A new photo from Marvel’s Ant-Man and The Wasp was released last week, showcasing stars Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly in their superhero costumes. And while this isn’t our first look at Lilly as The Wasp, some fans suddenly noticed her suit has what appears to be an upside-down phallus on its chest, triggering cries of “Oh, God, I can’t unsee it!” It’s not likely Marvel Studios is going to change the design at this late date, as filming has already wrapped, but this costume snafu is indicative of a larger problem: Hollywood doesn’t know what to do with boobs in armor.
Historically, armor for women wasn’t glamorous. The nomadic tribes of warrior horsewomen from the Eurasian steppes (from which the Amazon legends originate) used flat-chested armor for protection. The flatness made the chest less of target because, if you think about it, anything that protrudes is an obvious target. In addition, the shape of the breast would direct blows toward the heart and sternum, important parts to keep intact on the battlefield. Therefore, these “Amazons” used flat chest plates with padding beneath; that way, potentially fatal blows could be deflected away from the chest.
The closest thing we have to realistic representation of armor for women in Hollywood is Brienne of Tarth on HBO’s Game of Thrones. Played by Gwendoline Christie, Brienne is regarded in fictional Westeros as a fierce warrior, regardless of her gender. She’s also routinely mocked as ugly and mannish by other characters, usually men, even though Christie is herself a 6-foot-3 goddess. Apparently, no obvious breasts equates to not being a woman in the world of Game of Thrones, a potentially damaging message for girls, or for women who have lost their breasts due to cancer
At the other end of the spectrum, there are the depictions of warriors like Valkyrie and Lady Sif in Marvel’s Thor franchise. Both have problematic costumes that make no sense other than to highlight that each possesses a worthy Asgardian pair of knockers.
Fans fell in love with Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) in her black Scrapper 142 outfit, which, coincidentally, doesn’t make her chest the focal point. I challenge you to find a fan who didn’t like Valkyrie because that outfit wasn’t revealing enough. Valkyrie’s costume toward the end of Thor: Ragnarok, however, should have undercut her effectiveness as a warrior. Don’t get me wrong: She looked amazing, and her strut gave us all kinds of life. However, she had an external armored bra that shifted around even as she walked. Imagine wearing something like that in an actual battle, where the complications created by the armored bra would be life-threatening.
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