Body Positivity in Nerd Media: Is It Necessary?

I’m going to give it to you straight. No it doesn’t. Will I provide context for this “controversial” opinion? If you insist. First, however, to fully understand my stance I must define body positivity as it appears in life. Body Positivity is a relatively new concept that isn’t exclusive to representation in fiction. In fact, it’s a rather positive outlook that applies to us, as humans, in our day to day life. The ideology (for lack of better words) asserts that humans come in all different shapes and sizes which is undeniably a fact. Some people are short and thin, tall and thick, and every variation in between. Because of this objective truth we as a species should learn to love our physiological differences and refrain from becoming subject to dysmorphia that stems from an irresistible desire to look like the latest Victoria’s Secret model or, to segue into the themes of this site, our favorite superheroes. A noble ideology. This ideology turned movement, however, has taken further steps to criticize any idealized displays of “peak” physical forms shown in any media from movies, to video games, all the way down to comic books which brings me to the subject of this article. Does this, seemingly positive ideology, have any place in the nerdy media we consume?

For the sake of concision I’ll refer to nerdy media as simply “media” from here on out. The media we consume as a subculture of nerds is largely relegated to the sole purpose of escapism. We read and we watch and we play so that we can get away from the harsh realities of life, if even for just 10 minutes, and join heroes in their pursuit of a greater good. Themes that parallel the struggles of real life and the human condition that challenge us and provoke us are bonuses that we get from this media that, I will double down on, is mainly for the purpose of escapism. 

Arnold Schwarzenegger posing for the 1982 film adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s classic Olympian Cimmerian

Why in the world would I enter a fictitious universe filled with imaginary examples of the peaks of what humans can achieve mentally, morally, and physically just to clamor for and be bombarded with the bleak and realistic representations of reality that I sought to escape in the first place?  Absolutely love your body, but does loving your body mean that you should relinquish a desire to become more? To become something greater than you are? A common argument is that physical depictions of these characters such as J Scott Campbells risqué depictions of female heroes is that they are “unrealistic” and therefore unhealthy to shovel to the masses lest they, heaven forbid,  actually hit the gym and work on self improvement. Reading comic books is practically what I do for a living and I, as an objective authority on the matter, can tell you that 6 packs and shredded muscles are far from “unrealistic”. We live in a real world with real life examples (that exist in scores) of admirable humans, who were able to achieve athletic and physical heights, the likes of which we see in the very media we consume!  Comic books are often simple moral stories that teach us to be better people. To aspire to be heroes and stop those that would exact harm on our fellow man. If we can aspire to moral heights why not physical as well?

The cover for Spider-Man #601 stirred up controversy due to “unrealistic” posing and proportions

Going back to the renaissance we can look at art created by the likes of Michaelangelo (Not the turtle) and find divine depictions of the human form. It represents the height of what we are capable of achieving. It is us using the primary tool God blessed us all with and using it as efficiently as one can. Why move backwards in depicting admirable qualities of man whether they be physical or otherwise? It’s scientifically irrefutable that fitness and fit bodies are overwhelmingly correlated to good health. So why shouldn’t we aspire to that?

With all that being said and much more under the surface, we consume this media because we want to get away. We want to imagine the best of us and the best of what’s capable within us. If somebody in a comic or video game is stronger than you or fitter than you, so what? They aren’t real. Practice body positivity in your daily life. Love yourself and the things that make you unique but also work to make yourself better. We are imperfect beings by nature and are wholly fallible. The mountain that is physical and moral enlightenment is an everlasting one that we can never hope to surmount but it’s the journey that counts. Don’t let a movie or trivial comic or video game get you down. Those are just stories, the real hero lies within us all. 

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One thought on “Body Positivity in Nerd Media: Is It Necessary?

  1. Great Article, I agree with all your points, but for the sake of debate, I counter that while yes we consume these larger than life stories often as a form of escapism, I don’t think it’s inherently wrong to add some “body positivity” themes in certain stories, I don’t mean make any or all heroes look physically more “realistic” or anything like that, but as a possible parallel we could talk about the trope of the fallen hero, Speedy down on his luck doing heroin, Iron man struggling with Alcoholism, Those are things that readers can or maybe have delt with themselves, in a story meant to be used as an escape, a person might be confronted with a story similar to their own where they too once were addicted to the bottle, now their favorite hero is struggling with the same issue, and how that hero overcomes that struggle could reinforce or inspire said reader to be better or continue being better. So maybe a story about a fallen hero whose gained weight (à la Fat Thor) might come off as pandering or just as the butt of a joke, but it could also maybe, just to a handful of people, be really inspiring, and isn’t that what comics are all about?

    Sorry for the corny ending, it’s just a thought I had while reading your article, which again, I thought was very well done and I agree with, but if can show how even heroes struggle with loss, addiction and/or disability, I don’t see why a few stories about weight gain should be any problem as long as the story entertains, inspires and doesn’t come off as some lame PSA after school special (which I know is a fine line with walk) then why not? Lol


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