Scarlett Johansson is far from fat. She’s a beautiful woman who has a body most women would kill for. Yet immediately the top question asked when a woman takes on an action role and starts working out is “How much weight is she going to lose?” It can’t be about being in shape to do her own stunts or just look buff enough to stand up next to Robert Downey Jr. and whomever else she’s squaring off with?
In a Huffington Post column, Johansson wrote:
Since dedicating myself to getting into “superhero shape,” several articles regarding my weight have been brought to my attention. Claims have been made that I’ve been on a strict workout routine regulated by co-stars, whipped into shape by trainers I’ve never met, eating sprouted grains I can’t pronounce and ultimately losing 14 pounds off my 5’3″ frame. Losing 14 pounds out of necessity in order to live a healthier life is a huge victory. I’m a petite person to begin with, so the idea of my losing this amount of weight is utter lunacy. If I were to lose 14 pounds, I’d have to part with both arms. And a foot. I’m frustrated with the irresponsibility of tabloid media who sell the public ideas about what we should look like and how we should get there.
Elizabeth Rappe at Splash Page noted:
No one suggested that Christian Bale wasn’t buff enough to play Batman or argued that Samuel L. Jackson needed a few crunches for Nick Fury, or called out the 300 ex-Spartans for not keeping up the regime. So, why does the Black Widow immediately come under the fitness microscope? Why should a superheroine be held as a standard for all women to emulate?
Our own Matt Brady asked not long ago why when a superheroine hits her husband, it’s funny, but a superhero hitting his wife is abuse. I gave a short answer in comics, but I think it’s all part of the same problem as the things I’ve listed here, honestly. Women are still too often assumed to be there just for decoration, not to be badasses on their own. I’m not as up on my Marvel comics as I’m sure some of you are, so correct me if I’m wrong, but the Black Widow is a pretty tough character on her own, with a shady background and questionable loyalties, a complex woman and one capable of taking care of herself–as is the Black Canary (why all the blackness? Anyway…).
But the female character is assumed to be there as a love interest, not just to be a character in herself. The men don’t have to prove they’re tough, but Johansson has to buff up–and when she does, she has to defend herself against charges that she’s trying to crash-diet and lose 15 pounds, because a woman exercising must be doing it to lose weight, not to get stronger. And when a woman hits a man, the idea that she might actually be able to do as much damage as a man or even more is still just laughable–even though anyone who’s seen Gina Carano fight should know that women can knock you out too.
Just for the record, I’m stoked for Iron Man 2 and I’m not automatically opposed to an eye-candy matchup between Johansson and Downey. I just think we’ve got a long way to go still on the way we think of women as action heroes.