Never Fear! Wonder Woman is Here!
Two years ago, a few friends and I decided to have a Halloween party at a local pub. Most friends showed up in something homemade or something that didn’t take much care or thought (at one point, I expected to see someone wearing a white sheet with two eye holes cut into it). I had my old standby, a Jedi outfit with light saber accessory. I guess I had to be Mace Windu.
Just when I began to think that I was the only person who put an iota of thought into his costume, the sight of a good friend changed my mind. My friend is a very large woman — big and tall — and, in my opinion, one of the most gorgeous women in town. She wore a full, professional-grade Wonder Woman outfit. She looked spectacular.
Her looks, alone, were enough to impress, but I found myself brimming with respect for her. In a fat-hating culture like ours, wearing such a costume was a definite risk to her social and emotional well-being. She was strong and secure enough — a Wonder Woman in her own right — to flaunt her stuff. I was in awe of her beauty and strength.
And that is what Wonder Woman is, right? Beauty and Strength. Indeed, she may make for an interesting icon for fat acceptance.
Wonder Woman Unearthed
As synchronicity would have it, a few weeks later I discovered a website that focused exclusively on drawings of Wonder Woman with a fat body. “The Big Beautiful Wonder Woman Blog” is the brainchild of Jamar Nicholas and was created simply to be “a fun blog containing artists’ renditions of our favorite Amazon princess.” Jamar seems to run the site sans any political agenda and writes that he “asks other cartoonists to submit their ideas of a BBWW (Big Beautiful Wonder Woman) as some form of cartoon. That is all. There is no sinister plot or snarky underlying message.” However, this site points to the potential power of Wonder Woman as that aforementioned icon of fat acceptance.
Of course, Wonder Woman is no stranger to political representation. Since gracing the cover of Ms. Magazine in the 1970s, she has symbolized Feminine strength in ways understandable to both men and women. However, in our current period of third-wave eclecticism, Wonder Woman has been rebooted, if you will, into a powerful big, beautiful woman. Perhaps this quote from Wonder Woman’s creator, William Moulton Marsten, is telling enough: “Wonder Woman is psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who should, I believe, rule the world” (qtd. in Packer 213).
An Apt Tool Box
Symbolizing the beauty, strength and pride I see throughout the Fat Acceptance Movement is not all Wonder Woman has to offer. Her specific skills provide a sufficient analogy for fighting fat stigmatization. Her general strength is clear enough. In order to do battle with anti-fat discrimination, especially the kind disguised as beneficence and concern for either individual or societal health, one must have a strength of character unknown to more privileged and less stigmatized people (see Ragen Chastain’s post, “No Pity, No Preaching: No Problems” for a good example of such strength). Her more specific tools, however, may give further insight into Wonder Woman’s significance in the Fat Acceptance Movement.
Wonder Woman has bracelets strong enough to deflect bullets. Many in the Fat Acceptance Movement give warnings about insulting rhetoric when referring readers to a particular website or article bent on heralding the detriments of fat. These “Trigger Warnings” are common ways to alert people to a text’s potential to offend, depress, or infuriate (Ragen Chastain is excellent at providing such warnings throughout her Dances with Fat blog).
Being prepared for the onslaught of negativity is important; weathering the storm of anti-fat rhetoric and propaganda is a necessary tool for doing this work. One’s ability to deflect has to be fairly strong. The “Stereotype Management Skills” created by the Association for Size Diversity and Health may be a metaphorical bulletproof bracelet; it provides ways of deflecting fat stigma, specifically the stigma echoed and produced by HBO’s recent Weight of the Nation documentary.
Insistence on the Truth
Wonder Woman’s Lasso of Truth forces honesty and objectivity from anyone confined by it. Those in Fat Acceptance and Fat Studies often find themselves combating erroneous views about the correlations between weight and health all the time.
I see a metaphorical Lasso of Truth in the work of activists/scholars like Linda Bacon, Paul Campos, and Pattie Thomas, just to give a short list. These writers stick it to the weight loss and pharmaceutical industries, insisting that they finally tell the truth about weight and health.
The aforementioned Health at Every Size blog, along with the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance and the Association for Size Diversity and Health could be seen as potential Lassos of Truth. Those spreading anti-fat rhetoric may have their fallacious reasoning exposed by information provided by these sites.
Ragen Chastain—yet again—writes about the spirit of championing the truth in “Everybody Galileo Now,” in which she coins the term “Galileos”: those who stand by the truth despite being bombarded with antithetical “facts.”
Emulating Powerful Women
All this is to say that Wonder Woman seems to work for the Fat Acceptance Movement. Of course, the women I know in this movement are already quite strong — they need not look to a comic book figure for lessons on how to be fat activists. However, I see something special in using Big Beautiful Wonder Woman as a symbol of fat, female pride across race, sexuality and socio-economic status.
Comic book creators Suzan Colon and Jennifer Traig created a book titled, What Would Wonder Woman Do? This book is meant to give solid advice to working women. When giving advice about dealing with difficult people, the authors’ advice is simple: be superior to them in every way, because your enemies “can’t argue with the truth” (53).
Not everyone knows the truth about weight and health. Not everyone knows the truth about arbitrary and socially constructed standards of beauty. Fortunately, the Fat Acceptance Movement is full of Wonder Women getting the truth out there.
Packer, Sharon. Superheroes and Superegos: Analyzing the Minds Behind the Masks. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger Press, 2010. Print.
Erec Smith holds a Ph.D. in English, with a concentration in language, literacy and rhetoric, from the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is author of the novel Creamy Nougat and currently teaches at a small liberal arts college in Pennsylvania. His interests revolve around diversity and rhetorics of marginalization regarding race, gender, weight, or their potential confluences.