X-men cartoons and female body image

I am very into X-men. It is my favorite superhero fandom, and though I love comics, I came to love it through cartoons, specifically X-men: Evolution. I like the original 90’s series too, but XME will always be dear to my heart because it drew me into the fandom. There is this message in the X-men stories about diversity, accepting those who are different and all that, that I really relate to, and that’s a big part of my love for it.

Anyway, there is a new X-men cartoon series coming out soon called Wolverine and the X-men. And looking at how they are representing the female body, I need to speak up. But first, here’s some image backstory.

This is some design work and a screencap from the original X-men cartoon from the 90’s:

They still look pretty thin, but they have curves, at least, and definitely look like they could be healthy bodies, not anorexic (I do wish they didn’t draw out the line where their ribs end though, yikes). So even though I’d love to see BBW superheroes, I’m good with this.

This is some design work from X-men: Evolution:

Ummm…..okay, I love this show, I really really do. Most of the X-men fanart I do is based on these designs, and the fanfiction I write is set in this universe. But I have to admit that they are much thinner, dangerously thinner, than the first series. It does get a little better at the very end of the series, though, when they show visions of the future. Here’s some of those:

Still thin, but better.

Now, here’s one of the promo images for Wolverine and the X-men(which, by the way, is also done by the same people who did XME):

Its kinda hard to tell here, but look closely at Emma Frost (the woman in white) and Shadowcat (the woman all the way to the right). Stick. Thin. Ugh. The men are uber skinny too, which shows even more how the impact of our culture’s body image bullshit is wearing into them, at least in cultural representations.

Here are some screen captures, taken from the intro and various clips online:

…wtf? Do they even have organs??? Storm’s hair is bigger than she is! Ugh!!!

Now, this could be a stylistic thing, but even if it is, that’s not the point. The point is, children are going to be watching this, looking at the bodies represented in it. Some of the male X-men are more muscular and appear to have more realistic body types, and there are some fat background characters of both sexes (most of whom have been anti-mutant, at least in the first 3 episodes; oh no, fat is eeeeeeevil!). But all the speaking female characters are THAT thin. That is UNATTAINABLE!!!!! So many children are going to get body image issues from this! …okay, not just from this, but I know it will contribute.

Why the hell can’t we have fat women superheroes? Why? Would it honestly destroy the superhero genre or something? I know that’s tied up in the whole fat=unhealthy myth too, so I shouldn’t even be asking, but this is just ridiculous. Looking at this progression, it’d seem like the examples of female superhero characters that are available to children and adults alike (through animation, comics are a whole different story) will keep getting more and more anorexic-looking, maybe until they vanish entirely.

Like I said earlier, a big part of what I love about X-men is the message about difference and tolerance. It really appeals to me, because of many reasons: my religion, my sexual orientation, my size. Only, it looks like different body sizes are the only kind of difference that the X-men message doesn’t promote. And that makes me very sad.

**EDIT, 8/28/2009** This entry has been mentioned in the blog of Levana, in a post about the fourth episode of the new series! Thanks Levana! Glad you think I’m witty and enlightening ;p


~ by Rachel Terwilliger on October 11, 2008.

19 Responses to “X-men cartoons and female body image”

  1. That makes me sad. I was looking forward to watching this. I mean I still am, but less than if it didn’t have the body image issues. (Are there any cartoons that don’t have body image issues, these days?)

  2. Oh. My. Gawd.

    That’s scary-thin. I mean, that’s like, Winx Club bad.

    Is it sad that anime is more realistic these days?

  3. Hi; I came here via a link posted by Avalon’s Willow.

    I got into X-Men with the 90s series and the reprint comics Marvel UK began publishing at the time. I was an outsider at school for various reasons, and the fact that the X-Men made being different cool rather than shaming was immensely important to me.

    But I’ll never forget the time someone wrote to the UK comic’s letters page asking why everyone in the comics looked so gorgeous. Why was nobody ordinary-looking, with weight, musculature and facial attractiveness variations? The editorial reply was that the X-Men were supposed to represent a physical ideal as well as a moral one. 14-year-old me kind of sort of bought it… 27-year-old me is just plain disgusted. The X-Men, of all teams, ought to have a bit of size diversity.

  4. Wolverine’s arm has a wider circumference than Emma Frost’s waist!

  5. I’m a huge X-men fan as well… I have been since I was a kid. I grew up on the 90’s version of the show and also watched X-Men Evolution, which came out when I was 13 or 14. I was comfortable with the body designs of the characters in both shows, I can kind of see why the Evolution characters would be smaller due to the fact that they are supposed to be younger and athletic. The only problem I really had with it was the overly simple body structure design. While this is necessary for animation projects, due to the high volume of drawings that have to be produced of any given character over the course of the show, The muscle structure and definition is pathetic. They did a much better job with it in the first series, but then again that was the time when it was ok for women to display some outward physical strength. It feels as though public view of body image has actually regressed over the last 10 years. (As for the picture of Rogue from the first series, she actually looks to be in peak physical condition. The torso is well defined, and even though the rib lines are apparent I think it was done more to give her a strong appearance than a thin one.)

    The pictures you posted from the latest installment are kind of disappointing, from an artistic standpoint. The character design looks overly simple.

  6. Humph. I know, I know, stylistic differences. And Emma Frost’s body is ‘the best that money can buy’ (well, this according to Joss Whedon). Kitty I get, she’s meant to be borderline-teenager. And I relate to the girl. But Rogue? What happened to Rogue? That said, what happened to all the male characters, particularly Wolverine, whose arms are so thick that his legs shouldn’t hold him up?

    Incidentally (I’m a total nerd about this) when you read their vital stats, (they’re on teh website…yes, I told you I’m sad, but I have a bit of a thing about this) Wolverine…has metal over all his bones, we’ll ignore him. Beast is a huge furry animal, ditto. Scott’s healthy, Rogue’s underweight, Shadowcat’s fine, Nightcrawler’s the high end of healthy (then again, he’s got a tail and he’s blue. So…yeah.) Jean’s underweight (shock.) Charles is overweight, Storm is significantly underweight, Boom Boom and Dust are healthy, though on the slim side (to be fair, that’s most of the women and some of the men too) and so on and so on. Domino is apparently overweight, though I think that’s gotta be very muscular (didn’t anyone ever tell people muscle is denser than fat? Or that the same mass of muscle takes up less room than fat? Sigh.)

    Makes you wonder if the makers of X Men know how to read a weight chart. I guess they mostly just pick a number out of the air, though. Or somewhere else.

    • Inspired by TEF above, I used Marvel’s website to check heights and weights of a few X-Men and villains, then plugged the results into a bmi calculator to find out how each character stands in regards to weight and health. When possible, I also listed a celebrity of comparable weight and height to show how that weight and height might look, if anyone wants to do an image search to get a better picture.

      Iceman 5”8 145 lbs bmi-22 HEALTHY Celebrity=Tobey Maguire
      Nightcrawler 5”9 161lbs bmi-23.8 HEALTHY Celebrity=Johnny Depp
      Gambit 6”1 179lbs bmi-23.6 HEALTHY Celebrity=Keanu Reeves
      Cyclops 6”3 195lbs bmi-24.4 HEALTHY Celebrity=Muhammad Ali
      Wolverine 5”3 195lbs (WITHOUT adamadantium) bmi-34.5 OBESE Celebrity= N/A
      Magneto 6”2 190lbs bmi-24.4 HEALTHY Celebrity=Ben Affleck
      Angel 6”0 150lbs bmi-20.3 HEALTHY (I hope that’s without the wings) Celebrity=Jude Law

      Storm 5”11 127lbs bmi-17.7 UNDERWEIGHT Celebrity=Giselle Bundchen
      Jean Grey 5”6 115lbs bmi-18.6 HEALTHY (just barely) Celebrity=Megan Fox
      Rogue 5”8 120lbs bmi-18.2 UNDERWEIGHT(slightly) Celebrity= Faith Hill
      Shadowcat 5”6 110lbs bmi-17.8 UNDERWEIGHT Celebrity=Jennifer Aniston (during Friends)
      Emma Frost 5”10 144lbs bmi-20.7 HEALTHY Celebrity= Rachel Hunter
      Mystique 5”10 120lbs bmi-17.2 UNDERWEIGHT Celebrity=Nicole Kidman (circa Stepford Wives)
      Psylocke 5”11 155lbs bmi-21.6 HEALTHY Celebrity=Tyra Banks
      Jubilee 5”5 115lbs bmi-19.1 HEALTHY Celebrity=Halle Berry

      Most other male characters (Colossus, Sabretooth, Beast, Avalanche) are obese!
      Xavier is slightly overweight, and Pyro and Tabitha are healthy. Literally half of the major female characters are underweight! When in doubt, maybe Marvel should shave 15lbs off of new male characetrs and give them to new female characters.

  7. When did the last pic air ? i haven’t had cable in a few month XP

    • I honestly have no idea. I’ve been ignoring the series since I became disgusted with it.

  8. While I agree that the cartoon is not doing any justice to healthy body images, the stories are just jaw-droppingly good. If you are an X-Men fan, this is THE series to watch.

    That said… the production team has some serious problems with body image, be it male or female. This extends to comics and impacts both genders, it’s just that guys don’t talk about it as much (men in general are known for their silence about personal stuff).

    For years I’ve been upset with my own body and when I was honest about what I was comparing it to, a comic book character came to mind. I do read the things almost constantly, so that was no shock but comic book characters are in essence abstracts of reality. The X-Men UK editor’s reply that they are idealizations of the physical form is not only stupid it’s also false. Just pick up any random comic book and you’ll see artists either hitting the mark perfectly and making characters look like porn stars (Terry Dodson) or missing it entirely and making Peter Parker look like he’s made out of mashed potato (Todd McFarlane… don’t even get me started on his idea of what Mary Jane should look like).

    The only artist who jumps to mind that has fun with the body types is Dave Cooper, but I’m sure there are more. In my own opinion, in order to introduce varied body types into comics you also have to smash the idea that these archetypes must remain rigid… and I’m not hopeful that DC or Marvel are capable of that.

  9. Anonymouse: well, there are so many different stats, too. Two examples:

    Marvel universe: 5’6″, 110lbs. (underweight) http://www.stumptuous.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/12/si_for_women_photomontage5.jpg (far right woman – I suppose Kitty is a) a teenager and b) a dancer and gymnast)
    Age of Apocalypse: 5’6″, 115lbs.
    Teenage continuity: 5’4″, 105lbs. (healthy weight for teenager)
    Wolverine and the X-Men: 5’2″, 110lbs (hallelujah)

    Marvel general: 6’3″, 195lbs (fine)
    Legends Sentinel series: 6’1″, 181lbs (also fine)
    Random other: 6′, 170lbs (also fine) But at least he’s in a healthy range all the time. (Five minutes on Google is a wonderful thing).

    I’m an utter nerd, and I know it. But hey, I’m in good company.

    What was my point again? Oh yeah. The animation is a style thing, and yes, it does suck. In the same way that, say, anime unattainability or the gravity defying breasts of Doom that seem to be so common in the comic book world suck. It’s the Most Common Superpower trope (see http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MostCommonSuperPower for details, plus a really neat Calvin and Hobbes cartoon). But I don’t think it’s mainly cartoons that are ripping girls’ self esteem to shreds.

    I was thinking today that if I ruled the world, I would ban advertising targeted at…well, eventually I came to the conclusion of anyone. I know it wouldn’t really work, but at least advertising for kids and teenagers. Unless it was advertising to do well in school, or eat vegetables, or something, y’know, fairly sound.

    And maybe someday we’ll have a fat woman superhero.

    Hang on: do we have any fat men who are superheroes? Maybe we’ll get one of those too. Doubt it though. Superhero movies are about being amazingly amazing and yet having the same problems as everyone else. Well, that’s a major theme anyway.

  10. I forgot to add: but fitting into tight spandex isn’t among those problems.

  11. It’s horrible how people are showed what the “perfect” female body is. What’s wrong with being a bigger woman? What’s wrong with having a small body, gentle curves and a small cup size? That comes with being small most of the time.

    I’m not saying anything bad about X-Men, I love it to death, the stories are great, and the morals are awesome, but can they please make the characters look like normal people?

  12. […] it’s that her grossly unattainable body has translated to the series, and after finding a witty and enlightening entry about the animated X-Men and female body image, I’m glad I’m not […]

  13. […] it’s that her grossly unattainable body has translated to the series, and after finding a witty and enlightening entry about the animated X-Men and female body image, I’m glad I’m not […]

  14. Thanks for the link back! And you’re very welcome, I didn’t really see the increasing X-ladies’ thinness in the animated series until I read your entry; for all the progressive messages in X-Men, it’s too bad this one falls short. Thanks for saying it like it is 🙂

    • You’re welcome! Thank you for linking me in the first place, and for understanding what I was getting at. I’m glad you liked the post 🙂

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