By Alisa Pierce
Assistant Web Content Manager
Growing up is hard. There’s really no buffer between being an awkward adolescent to being a somewhat less awkward adult, (I’m still getting used to the that word, adult) even if years have passed. The transition from childhood to adulthood is fast, and when it ends it spits you out as an entirely new person. Your personality, decision making skills, and overall character becomes a combination of memories from your childhood and experiences you went through as you grew older. This mixture makes you who you are.
As you grow older, you’ll begin to realize that your childhood influenced you more than you might like. For instance, I’m deathly afraid of elevators because of a bad experience with an elevator themed ride at Disney World. It happened when I was a kid, but I can’t seem to get over my fear even as I grow into an adult. There are good memories too, though. Spending time with my family, reading as many books as I could, hanging out with friends, these all helped to create the person I am today. One memory that sticks out especially, though, is staying inside all day to read comic books.
My dad had what I considered to be a fortune of old comics from his childhood. The day I discovered them, boxed away in the attic, was a day that I found treasure. I didn’t discriminate against either Marvel or D.C., and instead read every comic I could find. As I read, I discovered the origins of Spider-Man, the trials of Captain America, and the many, many renditions of Superman. These stories about incredible men were exciting for me to read, but as I flipped through the pages I began to become more interested in the tales of magnificent women such as Supergirl, Wonder Woman and Batgirl. Their origin stories entertained me and their strength awed me. They inspired me even as they existed as background characters for the “bigger” heroes. For me, their stories of compassion, power and influence gave me a goal to strive for. I wanted to be like my heroes.
This was my first taste of representation. As a young girl, it was so important for me to see strong women saving the world. Their stories, which as a female felt so personal to me, taught me a multitude of lessons. I was taught to be ambitious, to not shy away from struggle, and to be courageous. I was taught to appreciate the strong women in my world, who would later become my real-life heroes. I was taught to strive for equality, and to never be daunted by a male dominated environment. I was shown that, like my heroes, I could save the world.
As I grew older, seeing my favorite heroes clad in skimpy outfits for no reason (come on, how is a mini-skirt going to protect their legs during battle?) angered me. This was my first taste of double-standards. I was shown that no matter how tough, important, and influential my heroes could be, their costumes would always reflect our society’s over-sexualization of women. I also learned, however, that women could fight evil while wearing stilettos, which to this day makes me feel cool whenever I wear heels. My feelings were a mixture of anger towards the over-sexualization my heroes faced, and pride in them for being confident in their bodies, even if it was an illusion created by writers. These feelings helped me learn to distinguish when female characters were being sexualized versus when they were shown to be comfortable in their bodies.
Even now, these heroes continue to inspire. For instance, Wonder Woman made a quick, albeit controversial, run as an UN Ambassador last year. What’s more is the fact not only have the characters pushed for equality (see Wonder Woman in All-Star Comics #22, Wonder Woman #1, and Wonder Woman #1 vol. 2) the actresses who portray them are stepping up to the plate. Last month Melissa Benoist, who plays Supergirl in the popular CW show, made an appearance at the Women’s March with a sign that simultaneously sought to empower women while taking a jab at President Trump. Despite political views, her activism gave many young comic fans another reason to look up to the actress and the character she represents.
Female heroes were incredibly important for me to see while growing up, and I love that their stories are beginning to make big screen debuts. I am constantly inspired by the number of female led movies being released for young girls to watch, and look forward to the day that another woman writes about what lessons they learned from their favorite heroes.
Featured illustration by Ana Cobos.