two boobs, two butt cheeks, no belly

Over the weekend, I was introduced (by Yuko, Ananth, and George) to the idea of “escher girls” in comics. Like this:

 

Yuko tells me the point of these skeleton-defying positions is to show both boobs and both butt cheeks all in the same panel. BAM: the soft parts!

There are other similar Tumblrs, like boobsdontworkthatway, to give you an idea of the genre. (NSFW, unless your work is like mine.)

The artists among you will object to the epic figure drawing fail of such illustrations. The feminists will object to the, well, objectification and misrepresentation of women. Those of you who want to get turned on by pictures of scantily clad women will object to the fact that these images don’t have much to do with what scantily clad women look like.

The soft parts bother me, it’s true. But what I REALLY object to is the hard part in the middle, the waist and belly. Even the lowest-body-fat female athlete you can imagine has to SUCK IN HARD to make their abdomen look like that. And yet a startlingly wide range of media represent women’s bodies as having this kind of midsection.

Take the original cover of The Female Eunuch, a feminist polemic. Flat, toned abdomen.

Even the cover art of On Our Backs (pdf) the feminist and delicious women’s magazine, has abstrictified the female body to have a six-pack between luscious titties and a rounded, bounding booty.

Me personally, I don’t walk around with my gut sucked in and my abdominal muscles flexed. (Grrr!) I walk around with my belly soft and rounded. And it is ROUND. There’s some fat, yeah, which is nice too, but even when I’m athlete-lean the shape of my belly is still round, unless I actively flatten and flex those muscles. Like that chick in the tuna commercial? Who lets out her belly when the elevator doors close? That has nothing to do with fat and everything to do with the natural, healthy functioning of the muscles and organs of the midsection.

I am not a comics person, romantic euphemism notwithstanding, so I don’t have a great deal of exposure to these images or their audience. But their audience seems to be adolescent boys (or adolescent men), and it worries me that they might be learning that this is (a) what a female body looks like and (b) how a female body works. If that’s what they think, they’re in for either a major disappointment or a major treat, depending how you think about it.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this idea of “What is normal?” and SO MUCH of the answer has to do with what a woman’s body really looks like and really does. I can’t talk about sexual health without also talking about body image and embracing the sticky, rounded, breathing organism that you live inside, rather than expecting it to look the way a picture of a woman looks.