any evidence of muscles.

And this brings me to Diana’s hot mess of an outfit.

Standing next to the rest of the Justice League, hers is the most impractical and skimpy. Sporting a boob tube (yes, in 2017), a miniskirt, and an expensive blowout, Diana storms into battle in the most horrifying and dangerous conditions.

Honestly, this is probably why she’s so popular as a Halloween costume (full disclosure: I went as Diana last Halloween). There’s no way Batman would want to party in that stuffy suit. But Diana? She’s down. She already has her heels on, for God’s sake.

This versatile boot is appropriate for the office, as well as a fun night out! Image source.

But I digress.

It just isn’t enough for Wonder Woman to be Wonder Woman. She has to become sexualised, a caricature of what society thinks beauty is. This was Jenkins’ intent – “I, as a woman, want Wonder Woman to be hot as hell, fight badass, and look great at the same time…my hero, in my head, has really long legs.” She’s a superhero, somebody to aspire to, but somebody that few of us could hope to become. This fantasy of the woman that does it all while looking perfect is exciting, but it stops us from giving female characters more depth and diversity.

Wonder Woman just ends up being pretty hypocritical. By casting real-life buff, hardcore ladies, but making sure that Diana is palatable enough for audiences to think she’s hot, Wonder Woman wavers between embracing female power and beauty outside of gender norms, but traps our leading lady between both.

More on this

Another of Feminist Frequency’s videos on how clothing is used to sexualize female characters.

Ann Wolfe discusses her role and experience as a woman of colour in Wonder Woman.

Jenavieve Hatch highlights to more Amazons.

Anne Cohen tries to run in heels, Wonder Woman-style.