Supergirl Power, by Martha Thomases
At Wizard World Chicago last week, I was struck by how many girls came dressed as Supergirl. Grown up girls wearing the new version of the costume, showing off their toned abs, to be sure, but also lots of girls younger than 12 wearing the classic outfit.
Supergirl was my first favorite super-heroine. Wonder Woman was awesome, but she was so powerful, so confident, that I could only aspire to be like her. Invisible Girl was too passive. She seemed to fade away in a fight, not nearly as active as Invisible Kid in the Legion. From the moment Kara first flew out of that rocket and introduced herself to her cousin, Superman, I wanted to be her.
Superman, being older, more experienced, and male, decided he was the one to tell Supergirl what to do. She would be placed in an orphanage, and no one would know she had super powers. She would disguise herself with a mousy brown wig, even though no one was to see her with blonde hair. She would wear drab clothes, even though her mother had made her the cute outfit with the S-shield so her cousin would know her.
As Linda Lee, Kara learned about American life in a small-town high school, as an orphan. Later, she was adopted by the Danvers, but had to keep her secret from them as well. By some amazing coincidence, I, a young girl on the verge of adolescence, found myself suddenly needing to keep secrets about my thoughts and feelings from my own parents. I might have been more open with them if they’d found a way to get me a super-cat for a pet.
In her ground-breaking and controversial book, The Beauty Myth, Naomi Wolf posits that, because girls see only positive images of thin, symmetrical, usually white and often blonde able-bodied women in ads, movies, television and other media, they think this is they only kind of woman who is able to be successful and happy. Men may earn their success and happiness through hard work, intelligence, manipulation or luck, but women need all these things and beauty, too. My sister-in-law, Cyndi Tebbel, wrote a book with a similar thesis, The Body Snatchers. Supergirl was blonde, thin, and able to fly, but as Linda Lee, she was gawky and unpopular. From her, I learned that I could have secret powers, too.
The current version of Supergirl doesn’t seem to have a secret identity. She doesn’t have parents, and, when she needs parental advice, the Kents are there to help her. She doesn’t pine after Dick Malverne, nor does she want for male companionship. Her past torments her, up to a point, but she has plenty of friends in whom she can confide and find acceptance and understanding. I’m sure it’s much more fun to be her, but I find it much more difficult to identify with her.
And then there’s the outfit.
My mom sewed a Supergirl costume for me to wear at Halloween when I was in third grade. She used the pattern for a skating outfit, found blue, red and yellow corduroy, and added the S-shield. I wore that costume until I was 13 and thought I was too fat for it (the fact that I had grown at least five inches, and also breasts, didn’t stop me form thinking that). She would never have made the current version, not only because of its lack of modesty but because it would have been too cold to wear trick-or-treating in Ohio in October.
There were at least a half-dozen Supergirls in the audience at the “Comics are for Kids, Too” panel in Chicago (and isn’t that a bizarre turnaround from the “Comics Aren’t Just For Kids” meme of 20 years ago?). Their moms had questions for the panel, including a plea for more strong super-heroines. “But with their clothes on,” they specified.
Martha Thomases, Media Goddess of ComicMix, would also like a super-powered horse to go with her super-powered cat.