Endless words have been written on the unrealistic, damaging body standards promoted by superhero comics, especially in relation to the sexualized shape, proportions, and posing of women’s bodies. But a few more can’t hurt, can they?
In December 2022, the journal Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences published an article called “She’s Got Legs: Longer Legs in Female Comic Book Characters Correspond to Global Preferences” by Rebecca L. Burch and David Widman. The key points are as follows:
- In real life, women, by and large, do not have longer legs than men.
- Men typically find women with longer-than-average legs more attractive, possibly because longer legs are correlated with better health and “reproductive capabilities.”
- Since Marvel and DC superhero comics cater to the interests of men, their heroes are designed in ways that men prefer, meaning giant bulging muscles for men and long legs and hourglass figures for women.
- The female characters with the longest legs tend to be heroes. The shorter a woman’s legs, the more likely it is that she is a villain and therefore depicted as “unattractive” on purpose.
- Female characters, like women in real life, often wear heels to make their legs appear longer and, therefore, more attractive. In comics, this translates into not only wearing heels but also standing on tiptoe for absolutely no reason.
- Both DC and Marvel were guilty of exaggerating female leg length to interest male readers, but in different ways: DC’s women wear heels more often than Marvel’s, while Marvel’s women, on average, had a longer leg length than DC’s.
I know this sounds a lot like a “water is wet” study, where researchers put a lot of time and effort into proving something that is supposedly obvious to everyone, but these studies really are important. They give people a scientific basis from which to discuss the unrealistic, potentially harmful beauty standards perpetuated by superhero comics, and to identify areas where the industry still embraces gender stereotypes while demonizing realistic physical features that readers are more likely to have.
Exaggerating leg length is hardly the only example of how superhero comics continue to prioritize men and their preferences while kicking everyone else to the curb. As Jess Plummer has written, DC has stunningly few women working on their comics, while Marvel’s movies are still a boys’ club.
To be clear, Burch and Widman’s work does not speak at all about the in-house machinations that may lead to such depictions of women, nor do they talk about superhero films. But all of these issues — unrealistic portrayals of the human body, the lack of women working behind the scenes, and the lack of female protagonists in comics-based films — have the same cause: the deeply rooted conviction that male dollars are more important than female dollars, and that it is okay to do absolutely anything — including depict women in the same old, unhealthy ridiculous ways — to keep those male dollars flowing.
Another finding the study discusses is that women are depicted in a very uniform way. Even more than male characters, there is little variety: they all share an extremely similar body type. While this may make it easy for them to share clothes, it also makes any legs that fall outside the “norm” stand out all the more.
So let’s wrap up on a silly note and look at some of the weirder pairs of legs in comicdom. It’d take more than one study to analyze the reasoning behind these beauties…
My very first thought upon learning about this study was that one panel that Rob Liefeld drew of the Enchantress. You know what I’m talking about. And if you don’t, I apologize in advance.
Clearly, it is possible to have too much of a good thing. Anyone not being spaghettified by the gravitational pull of a black hole does not need legs that long.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have Olinka Barankova, who traded her womanly woman legs for a giant super-brain. Must be a villain. And behold!
I don’t know if any images of M.O.D.A.M. made it into the study, but I doubt it. Think how this would have thrown off their calculations!
On a normal day, Lois has perfectly average legs for a comic book character. Too bad that Lois has so few normal days and so many days where stunts like this happen.
This is the result of an alien attempting to take over Lois’s body and botching the transfer. I assume that Lois was immediately inundated by fanmail from admiring furries.
Finally, lest we forget, men have legs too. In Barry Allen’s case, they are the fastest legs alive, which explains (well, kind of) why the Mirror Master once invented a mirror that allowed him to swap his own normal legs for the Flash’s super-speedy ones.
That’s a cute trick, but I, for one, want to see him try this on Liefeld’s Enchantress. I defy anyone to run in those legs.