There are three webcomics in my RSS feed, and my favorite is Girls With Slingshots (the other two are Dinosaur Comics, which you’ve probably heard of, and Nimona, which you should drop everything and read from the beginning right now). It has an ensemble cast and is fairly humorously self-aware. This post may be coming a little late, because it has a lot of Peiss to it and not so much Morrison, but I just started reading GWS recently, and it has a lot to say about beauty and power. GWS’ main character is named Hazel, and she has (who doesn’t?) an extremely beautiful best friend with extremely substantial breasts. Jamie gets a lot of positive attention for her appearance – in particular, lots of free drinks. (The strip where she goes to a gay bar and finds her “forces…weakening” is unsurprising.) She is definitely aware of it, and in this comic, she even talks about her boobs as something of a resource – a substitute, here, for more income:
We can talk about how this is and/or is not problematic, but I get really interested when Jamie encounters unexpected consequences. In particular, these three strips come after a married man has been sending her flowers:
I came across a link to this particular storyline recently, and I was all about Kathy Peiss and Susan Bordo. The middle strip definitely calls to mind the perceived relationship, which we discussed around Hope in a Jar, of beauty and overall worthiness (see 10-12, for example, for the assumption that outer beauty should reflect inner beauty); it contains the assumption that beauty could not be powerful enough on its own to cause trouble. But the comic immediately following rejects that notion: Jamie’s display of her body automatically draws attention.
Here we get into Bordo: “When female bodies do not efface their femaleness, they may be seen as inviting, ‘flaunting'” (6). Comics are a really great format to exaggerate this: the second Jamie is not wearing a parka, she draws just the attention she has been complaining about.
But it is not that obvious. In the last panel of the last strip, after all, Jamie is drinking a free drink. And this is something that I think ends up being really complicated in Peiss and elsewhere: if beauty is an arbitrarily conferred power, is she supposed to simply reject it? I certainly think she may as well take advantage. Somewhere there is a line, and for me I think it’s between the dependence on physical attractiveness of the winter/coffee comic above and the cynical willingness to take advantage of it in the last strip. To quote Peiss:
“Women who are beautiful or who achieve beauty according to the imposed standards are rewarded; those who cannot or choose not to be beautiful are punished, economically and socially.” (269)
I think I am willing to accept the first clause of that sentence but have a problem with the second. But I’m curious about your perspectives: what is an acceptable leveraging of beauty?
Kathy Peiss, Hope in a Jar (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998).
Susan Bordo, Unbearable Weight (Berkeley and Los Angeles, California: University of California Press, 1959).