I was so happy when I found out the All Shapes and Sizes panel was coming to Comic Con. The first time the panel was conducted was at Wondercon and it was such an amazing experience. Leah Cevoli pulled a Nick Fury and assembled a wonderful group of women to discuss the issues of body image in the media and how it affects women in every day life. It was incredible to see this issue discussed in a public forum and I could not have been happier that the discussion was heading to Comic Con.
One of the great things about this panel is the variety of panelists. Just like the title of the discussion, the women on the panel are of all shapes and sizes and cover multiple facets of this issue because of their different roles in the entertainment industry and the geek community.
The panel started off with Leah talking about how the panel came into fruition. She had posted a picture of herself on her Facebook and someone left a negative comment about her appearance. Despite all of the positive and supportive comments she received, that comment was the one that stuck with her. “Why is that?” she asked herself. Why is it that we focus only on that one mean spirited comment and it outweighs the positive ones? She then decided to find a silver lining. Instead of letting the negativity of another person bring her down, she decided to make lemonade and created this panel.
The next panelist was actress Miracle Laurie. Miracle is best known for her role of “Mellie” in Dollhouse. Her character was written to be a little “heavy” and it was in fact in her contract that she could not lose weight. At one point Joss Whedon, creator of the show, took her aside and said that her size was that of the average woman in the country. He said that’s what she represented and that she was beautiful real woman. During the panel Miracle said, “We didn’t choose what we look like. We should be healthy, happy, and enjoy life.” She discussed that the women portrayed in the media should be positive and characters that women could relate to.
Adrianne Curry was the next panelist and talked about her own experiences, as a model, dealing with body issues. She talked about how in the past when she gained twenty-five she was picked on by the press. After dealing with that kind of unwarranted ridicule she decided she did not want to be a part of that world anymore because it made her feel sad, and what is the point of being a part of something that makes you feel that way about yourself? She also expressed her hatred for people who hate on fat cosplayers and how unfair and ridiculous that is. She believes that people in the fashion industry are the main culprits for the shaming of women with curves because of her own experiences when she was criticized for having “fat” on her chest. You know, those pesky things called breasts.
Helenna Santos-Levy, actress and creator of the blog Ms. In The Biz, brought up the different ideas of feminism and how they have evolved over time. She talked about a discussion she and her mother had about the subject. According to her mother our generation is undoing the past generation’s efforts, for example willingly wearing high heels. Helenna believes that contemporary women should “make our brains as sexy as our bodies,” therefore not desexualizing ourselves, but simply being confident and sexy inside and out. She believes that we live in a society where women are constantly under a “patriarchal male gaze” and that we need to break away from that. According to Helenna, as women we need to be responsible and make a statement with the dollars that we have. We need to stop contributing money to the things that promote a negative image and instead demand for a better and more positive representation of women.
The next panelist was singer and actress Dani Lennon. She discussed her own experiences with body dysmorphia and how she once went on a downward spiral because of a horrible experience she once had with an agent. She walked into the agent’s office and he immediately told her to get out, change her hair, get a tan, and lose thirty pounds before even considering being in the industry. Dani talked about how after she came back from that downward spiral she started to work on gaining a wonderful sense of confidence. She is now happy with herself and her current attitude toward that industry is, “This is me, take it!” She also said how important it is that we educate our sons and daughters as to how the media is completely fake and “bullshit”, so that they don’t grow up with unrealistic expectations of others and themselves.
Elisa Teague is the owner of Cupcake Quarterly Magazine, a publication dedicated to portraying women of all shapes and sizes in their own beauty that they naturally posses. She discussed how she believes that all shapes and sizes are beautiful, and that the Internet has been supportive of promoting curvier women, but in this process it has also been guilty of skinny shaming. It’s important to remember that one is not better than the other and shaming one is not body positive. Elisa believes that we need a media portrayal of women that is realistic. She also brought up the issue of heavier women typically cast as the “funny friend” instead of just a sexy normal woman. She had a talk with her daughter about social responsibility, as Helenna mentioned earlier, how if a company is promoting something abhorrent, you boycott it so that they cannot profit from their behavior. A prime example of this is Abercrombie and Fitch’s attitude towards heavy women. She believes that if models and actresses stood up together and protested this ridiculous treatment of women, then the industry would have to adjust.
Well-known cosplayer Chrissy Lynn Kyle was up next. She has been cosplaying for four to five years and costuming since she was eight years old. She talked about how ever since she was a kid she identified with the character Catwoman, but not with Catwoman’s size. She didn’t keep the size different from stopping her and she went on to cosplay the character (very well, I might add). She talked about how she was trolled on the Internet because of her size, called names like “Fatwoman”, and her response to that was, “If people have a problem with me then they can go fuck themselves.” An attitude I think we all ought to adopt! She said that it’s sad that people hate on non-skinny cosplayers because cosplaying should be about having fun and being happy, not about judgment of others.
The last panelist was the hilarious Gloria Shuri Nava who has a YouTube channel where she does her comedy as well as “Advice Fridays” and focuses on challenging society’s ideals of beauty. She currently has a boyfriend who is skinny, and she is not, and they are very happy together. She talks about people’s reactions to this and how a lot of them are negative. Not only is it ridiculous, but it’s also a double standard. How many sitcoms do we have where the husband is a big guy and he has some skinny hot wife? For whatever reason, this is acceptable, but when you reverse the genders people are shocked and disapprove. What does this say about the expectations of women, that only those whom society considers “hot” are deserving of an attractive boyfriend? Gloria went on to say that a couple should not have to look alike and that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
At this point it was time for audience questions. Both men and women asked questions of the panelists, but the last person to ask a question will never leave my memory for as long as I live. A young girl named Jezebel, maybe twelve or thirteen years old, wearing a shirt, a skirt, with her hair pulled back and wearing glasses, walked up to the microphone and asked the panelists with complete seriousness, “What do you do if someone gives you a dirty look?”
Seeing this young girl ask a question like that nearly brought me to tears. There she was, young, sweet, sincere, and vulnerable, wondering what she should do when others are mean to her. All of a sudden I forgot how I’ve had to grow a thick skin over my life and I remembered when I used to be that girl, wondering why was it that people had to be mean. Miracle told Jezebel to not let it bother her and ignore when people act that way because the only reason why people act like that and lash out is because they are unhappy themselves. It has nothing to do with the person who is receiving the dirty looks. Leah told her the story of the negative comment she received on Facebook and the result was creating this panel, how out of something negative could come something positive and beautiful.
When I saw Jezebel walk up to that microphone and ask that question is when I realized why it is so important that we keep this discussion alive. Those of us who are older take it for granted the knowledge we have gained over the years and the thick skins we have had to grow. It is so important to create a positive community and share the discussion with young women as well so they know not to let the media and the negative attitude from others affect them.
Yet again, I am so grateful that these amazing women came together to discuss these issues. It was such a pleasure to see this panel again at Comic Con and I can only hope that at each convention the discussion continues so that more people, young, old, female, male, transgendered, and undecided, can join the discussion and find a positive and supportive community. We have to keep reminding ourselves that despite everything that television, movies, and magazines may tell us, that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, it is not just a physical state but also a state of mind, and that it comes in all shapes and sizes.