Hey, I was curious about why female heroes such as Red Sonja, Vampirella, Scandal, Supergirl, Emma Frost and others have such skimpy costumes. Why can’t they be more practical?






How is Scandal’s costume skimpy? She has her arms and a bit of her midsection exposed. 

Most of the characters who have skimpy outfits have them because they were designed by dudes for dude audiences in a different time (Vampirella, however, had her costumed designed by the most famous feminist in comics, Trina Robbins). 

It’s a long conversation. For one thing, I think ‘practical’ as used in these conversations is mostly bullshit. People are often okay with ridiculous outfits that are completely impractical or unworkable, if there is no skin showing. What they often mean in these cases is ‘less revealing,’ which is fine, but just say it.  I also think some of these outfits are goofy. But some have an iconography of fantasy to them, and I think that’s valid, to some degree.

By which I mean, you can’t just replace something that visually defines a character with something ‘practical’ just because it’s more realistic. If you put Vampirella in armor, sure, you may have made her more ‘realistic (arguably),’ but the question would be then, “Is this still recognizably Vampirella?”

I want these fixes made. “Practicality” is pretty low on my list of priorities. I want a visual pop, and a sensibility that works with today’s audience.  I don’t care if barbarian sword fighters in Hyrkania show skin sometimes, as long as it’s not just the girls. Have Sonja wear other outfits (we do) and armor when called for (we do that, too), and then, if we change her costume for good, I want it to be something that screams RED SONJA. 

It’s rarely as simple as making something ‘practical.’  Amanda Conner did an OUTSTANDING update of Power Girl’s outfit that kept most of the basic concept, but made it look far less dated, and it looked amazing. That’s a great solution, in some cases.

I say, ‘practical’ only works on characters who are ‘practical.’ Which doesn’t really define Vampirella or Emma Frost, does it?

The complaint about Red Sonja’s costume always bothered me, because in the pages of the various comics she appeared in, she was often side-by-side with the well-muscled Conan the Barbarian in nothing but a fur loin-cloth.

Well yeah but “well-muscled” is a male power fantasy. Conan isn’t designed like that because folks who are into dudes think it’s hot. 

Costuming’s just one factor of objectification, really.

This is true. I have said things about this in the past and I will clarify.

I DO absolutely feel that characters like Tarzan, Conan, John Carter, and more, who wear as little as the females wearing swim suits, are often sexualized, and I find that pretty cool. I think if you have an aesthetic where the characters in your story don’t wear clothes and it’s everyone, I do find that liberating and it’s hard to level the ‘male gaze’ complaint when it’s applied so equally.


It’s a different kind of sexualization for a number of reasons. These power male characters are rarely, if ever, portrayed as being weak, and NEVER submissive, tropes that are common as dirt even with supposed ‘strong female characters.’ When a man wants sex in these stories, it’s a tale of his dominance, mostly, and that’s in the visuals, his dominance, his size, while the women are often portrayed as posing in extremely awkward positions suggesting sexual availability, even when they’re supposed to be fighting.

I have for a long time thought that the men in these stories WERE sexualized to some degree, but that the male creators of these stories were not even aware they were doing it. 🙂  Which means the sexualizing of women is deliberate, intentional and flagrant, while the sexualization of guys was more accidental, and at least partially created by reader appropriation. The creators did not seem to know the impact on the non-straight-male audience. 

So it’s a very different effect.

That said, these heroes still wear as little or less than the heroines, and that is a little victory, to me, and makes those stories less egregious in my eyes. Very few readers object to sex, or sexiness, in their stories, it’s the intrusion of very one-sided and ridiculous (and alienating) sex that has no really counterpart in the male characters. So to me, in a way, Tarzan and Conan and John Carter and Ka-Zar and those type characters represent something a little closer to parity than Iron Man and Batman, etc.

I think ultimately, both sides are right. Conan DOES wear even less than Red Sonja, and that is significant, it needs to be considered.

But they are not the same, and it’s a mistake to say that because he does, it’s an equal exploitation. That assumes a level playing field that we are nowhere near playing on, yet. 

I definitely feel like a disproportionate amount of attention in debates like these is put on the outfit itself rather than personality they chose to present it with. Like, most superheroes of any gender just look kinda like models covered in different proportions of bodypaint. The “This VS This VS That” debates is stuck spinning it’s wheels in the mud ad nauseum.


I think the bigger hangup is the sexy character in the sexy outfit posed like they’re consciously trying to remember to be sexy above all else when the other characters can slouch and breathe and goof around and do things that aren’t be a perpetual pinup character, lik… ah, one of the creepiest covers I’ve seen is that down-on-her-luck Emma Frost one where she’s sitting in an alley next to a trash can with a “will work for food“ sign, but her hair and makeup and clothes are immaculate and she’s got some kinda come hither sultry lingerie model expression because this is not at all about Emma overcoming tough odds and scrapping her way to the top, like, even when she’s supposed to be at her most put-out and vulnerable she’s not allowed to look dirty or distressed,she’s supposed to look homeless and starving and the #1 priority was making sure she looked like a hot starving homeless person


Conversely, the sleeping Emma Frost in Uncanny X-Men is GREAT! It’s got really charming personality, it says something about her as a character, it’s still a drawing of an attractive, fit woman in her underwear, and in all honesty it probably has more skin on display than the Greg Horn cover, but it’s not about her always being perfectly posed and manicured, it’s like, okay, Emma Frost gets some downtime when she doesn’t have to be “on”, she still has to wake up and brush her hair and have a cup of coffee before she’s ready to be “Emma Frost”.


There’s this one picture I saw making the rounds, I don’t wanna specifically call it out or anything because I think the guy who did it did a really great job and I don’t want to drum up unnecessary drama, but basically, it was a big spread of characters from a popular franchise all having a big fun party, it had a ton of personality and you could probably spend like an hour appreciating every character and what they were doing. But the only issue I had with it was that the female characters didn’t really seem to be having as much fun as the others and seemed more like they were just kind of posing while the other characters were acting. The most front and centre female character was sitting (to the best of my approximation, this is just  some hypothetical fashion mannequin for the sake of an example) kind of like this;


Like, not interacting with the others, not joining in on anything, not doing anything herself, and it was super jarring. Aside from her the scene looked like it could have been a candid snapshot of a party, with everybody engaged in something, then there’s this one person sitting in the middle, posing like it’s a fashion shoot. When it’s something like that, how sexy/what costume she’s wearing doesn’t matter a whole lot. Like, same costume, if she was actually engaged with the scene somehow it would turn the whole story around


(And of course the disclaimer that yes, it is important to have a whole range of bodytypes for all genders and yes it is a problem if all your female characters are walking around in underwear when the male characters get to have a whole range of fashion tastes, this is just specifically addressing the “skimpy/not skimpy” “she chose to dress like that it’s her character/she was designed by dudes to choose to want to dress like that” debate)

This is all a great read.

It also fits a lot of my perception on characters. If the costumes and sexualization and such fit the character, then I’m fine with it; if it’s forced and clearly doesn’t have the character in mind, I loathe it.

This is why I bought and loved games like Lollipop Chainsaw and Bayonetta, games some people complained about for how hypersexual the female protagonists of each game were, but absolutely hated how sexually objectified (both costumes and in the script, and also things outside sexual objectification) “Aya Brea” was in 3rd Birthday. Juliet Sterling and Bayonetta as people are that sexual, they glory in their sexuality and to an extent use it as a weapon. How “Aya” was treated in 3rd Birthday wasn’t just disregarding who she was as a character, it was practically a deliberate insult to everything she is and stands for. Aya Brea from Parasite Eve is practical, tough and her own badass woman; “Aya” in 3rd Birthday was sexualized and let herself be sexually harassed constantly.

I suppose this raises a different question worth asking: how much of the reason people complain about sexualized female characters actually has more to do with how poorly they’re written and how it hasn’t fit those characters than on the actual skin-showing itself.

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