Sisterhood Blog

Why Are Strong Female Characters So Thin?

By Elissa Strauss

  • Print
  • Share Share

Lionsgate Publicity // Jennifer Lawrence as “The Hunger Games’” Katniss Everdeen

Over at the Atlantic, Julianne Ross has a piece about the predominance of scrawny women in young-adult fiction. From “The Hunger Games” to “Divergent,” a new wave of popular books features skinny girls acting tough.

“It seems literature only goes so far in its message of female empowerment, routinely granting its most kickass heroines classically masculine-levels of strength (physical or otherwise) only when cloaked within the trappings of a more delicate — and recognizable — femininity,” Ross writes.

She points out that the female protagonists’ diminutive size emphasizes the David vs. Goliath aspect of their stories, but then goes onto to explain that boys are not held to this standard and that it certainly couldn’t hurt to have a little more diversity when it comes to the body type of strong female characters. “Women are expected to be sexual but not slutty, pure but not prudish, heroines should be strong but not buff. Powerful, yet still delicate enough to be cradled by their male love interests,” she writes.

I’ve been noticing a similar trend on television shows that also trade in “strong” female characters. “Homeland,” “The Americans,” “Revenge,” “Nikita” and “Game of Thrones” all feature kick-ass women who are considerably more slender than the average American woman. Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing these women use their strength and wit to right wrongs and stand up for what they believe in. But would it be so bad if they didn’t have to always look like they were also, um, actresses while they are at it?

As Ross also notes, there is nothing wrong with thin women, and there is certainly something inspiring in seeing petite ladies kick some butt. But I think I speak for many women when I say we would also be thrilled to see ladies in a few other shapes and sizes kick some butt too. If we can buy a bevy of size 2-ers taking down some tough guys, then certainly we could buy a size 6, 10, or 18 doing the same.

The problem with only having svelte women play the “strong” roles is that it undermines the message that these characters send in the first place. When we see this pattern again and again we come to understand that their tough sides are the unexpected part, while their bodies, which resemble heroines of all stripes, are the recognizable part, which is to say the feminine part. In the end we are left with the message the strength for a woman is the exception, and not the rule.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: women, body image, Jewish

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • Why are peace activists getting beat up in Tel Aviv? http://jd.fo/s4YsG
  • Backstreet's...not back.
  • Before there was 'Homeland,' there was 'Prisoners of War.' And before there was Claire Danes, there was Adi Ezroni. Share this with 'Homeland' fans!
  • BREAKING: Was an Israeli soldier just kidnapped in Gaza? Hamas' military wing says yes.
  • What's a "telegenically dead" Palestinian?
  • 13 Israeli soldiers die in Gaza — the deadliest day for the IDF in decades. So much for 'precision' strikes and easy exit strategies.
  • What do a Southern staple like okra and an Israeli favorite like tahini have in common? New Orleans chef Alon Shaya brings sabra tastes to the Big Easy.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.