I had a lady date to see Wonder Woman last night, and I loved every minute of it. But while watching the movie I kept thinking to myself, I wish Wonder Woman looked more like Serena Williams. I felt like any person who was strong enough to ward off bullets with her forearms, jump to the top floor of buildings, and punch through walls, should at least have some muscle mass, and let’s be real, Gal Gadot ain’t doing any powerlifting.
Now before everyone bites my head off, let me be the first to say that Gal Gadot absolutely rocked my world. She played the role of Diana(aka Wonder Woman) with a quality of self-assurance and strength that I found inspiring. She commanded that screen, and I believed in everything she was fighting for because SHE believed in it. I would absolutely follow that lady into battle. I even read that the director originally wanted an American actress to be cast in the role, but that the Israeli-born Gadot impressed her out of her doubts.
So cool, are we all clear now that Gal Gadot has stolen my heart and I think she’s fabulous and now can we all be open to a discussion about femininity and race please? Awesome!
In the last year, America has had lots of drama. There’s been a lot of realizations that sexism and racism are still alive and well in our country. Last summer my Puerto Rican roommate and I were discussing race, and she forwarded me an article called “ Why I'm a Racist ” that at first offended my white brain but then made me realize a whole lot of cool shit. At first I thought the piece was going to tell me I was a racist, but instead it wanted to point out that being white sometimes keeps us ignorant of racist issues because it's not something we notice every day. As a white woman who grew up with a certain amount of privilege despite being poor, I hadn’t realized how unaware of racial issues I had been until last year. Admittedly, I still have a lot to learn.
Okay, now shift gears to femininity and how women’s bodies are portrayed.
Beginning this year, I started exploring the world of body positivity in order to write my book . You guys, there is SO MUCH out there. Through my reading, watching, and blog/Instagram following, I’ve realized something; not only do we celebrate the perfect standard of woman’s bodies that is slender and yet still perfectly curvy in all the “right” places, but that we are still really only celebrating that WHITE WOMEN have the perfect standard of this mostly unattainable physique.
Don’t believe me? Okay, look at the TV shows, celebrities, and movies that you watch. In how many of them does the cast of characters include actors of color? How many of your favorite celebrities are larger than a size 4? Name some movies that feature women of color as the lead actress where she has supporting actors who are white. It’s hard right?
I started looking at my own collection of favorite entertainment; Big Bang Theory, Friends, Sex and the City. Oh wow…everyone is white!
Okay, now why Serena Williams specifically? Serena is a bad ass. Serena has notoriously been attacked for not looking feminine enough, because her natural physique is larger than the lithe female athlete we’re used to being shown, as well as the fact that the lady has some serious muscles going on. Even when black women gain fame, they are usually more visually “mainstream friendly” somehow, meaning, they may have straightened hair, they may have lighter skin, they may be very skinny. This is how many women of color end up being accepted in media, because their appearance more closely resembles the standard of white women we are used to seeing portrayed. And here’s my final piece of the puzzle; if there is a film role for a female character to be heroic, she is most likely going to be not only white or light skinned, but she is also going to be a very specific body type, and that will most likely resemble a slender, slightly athletic but not too muscular, long and straight haired, small nosed, hour glassed shape. But guess what? 95% of women don’t actually look like that.
My point is, that Wonder Woman was really awesome, but it could have been EVEN MORE AWESOME if we’d been shown a woman in the lead role who offered a little more diversity. Yes, I know Gal Gadot is Israeli, but she is still very light skinned. Yes, I know she has dark hair, but what if it had been short or kinky instead? The character of Diana is supposed to be crazy strong, so I really wanted to see some ACTUAL MUSCLES, not just “toned arms” on my heroine. I wanted to see some LATS! I wanted to see some DELTS! I wanted to see some motherfucking QUADS!!! I would also have loved to see all that muscle definition in a not-so-slender physique. Like maybe indicating that the Amazons liked to carbo load before their workouts and ate a lot of wild boar or something. Athletes like to eat, yo! And yeah, I would have LOVED to see a dark skinned black woman in the role of Wonder Woman. I thought about how cool it would have been to not only inspire little white girls everywhere to aspire to super hero-dom, but how extra cool it would have been to offer that inspiration to young ladies of color.
Casting a black woman in the role of Wonder Woman would have required the production studios to REACH. It would have pushed them to do something different. They were ready for a female super hero, but only for one that adhered to the standards of strong women we are used to being shown.
Americans need to be presented with more diverse images of what bodies look like, and what powerful and successful people look like so that we can start to realize and accept that all humans have the ability to be powerful and successful. If our screens showed us pictures of larger bodies doing cool things, we would start to think that larger bodies are capable of doing cool things. If we were shown videos of women of all different colors changing the world and owning who they were, more women of all backgrounds might get the message that we are all capable of that. The reason we as a country are less accepting of bodies that don’t present as our “perfect standard” is because we are rarely shown that anyone who doesn’t meet that standard is capable of achieving anything of merit. If seeing bodies of all shapes and sizes and colors was normalized in the media, it would send such a powerful message, not just to a younger generation, but also to adults about accepting ourselves and each other.
So yay for America, for making Wonder Woman the #1 movie two weeks in a row and celebrating a strong female character. This was an awesome first step. Next, I challenge you all to fill your social media feeds and your screens with images of different body types, different lifestyles, and messages that might make you a little uncomfortable at first, but only because they might be things you’re not used to seeing. Support real bodies of all shapes and sizes and colors. The only way to create social change is to BECOME A PART OF IT.