UNPOPULAR OPINION: Giving Female Action Figures Smaller Breasts Doesn't Make Them Better Role Models

Since when is heroism inversely proportional to breast size?

Jun 18, 2014 at 12:00pm | Leave a comment

Last week, a project on Kickstarter called IAmElemental was successfully funded. Actually, that’s an understatement. The goal was $35,000, but backers pledged almost $163,000. I’m not one of those backers.

IAmElemental is a line of female action figures created by two moms, Julie Kerwin and Dawn Nadeau, whose “mission is to create toys for play experiences that allow girls to envision themselves as strong, powerful and connected beings at the center of a story of their own making.” Awesome. I’m all for that. I loved playing with She-Ra figures -- and Galoob’s Bizarro She-Ra toys, Golden Girl and the Guardians of the Gemstones -- when I was a kid. Do go on, Julie and Dawn…
 
“In the traditional, male-dominated superhero universe, action figures are endowed with powers from without (via a spider bite, mutant DNA, or some sort of ‘accident’). In the IAmElemental universe, the girl herself is the superhero, and she has all the superpowers she will ever need already inside of her.” The superpowers are what they call the Elements of Courage, and those elements are assigned to each figure: Bravery, Energy, Honesty, Industry, Enthusiasm, Persistence and Fear.
 
Love it. Extra points for using the archaic form of without.
 
 
But then I saw, listed as the first of their three goals with these toys, the following emboldened, all-caps phrase: MORE HEROINE, LESS HOOTERS.
 
I’m sorry -- what? I didn’t realize that heroism is inversely proportional to breast size.
 
Citing (but not outright naming) female action figures like Hasbro’s Ms. Marvel and Black Widow, they say “most are created for the adult male collector, decidedly more Hooters than Heroine.” And I get it. There are decades of sexist, patriarchal fantasies fueling the designs of female action figures, with multiple theses worth of problems to scrutinize. But when IAmElemental emphasizes how much smaller their figures’ breasts are and directly links that shrinkage to being a better role model for girls, my big boobs and I take exception.
 
There is nothing inherently sexist, weak or pornographic about large breasts. Although big boobs are often used as a tool of sexuality, most of the time, they’re just…there. They're attached to me just like any other body part, not defining or interfering with how heroic I’m capable of being.

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I guess I should take this off. But then, you know... boobs.

Months before I’d even heard of IAmElemental, I was visiting a friend’s apartment while her boyfriend was playing a video game I didn’t recognize -- to be honest, that’s most video games -- and when he told me it was the latest version of Tomb Raider, I shouted, “What?! Did Lara Croft get a breast reduction?!”
 
I may not be a gamer, but I thought I’d be able to recognize a character as famous as Lara Croft. However, this new motion-capture, photo-realistic version didn’t have the huge breasts I remembered from earlier versions. Granted, her original breast size was actually a happy accident (creator Toby Gard reportedly increased them 150 percent by mistake and was convinced to keep the change), but it was an accident that turned into a physical feature as familiar -- and, to me, as inoffensive and meaningless -- as her brunette braid. (Which is now a messy ponytail. Whatever.)
 
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Lara Croft then and now.


While I can understand that mo-cap (as the kids say) means that the body of the character will more closely resemble the actress chosen to portray her, Camilla Luddington, I’m disappointed in the collective “Hooray!” from so many women who think making Lara Croft’s breasts smaller is somehow a triumph for feminism. 
 
“Gone is the cartoonish, flat image and in its place is a woman that looks engagingly real…down to her remarkably reduced bust size,” Verashni Pillay wrote for Mail & Guardian last year. “It's one that I can look at without reflexively straightening my back to try to achieve the obscene perkiness of her earlier iterations.” 
 
Pillay goes on to note that many people “thought the ridiculously inflated balloons Croft sported as breasts were a bad role model for young girls.”
 
So… large, perky breasts are obscene and ridiculous. Cool, thanks.
 
Ironically, many of the women who’ve praised Lara Croft’s smaller breasts are also upset that she’s not as much of a badass as she used to be. 
 
“After years of nothing but massive breasts, she looks like a real person,” blogger Babs Sieli wrote in 2012. But even though she’s really, really happy about the smaller boobs (she repeatedly mentions how much the big boobs aggravated her), Sieli doesn’t like what the developers have done to her persona. “You’ve taken a strong female character…and turned her into a weak little flower who needs protecting from you, the big strong male player who will make all of her little problems go away.”
 
You know what I don’t like? That people keep using the words “real,” “realistic” or “healthy” to describe heroines with smaller breasts. Pillay did it, Sieli did it, and the creators of IAmElemental do it, too.
 
 
“We set out to design a series of figures with healthier breast, waist and hip ratios; fierce, strong females worthy of an active, save-the-world storyline that fosters creativity in kids,” they write.
 
I admit, the single-woman-in-New-York part of me gets a little annoyed when a woman with a tiny waist gets implants that make her boobs as big as mine, but her purportedly unhealthy measurements don’t make that woman less “fierce,” less “strong,” or less “worthy” of saving the world. 
 
The size of a woman’s breasts does not offer any insight into her bravery, energy, honesty, industry, enthusiasm, persistence or fear. These characteristics IAmElemental wants to represent in their toys exist regardless of breast size or body shape. To assign a single slender physique to these seven qualities and claim they’re a more positive interpretation of female action figures is hypocritical. 
 
I appreciate the good intentions, but unless these figures can be created without condemning large breasts and excluding a wide range of body types, they’re just a set of articulated plaster saints.