So. Superheroes and body positivity. There’s a history there that we should discuss. Ever notice how superheroes are all usually a one-body-type franchise? Buff, fit, strong, athletic, torsos completely triangular, bodies realistically unobtainable. Well, looks like this one super-body-size-fits-all attitude is starting to finally make way for a whole new type of hero.
The Viral Moment
When Avengers: Endgame dropped earlier this year the public had a lot much to say on certain choices made in the movie. In particular, Thor was hit with heavy fire, both in support and rage, for his new beer belly look. It really begs the question, is this fat shaming, or is this the start an amazing transformation of what it means to look like a superhero? Is body positivity finally starting to take hold in the Marvel and DC world?
Heroes And History
If we go way back to 1936, we will find a world that is only just being introduced to Lee Faulk’s The Phantom, the world’s first superhero. While he was little more than a quick-witted gunslinger, The Phantom was decked out with all the physical attributes that we associate with superheroes today. The muscles, the mask, right down to the underpants he wears over his purple spandex.
After that, Man of Steel (1938), Batman (1939), Captian Marvel/Shazam (1939) all have nearly identical body types to The Phantom. It’s almost as if they were all ticking off on the exact same check list to get their superheroes looking as macho as possible.
But we can’t really blame them all that much right? It was a different time! A time when you were only considered a super-hero if you were given the right body type to go along with it. Fast forward to Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), nothing appears to have changed. When Steve goes into the lab a skinny, ordinary man with a big heart, he comes out decked out with muscles for days. Superhero transformation complete.
Avengers: Endgame, Body Positivity? Or Body Shaming?
Safe to say that if you’re looking for an accurate depiction of a human body, superhero comic books aren’t the best place to look. It probably comes with the obligation of being superhuman…
But recently, a surge of superheroes are coming out with average builds, no larger than life muscles and- dare I say, tubby bellies? The hero who has received the most spotlight for this is undoubtedly Thor, which has divided loyal fans, with some even calling out war cries of ‘fat shaming’ and ‘negative body images’. It was felt that Thor’s new look was making a mockery out of overweight people, and was an insensitive and unnecessary addition. But is it really?
On the flip side, what happened to Thor could be considered a very real and common experience for people with PTSD. You lose your self-worth, you let yourself go, you don’t know what to do with yourself besides drink and game all day. Maybe it was distasteful to present the situation with such a comedic flare. But let’s not kid ourselves, this is still a superhero movie, you know…for kids.
But the most beautiful aspect of Thor’s story that we should all consider? He doesn’t miraculously lose the weight mid-way through the film in a ridiculous training montage (I’m looking at you, The Incredibles). His added weight becomes an insignificant factor to his heroism, he reclaims his hammer, his strength, his super cool lightning abilities with his beer belly.
Don’t get me wrong I’m going to miss seeing that ripped Hemsworth bod as much as the next person. But I’m far more excited to see where Thor’s hero journey is headed.
Spider-Man: Into A Spider’s Mid-Life Crisis
Less discussed is Peter Parker- the interdimensional one. The one that hung up his spidey-suit, got separated from MJ and made a mess of his life and gained his own beer belly in a parallel universe. That Peter Parker.
When we first meet this version of Peter Parker, he’s washed up with a gut that barely fits in his skin tight suit, but quickly becomes a role model and reluctant teacher Miles Morales. Pot belly instantly forgotten, his witty humour and relationship with Miles overshadows any importance to his body image whatsoever.
The fact is, though his body is present, it isn’t made the main focus of the film, nor is it really the butt of any joke, because the point they’re trying to make is that it’s just not important. No matter what kind of Spiderman you are, scrawny high schooler, mid-life crisis adult…Japanese robot…pig… you are still a superhero. And at the end of the day, isn’t that true body positivity?
The superhero world is changing, that much is true. But by how much? And How fast? Is body positivity the new Marvel and DC go-to purity message? Or is it straight back shirt-ripping biceps and glasses disguises?
Female supers have yet to play a role in this ongoing transformation. Hopefully one of these days we’ll be able to handle a Harlequin who doesn’t wear a short-shorts or a skin-tight suit, or a middle-aged Wonder Woman, maybe even a chunky Cat Woman! I for one would love to see more real bodies on my screen, for both men and women.