I'm the type of comic book fan that most diehard fans would likely turn their noses up at. But even as an admitted lover of Marvel and DC films over Marvel and DC comics, the news that there will be a plus size superhero gracing the comic book world in her own series is nothing short of mind-blowing for me. Valiant Comics' Faith has featured in the Harbinger series since 1992 — a series about super-powered teenagers who are also societal outcasts due to their powers — but her solo series is set for release in Jan. 2016, as MTV reports. And as a fat positive babe who also happens to love nerdom, well, I'm pretty damn pleased.
What's perhaps so great about Faith's character is that the focus of her narrative has never been and will not be her weight — a complete rarity for plus size characters in the mass media. According to People, Faith writer Jody Hauser wants it to be known "that Faith will always be a superhero first, who just happens to be plus size."
It's a far cry from the likes of Mike & Molly's protagonists, Drop Dead Diva's Jane, Huge's entire cast, or "fat Monica's" brief appearances on Friends. Hell, it's a far cry from most mainstream representations of fat bodies. With the exception of Gabourey Sidibe's recent sex scene on Empire — in which the fact that she was a fat woman of color having sex with a traditionally attractive rapper was a total non-issue — I don't believe I've personally come across a fat female character in any medium who is simply allowed to exist in a fat body without being heavily scrutinized for it.
When we look at the history of women in comic books (and let's face it, dudes too), there's a lot of criticism that can be pointed at the unrealistic body types perpetuated through many (if not most) characters. In Cracked's comedically hard-hitting post, "5 Insane Things Comic Books Believe Women's Bodies Can Do," writer Caitlin Donovan points out the "breasts [drawn as] alien organisms" and the superheroines with such "comically narrow torsos, you could barely fit a foot of intestines in there." With their dramatized hourglass shapes, tiny waists, gravity-defying breasts, and legs as long as Groot is tall, the women of comic-landia are far from relatable to the average American woman (a size 12-14, and 5'4" tall).
The unrealistic representation of female bodies in comics isn't a subject without its visibility, though. In Feb. 2015, Bulimia.com, a resource for those struggling with eating disorders, even released a set of images of comic book heroes with average body types. That is, comic book favorites like Catwoman, Storm, Rogue, and Black Widow reimagined to have bodies with not-impossible proportions (male characters like Captain America and Batman were included, too).
Looking at the illustrations Bulimia.com put out there was the first time I ever felt represented in comics, even though it wasn't coming from the actual comic world. When I consider the reason I've steered clear from comic books themselves, opting instead for the films, I can't help but feel that it's because literature, for me, has always been so much more immersive.
When I watch something on screen, I usually feel pretty detached from the narrative. While I can appreciate direction and acting and production and special effects and plot, the cinematic experience is a more "take your brain out" kind of activity in my life. Reading a book, though — be it a 20-page comic or a 500-page novel — involves removing myself from the outside world, taking the time to actually consume the story, and finding a way of tuning everything else out.
To do so fully, however, requires a certain amount of relatability to the characters I'm reading about. And unfortunately, the ladies of comic books just don't tend to facilitate that. This isn't to say that every comic book character should be relatable to every single human in the world, of course, or that the lack of body diversity on screen should be allowed to slide, but the lack of body diversity in comics is certainly something that I'm sure alienates many a reader.
The thing that gets me so pumped about Faith is that she already defies so many tropes about fatness without this fact ever becoming her key plot point. As People reported, "Under her secret identity, Zephyr, she can fly and perform telekinesis." She can fly. IRL, there is a whole sea of activities that fat people are told they are incapable of or unworthy of experiencing — from doing cannonballs in a pool to wearing a bikini to, yes, flying. Granted in the real world, "flying" doesn't mean soaring through the clouds with the sheer power of your superhuman abilities, but rather, flying on planes.
Thanks to our sizeist upbringings, it's often thought that fat people shouldn't fly because their bodies simply take up too much space. Never mind the fact that most people seem to find airplane seats too small, or that any kind of mass transit never seems designed to cater to bodies that aren't thin. Fat people "shouldn't" fly is just one of many limitations the world places onto fuller-figured bodies where they need not exist.
Sure, Hauser might not have had these exact ideas in mind when brainstorming Faith's character or deciding upon her abilities. But that doesn't stop Faith's powers from feeling like a massive eff you to standards of beauty and misconceptions about ability that fat humans have to deal with on the regular.
The thing about comics (be it their original books or film adaptations) is that so many of the protagonists in these stories are meant to break barriers. X-Men, for instance, has long been hailed a vehicle for representation of "outcasts." For kids who were bullied in school; for marginalized races and gender identities; even for non-heteronormative sexualities. There are also a sea of diverse comic book characters that aid in the visibility of POC and minorities. Of course, comic books aren't without their diversity problems, and the rise of Internet culture has only served to shed light on this unfortunate fact. But one area comics just haven't ever tapped into is representation of size diversity. And Faith is about to change that.
It's important to remember, of course, that Faith is but one character. Her existence isn't the be all and end all in the quest for body diversity in media. It's not even the be all and end all in the quest for body diversity in comics. But, IMO, she's the first big step. She's the first of hopefully many empowered and super-powered plus size protagonists in the comic industry. And for a fat woman who loves all things nerdy but never felt quite as loved back, that's a pretty big deal.
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Images: Valient (2)