I haven’t started reading DC’s New 52 titles yet (because I read so fast, I don’t tend to read comics before they’re anthologized because the price paid to time spent reading is frustrating otherwise), but some of my friends are running a campaign to ask DC to reconsider the changes they’ve made to the character of Amanda Waller. Namely, the decision to turn her from a plus-sized administrator whose clothes were as practical as her attitude into a federal sex kitten. Before her transformation, my friend Elana Brooklyn writes, “She is the only middle-aged, African-American, woman of size in comics. Actually she is one of the few characters who is any one of those things. What is gained by representing even fewer types of people in comics? What is gained by diluting her iconic presence?”
Some folks have suggested that the graphic redesign’s meant to create continuity between the character as she appears in Smallville, where she’s played by Pam Grier in a look that’s somewhere between classic Amanda Waller and new Amanda Waller, and Green Lantern, where Angela Bassett has the role. But even if that’s the rationale, it doesn’t answer the question of what DC gains by making that overall shift in the canon. It’s not like it would have been hard to find a woman in Hollywood who looks like classic Waller to play her — C.C.H. Pounder did the voice work for the character in the 2009 Superman/Batman: Public Enemies cartoon, so why not cast her in the movie and preserve a tiny bit of body-image diversity?
I was thinking about all of this while I was reading Bronwyn Kienapple’s meditation on the sexualization of female cosplayers at conventions and a first time attendee. There’s no question that, as she writes, “I take no issue with wearing revealing clothing, which for many women is an expression of confidence and a celebration of physical beauty, whatever its form.” But not everyone takes the same road to feeling sexy, or strong, or confident — if I ever cosplay, I’ll likely be Kara Thrace in tank tops and tattoos. And any move to narrow the range bodies and clothing choices available to use as templates means a narrowing of choices available to cosplayers who are already more diverse than the characters they emulate. It’s not that cosplayers are making a choice to dramatically ratchet up the sexual atmosphere at conventions, it’s that there’s a high correlation between sexualized representations of women and fidelity to source material. And that’s not just problematic — it’s boring. The more female characters converge on a single body type, the fewer kinds of stories you can tell about self-image and self-presentation on the page, and the fewer angles you can explore off it.