What’s the problem?
In October of 2016 the United Nations named Wonder Woman an Honorary Ambassador for the Empowerment of Women and Girls. Renowned for her status as a symbol of female liberation, the iconic superhero was dropped as a UN Ambassador less than two months later following a petition that cited her “raunchy image” as a point of contention. Those in protest found it “alarming that the United Nations would consider using a character with an overtly sexualized image”. Wonder Woman actress’ Gal Gadot and Lynda Carter both responded to the controversy by querying the predisposed societal notion of modesty and the biased critique of female dress standards in popular culture.
In a statement to Time, Israeli actress Gal Gadot, who portrays Diana Prince in the upcoming feature film, addressed the unfair criticisms of her character’s appearance by questioning the absurd standards imposed on female heroines in mainstream media. “When people argue that Wonder Woman should ‘cover up,’ I don’t quite get it,” she said. “They say, ‘If she’s smart and strong, she can’t also be sexy.’ That’s not fair. Why can’t she be all of the above?” Lynda Carter, who portrayed the comic book character in the 1970’s television series, reiterated Gadot’s feelings by challenging society’s wrongful affinity to objectify women. In an interview with The New York Times Carter said, “She’s an iconic defender, she’s archetypal. It’s the ultimate sexist thing to say that’s all you can see, when you think about Wonder Woman, all you can think about is a sex object.”
Just like the character in which they portray on screen, both Carter and Gadot support the idea that a woman’s modesty should not be reduced to social standards of dress. Director of the upcoming Wonder Woman film, Patty Jenkins outlined the empowering fantasy these fictional heroines incite in their appearance while speaking with Entertainment Weekly. “It’s total wish-fulfillment […] I, as a woman, want Wonder Woman to be hot as hell, fight badass, and look great at the same time—the same way men want Superman to have huge pecs and an impractically big body. That makes them feel like the hero they want to be. And my hero, in my head, has really long legs.”
Lynda Carter further exemplified the double-standard imposed on female characters in popular culture when asked about skeptics of Wonder Woman’s outfit by The New York Times. “Superman had a skintight outfit that showed every little ripple, didn’t he? Doesn’t he have a great big bulge in his crotch? Hello! So why don’t they complain about that?” Carter’s comments highlight the prejudiced view on women in mainstream media as well as the consequential misunderstanding and lack of appreciation for Diana’s iconically designed dress.Wonder Woman’s costume upholds a deep significance to her character as well as the ideals she represents and the principles she embodies. Throughout the many incarnations of her outfit, Diana’s costume has almost always preserved the iconic breastplate, tiara, bracelets and red, blue and gold color scheme designed to reflect American iconography. This is further signified in the five-pointed stars, blue and white star patterned skirt as well as the golden eagle on her red and gold bustier. However, perhaps one of the most important aspects of Diana’s costume has little to do with what is evident on her costume, but rather, what isn’t.
Just as Superman and Wonder Woman have been used as contrasting examples of double-standards, it is perhaps their most distinguishable similarity that makes them such great examples of aspirational role models. The absence of a mask on behalf of both characters is significant in the way in which it creates a sense of comfort, trust and relevance. Girls and women aspiring to Wonder Woman’s honorable principles can envision themselves as being just as strong and brave as Diana Prince because she looks just like them. A mask would secrete the impression that something is being hidden, as is in most cases, a secret identity, but no one assumes Wonder Woman is anyone other than who she appears to be; a strong, beautiful woman proud of her body and femininity, because that’s exactly who she is.
The manner in which she dresses is symbolic of the ethics she herself personifies and wishes to impress upon those who aspire to her admirable qualities. Diana is not conscious of her natural beauty, yet her outfit emanates an aura of assurance and empowerment. Her costume fosters positive self-image by proclaiming she is confident with her body and exemplifying the affirmation that she is proud of her femininity. Her civilian clothes however, worn when she is hiding her identity as an Amazon warrior, directly contrast her superhero outfit by adhering and submitting to societal dress standards of conformity and compliance.
Ultimately, the biased argument of decency in popular culture has always been unfairly imposed on female characters. The discriminatory critiquing of appearance reinforces sexism by objectifying these characters and neglecting to acknowledge their positive attributes. These inspiring role models, who fight for emancipation by embracing their femininity and fostering positive self-image, are vital to the progression of gender equality and empowerment, not only in popular culture, but society at large. So, if you have an issue with the way in which Wonder Woman looks or dresses, the problem isn’t with her… it’s with you.