Now, Barbara's breasts were not gigantic. They were Playboy in the 1960s large. If she had been middle class, and especially if she had been poor, she might very well have been proud of them. She might have modeled for Playboy—she looked remarkably like Barbi Benton, a Playboy model who was popular when I was fifteen.
To be a perfect daughter and to become innocuously attractive rather than conspicuously attractive, Barbara had breast reduction surgery. Among the risks were losing sensitivity and the ability to breastfeed. When she told me that, I cried, which I say as a man who was brought up believing men should not cry, so, to this day, I very, very rarely give way to tears. But a woman who I loved hated her body so much that she was willing to accept those risks in the hope of ending her torment.
The surgery did what she hoped. Aesthetically, I can't say I preferred her larger or her smaller breasts—I've always been more of a leg and butt man. She seemed to be happier, so I was happy for her, but I've always been sorry that she felt she had to change something that was fine in order to escape the attention of petty, petty people.
Which, I suspect, is the oddest introduction ever to a discussion of Power Girl.
On DC Comics' primary Earth, Superman's cousin is Supergirl, who modeled herself after him. But on the parallel Earth called Earth 2, his cousin chose to make her own identity, so she named herself Power Girl and wore a costume with different colors. Most notably, Superman has a logo, and Power Girl has none.
What she has where a logo might be has many names, including boob window. It's an ancient fashion choice, as noted at Main/Cleavage Window - Television Tropes & Idioms. The subset of feminist fans who believe women should not expose their bodies hate Power Girl's costume. But many cosplayers love it. There are two reasons:
Purely visually, it's a great costume. It's simple and striking. DC periodically tries to update it, but the updates are either too busy or too boring, and the character reverts to her classic red, white, and blue with bare legs and a boob window.
For large breasted women, Power Girl's costume is empowering. I'm not sure when I first noticed that many large-breasted women enjoy cleavage, but I especially noticed it at Renaissance Festivals and the Single Action Shooting Society.
So when Io9 took on the subject in a couple of posts, I took part in the comments. At What's The Most Embarrassing Superhero Costume Ever Designed?, I said in response to someone's complaint about Power Girl's high heels, "If you can fly, your heels can be anything you want them to be."
At Why Must Dudes Ruin Perfectly Good Superheroine and Action Franchises with Their Requests for Diversity?, I said:
Mocking Power Girl's costume always makes me wonder: Aren't you slut-shaming the cosplayers who choose that costume?Someone said Power Girl's costume is seen as "attention seeking", so I shared a video by Ardella, a cosplayer who has played Power Girl:
When DoILookLikeCharlieBrown?! asked "What does wearing a revealing costume have to do with being a slut?", I replied:
Women who are slut-shamed are often shamed for wearing revealing clothes. Wikipedia's definition includes "Some examples of circumstances where women are "slut-shamed" include: violating accepted dress codes by dressing in sexually provocative ways..." People who tell women to dress conservatively to avoid being raped are often accused of slut-shaming, and I think the charge is valid. We all should be free to dress as we please.DoILookLikeCharlieBrown?! suggested, "it is possible to critique clothes without slut-shaming."
I asked, "Okay, help me out here: shaming women for showing cleavage is slut-shaming, except when they're wearing a Power Girl costume?"
Clearing Things Up said,
There's a difference between shaming a woman for wearing revealing clothing, and critiquing an artist for choosing to portray a character in clothing that is sexualized for it's own sake.
The women cosplaying should absolutely be allowed to make their costume and wear it without feeling uncomfortable or attacked in any way.
The original character, however, was created by a team of male artists and writers, ultimately to sell comics.
The critique is not directed at the women who like the character and choose to dress as her. It is directed at the creators and the comics industry that make the revealing clothing and unrealistic poses (to name a few of the issues) the norm.I said,
You're erasing the women who are choosing to wear the clothes. Isn't that like a slut-shamer telling women who are being slut-shamed that it's not those women who are being shamed, it's only the people who designed their clothes?
They didn't design the costume, ergo, mocking the original design doesn't just automatically mock them. It's the same thing with any other artist. I can make fun of how ridiculous the general design of Power Girl is, but still recognize that someone drawing her can be an excellent artist.
No one is shaming cosplayers (or traditional artists, or what-have-you) for liking the character. We're more shaming the original designer, for coming up with something so ridiculous.
if someone says you look like a slut in a short skirt, are they only mocking the person who made the short skirt?Kovitlac said,
We're not talking about 'a short skirt', here. We're talking about a character's entire design. And pointing out the obvious flaws in such a design (or 'mocking' it) isn't at all the same as making fun of people who wear it.
No one here, that I know of, is saying to cosplayers, "You look like a slut in that outfit," so I fail to see why you're bothering to ask me that in the first place. Regardless of how I feel about the costume itself, I'd never say that to anyone. It's not only insulting (because you know nothing about them, personally), but it's slut-shaming, which I don't do. Last I checked, having a lot of sex wasn't a crime, so why would I try to insult someone with it?I said,
The issue with Power Girl seems to be the boob window, an ancient element of women's fashion and hardly unique to her. Otherwise, her costumes aren't more revealing than Wonder Woman's or the original Robin's or the Green Turtle's. Power Girl's invulnerable, so there's no practical reason why she shouldn't show as much skin as she wants to.
I have no idea what your favorite items of clothing are, but let's stick with short skirts: If someone mocks short skirts, aren't they also mocking the people who choose to wear them? If someone mocks a band, aren't they also mocking the people who like to listen to it? The people who don't like Power Girl's costume have a right not to, of course, just as prudes have a right not to like short skirts, but it seems to me you're either on the side of modest clothing or you think people should be able to expose whatever they want to expose. If you haven't listened to it already, I recommend the video by the cosplayer that I included earlier in this discussion.
Women should absolutely be able to wear what they want. Real, live women. Here, we're talking about a character (created by men) who was clearly not intended to be a beacon of power and inspiration to women, but a typical sexy, barely clothed chick for men. If a Real Live woman decided to wear something like this, fine. She's making her own choice. Power Girl is not a Real Life Woman - she's a creation, and she looks the way her creators intended her to look.
That is why making such comparisons to the real world is pointless, because Power Girl (and Wonder Woman) are not real people, who made their own choices. That isn't to say that women in comic books or video games or movies can't ever look sexy. But don't try to justify the clear difference between women in media who look like they do because they're intended for other women, and women who look the way they do because they're intended to be pleasurable for men.I said,
Sure, she was created by men, but so was Wonder Woman. She was created to be a Kryptonian who does not model herself after a man a la Supergirl imitating Superman. She's been written by women; after I began this discussion here, I did some googling, and I found that one of her writers, Jen Van Meter, made a defense of the costume that upset people who want their female heroes fully covered.
There's also a short bit of fan comics on the subject that's nicely written by a woman: Power Girl, in Real Time | Hannah Doerge.
And to bring this back to cosplaying, cosplayers are real women who make real choices to wear costumes that some people say are slutty or too sexy.Kovitlac said,
And Wonder Woman isn't always hailed as a beacon for inspiration, either. Some of her costumes have been nearly as ridiculous as most other women superheros. It's not being designed by men that's the problem - it's that they (most of the time) design her solely for other men - NOT for women.
No need to bring it back to cosplaying, since these are still two completely different subjects.I said,
But these are not different subjects. Real women are choosing to wear real costumes that you are calling ridiculous. Wonder Woman was designed by men for girls as well as men—the superhero genre has always had female readers, and sometimes the publishers tried to court them, as with Wonder Woman. Every part of her original costume was based on existing fashions.
Do you think the cosplayers who wear those costumes are mocking them? Ardella doesn't seem to be suggesting that in her video.Kovitlac said,
Yes, they're completely different subjects. One is concerning a made-up character who looks the way a man intended her to look. The other is concerning real life people who are choosing to look a certain way, which is every bit in their power to do so.
If you don't see a difference in those two scenarios, or agree that one can dislike something without disliking those who enjoy it, then I suppose I really can't change your mind.I said,
Hmm. You're probably right that we won't change our minds. For me, cosplayers are real life people who are choosing to look like "a made-up character who looks the way a man intended her to look", just like a real life person who chooses to wear a short skirt or a tight shirt that was designed by a man. According to Wikipedia, "The modern bikini was introduced by French engineer Louis Réard and separately by fashion designer Jacques Heim in Paris in 1946." Would you mock women for wearing bikinis because they were designed by men?At Pundits debate Power Girl's boob window, caseyjonescaseyjones said, "It's entirely possible to create comics with fully dressed superheroines." I answered,
Sure. I'm fond of the Lois Lane Superwoman from 1947. Marvel's latest Captain Marvel has a great costume. But male superhero costumes range from Namor's speedos to Iron Man's complete coverage. Why shouldn't female superheroes have the same range of options?
The conversations haven't gone further, and I doubt they will. The reason is that Power Girl's boob window has become a symbol for all the silly sexism in superhero comics. But many of us make a distinction between sexy and sexist, and for us, skin isn't inherently sexist. It's the approach to skin that's sexist. And cosplayers are a surprisingly good guide for the difference. This costume that the Invisible Woman was briefly stuck in?
So far as I know, it's never been cosplayed, and if it has, I'm pretty sure it was done ironically. So my suggestion is that the first time you're tempted to make fun of a costume, see what people who specialize in costumes think of it.
Related: Chain mail bikinis: context matters
Sexy halloween costumes and social justice neo-puritanism, Parts 1 & 2
"On the Depiction of Women in Games" And books, movies, comics....
Recommended: Power Girl Women's Liberator of the 1970s, Running Boog-Gag of the 2000s