March 11, 2011

Chainmail Bikinis, Etc.

        The prevalence of corsets and high heels at the Arisia convention I attended in January reminded me of the style of fantasy art represented by chainmail bikinis.  All sorts of fantasy computer games employ this style, as do the artists of D&D books, comics, and any number of other fantasy artists.  There are plenty of others who already make fun of the chainmail bikini trope, so I'm hardly the first to be pointing out its silliness, but no matter where I see a well-endowed barbarian in strategically scanty armor, I admit that it makes me roll my eyes.  My complaints are threefold.
        First of all, it's sexist - or perhaps more accurately, it's sex-focused.  The women are all portrayed as Barbie-doll objects to ogle, but in fairness, the men are all presented as muscle-bound objects of lust, too.  The people in this style of art are so busy posing and flexing that they look as if they wouldn't even notice if a dragon walked up and ate them.  Then there are the fur bikinis in the swirling snow…  While scantily clad folks with swords certainly fall under one definition of the word "fantasy," it isn't the definition that involves adventures in overcoming terrible odds for noble causes.  The people depicted in this art are far more interested in looking sexy than they are in getting a hero's job done.  At its extremes it really isn't fantasy art at all, any more than pictures of sexy nurses have anything to do with medicine.
        But even with art that is more genuinely about the fantasy genre, my second complaint is the essential implausibility of Chainmail-Bikini-style fantasy.  No one who actually intended to fight would wear armor that left them vulnerable in exactly the places armor was invented to protect.  A breastplate that covers the breasts but not the heart or stomach?  That's just plain silly.  And while a corset does, admittedly, protect the stomach, the idea of racing around Victorian London in a Victorian corset is certainly pure fantasy... but unless you're going to invoke all your magic to keep your fashionable female hero from passing out the first time she tries to chase down the villain, I'm just not buying it.  Fantasy weapons can get ridiculous, too.  I'd put my money on the person with the plain, boring no-nonsense weapon, and watch her make mincemeat of the Chainmail Bikini hero with all the curlicues and glowy bits on her sword.  Yeah, I know it's supposed to be magic, but you expect me to believe in the warrior with the Thor's
hammer twice the size of his head?  It's probably got twice his brains, too.  And look, he's wearing a chain-mail loincloth!
        And that brings me to my final complaint: it just looks really uncomfortable.  Chainmail next to the skin?  Ouch.  Maybe all those posing beauties are actually relieved to let the dragon eat them, just to escape from the chronic pain of their high heels, their corsets, and their chainmail bikinis.

[Pictures: cover of Red Sonja comic #1, Frank Thorne, 1977, Marvel Comics (Found on Cover Browser);
     cartoon from tvtropes website (I can't find an attribution for the cartoon, but there is an essay about Chainmail-Bikini-ism here.);
     design for the female barbarian character for the game "Diablo 3," found along with an essay on Chainmail Bikini Syndrome at the Suvudu website.  (Again, I have no attribution for the artist who made this design.);
     cover of Wonder Woman comic #28, Aaron Lopresti, 2009, DC Comics.]


Anonymous said...

"Waaaaah! Waaaaah! It's modern-day and chainmail bikinis are sexist! Forget entirely that it's largely a part of the Sword & Sorcery genre - it's demeaning to all those poor fictional women who are painted and then have to spend eternity being oogled. Waaaaaaaaah!"

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

lol- You didn't actually read the post, did you? Probably couldn't stop ogling the fictional women long enough to notice the points I'm trying to make. ;P