Right after Warner Brothers announced that actress Gal Gadot would be playing the part of Wonder Woman in the upcoming “Man of Steel” sequel, there was one recurrent theme: she’s too skinny to play the part. Or at least, that was what blew up on social media, criticizing Gadot as too small to take on the role of DC Comics’ Amazonian warrior.
But as the backlash pointed out, isn’t criticizing an actress for their weight body shaming, regardless of whether you’re calling them too fat or too thin? To get a more expert opinion, we hopped on the phone with Jennifer Siebel Newsom, CEO/Founder of The Representation Project.
“First of all, I think we spend way too much time judging women, and I think the larger issue here is that there aren’t enough women protagonists in the lead positions in Hollywood entertainment,” Newsom said. “So when there is one woman, everybody sort of focuses on it, and criticizes that particular woman or that character.”
Beyond an increased focus because of the scarcity of good female characters, the other problem is that there’s a focus on physicality, not just for women but also for men.
“You tend to have these superhero films, and they’re all big bulky men, and then you’ll have one sexualized woman,” Newsom continued. “And we’re seeing a narrative that’s being fed to boys and men that’s all about being bulky, about being in power, in control, and strong. And then we’re simultaneously seeing a narrative fed to women and girls that’s very much about being sexualized, and your sexuality, your beauty, your youth, that brings you power.”
On that note, Newsom is strongly in favor of Gadot’s casting mainly because she doesn’t have the “typical” Wonder Woman body type. Newsom is a fan of the character, and Lynda Carter’s depiction in particular from the classic TV show. But Gadot, Newsom believes, will bring the same power through her performance.
“Gal, she’s clearly athletic, she spent two years in the Israeli Army,” Newsom noted. “And didn’t they cast her in ‘Fast and Furious’ for her ability to ride bikes and be athletic? It comes down to the fact that women can be thin and strong, women can be beautiful and smart.”
Clearly, this is a difficulty for a society so focused on people being defined by one thing: that thing usually being their body-type. But despite centuries of ingrained socialization, Newsom does think it’s possible to change. She also feels that we’re at the beginning of a tipping point, where the casting of Wonder Woman could lead to further female leads, and perhaps even a day when there’s more female superheroes in a movie than males.
“We have to keep creating a culture whereby you see that it’s normal to have stories where girls are protagonists, and girls can be in the lead,” Newsom said. “The more we do that, the more it can become normalized, and the less we’ll focus and tear apart one woman. There won’t be this sense of scarcity that this one woman has to be perfect, she ultimately has to be exactly what you envisioned her to be.”