Dress for the Occasion 2: The Decked-out Heroine

Previously I blogged about that favourite trope of SF & Fantasy illustration: The Scantily Clad Female. That topic generated a lot of comments, so let’s look at the opposite end of the spectrum and see if it turns out to be as much of a hot-button topic as the previous one was. That opposite trope, although not nearly as popular, is that of the Fully Decked out Heroine.

These are images of women decked out for battle either in a fantasy or a sci-fi setting. The trope of women in armour is one that I have examined before on another blog and I will touch on that as well in a separate post here. For now I’m going to focus on the fully decked out sci-fi heroine.

mdjackson_dressed2_Shrapnel_MarekOkronHere is a great example of that idea. It’s called Shrapnel and it’s by digital artist Marek Okron, a Polish/Canadian digital artist. It was cover art for the comic book “Shrapnel: Aristeia Rising” published by Radical Comics.

Here you have a battle hardened (or battle weary) heroine who retains a quality of femininity, and yet whose fully armoured form says that she won’t take any s**t from anyone, no matter how badass or alien they may be. The figure is fully armoured and covered from toe to neck, and yet Okron manages to convey a sense of the womanly about her. There is no doubt that this form is that of a woman, strong and capable and yet the pose also gives a hint of vulnerability.

It takes a talented artist to pull an image like this off and my hat is tipped to Okron for managing it so completely.

mdjackson_dressed2_wangsongHere’s another one. This is by a digital artist from Shanghai — Wang Song. I don’t know much more about him, but his digital image presents a woman in a space suit/space armour. The woman is feminine — almost waif-like and she stands in a pose that is feminine as well. The suit, as in Okron’s Shrapnel image, covers her from neck to toe (I assume so, anyway, because we can’t see the lower extremities).

Again, as with the Okron image, the femininity of the figure is maintained, but this is enhanced by the design of the suit. Whereas Okron’s mecha-armour is bulky and shapeless, this suit is streamlined and does seem to fit the contours of the wearer.

The suit is almost — almost — a unisex design, though the artist seems not to have been able to resist sticking a pair of metal breasts right on the front.

So a striking image, but not quite as successful at desexualizing the figure while retaining the femininity.

But it’s a step forward. In years past artwork depicting a woman in a spacesuit would likely have featured a skin tight suit overtly displaying a woman’s curves. Or it would have been transparent, revealing the bikini the woman wore underneath the suit.

Despite these examples, science fiction and fantasy illustration is still, it seems, a male dominated field and sexist stereotypes are still well in evident. Even female illustrators who have achieved success usually have done so by perpetuating the same stereotypes.

These are only two examples. I’m sure you can come up with a few yourselves. What do you think? Has SF and fantasy illustration moved past the sexist stereotypes of the past or have these same stereotypes merely been propagated anew by a fresh crop of illustrators?

Let me know what you think. Give me a piece of your mind.

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  1. I think Samantha has a point there. I think the issue about the scantily clad women is not so much that they are "sexy and female", it is that a) their attire is completely unrealistic to the circumstances, b) that they are portrayed at helpless and easy targets and c) that men are not portrayed the same way.

    With the body designed suits, I have mixed feelings about that. I guess it would depend on whether the men in say, the same game or series of illustrations, also wear body fitting suits showing off their bulbous parts. If that is the case, then I guess it's only fair that women have boob-fitting armor. If on the other hand – as one often sees – the armour is just an excuse for portraying what is essentially a "scantily clad" body – as one often does – then I think that's a tad hypocritical.

    A friend of mine is one female artist who has totally adopted the pin-up girl as part of her artistic expression. Her women are BIG. They are scantily clad and show off their body, but they are by no means helpless and vulnerable. I think in this case, it is somewhat similar to black people referring to themselves as "niggers", or gay people referring to themselves as "faggots" (do they do that? you know what I mean – deliberately adopting a denigrating term for themselves) – it is a way to subvert the prejudice that is expressed, not reaffirm it.

  2. Good evening sir from the east cost of the US of A!

    I am 20 and a freelance writer. I love writing about video games, films, and fashion. I am very interested in working on this blog.

    I wanted to point out women portrayed in video games – for example, check out the champions on League of Legends. Is it any wonder that in this male dominated field, women champions look like designer models?

    Should women have to feel like they need not wear that bulbous space suit and opt instead for the pink neon dress with plastic inbetween the clevage?

    It kinda gets me thinking about Scooby Doo, the accident-prone Daphnie and the brainaic Velma. Why didn't they put the brainaic in cute heels, why doesn't she wear a bow?

    I think women should take this time to feel empowered. Velma, you can wear the Prada heels with the flames on them AND find the clues to solve the mystery AND still feel like your being yourself. Assuming Velma likes Prada.

    Women, seeing this marketing tool, should take advantage. A woman with fashion &&& BRAINS!! now when you look at her full amor body suit, it looks pretty damn sexy.

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