Bitch Planet: Every Woman Has an “Ideal Self”

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Debbie says:

In December, I had the good fortune to attend an event where Kelly Sue DeConnick was a keynote speaker. I’d heard great things about her work, and especially about Bitch Planet, but I hadn’t checked it out. After hearing DeConnick speak, and seeing the visuals, I immediately bought Extraordinary Machine, the first collected volume , and now I am an evangelist:

For those of you who haven’t been lucky enough to encounter Bitch Planet yet, most of the story takes place in an outer-space women’s prison, where incorrigibles are kept away from mainstream society. The number of ways in which DeConnick (and her artist collaborator Valentine De Landro) challenge social narratives, include marginalized voices, and make bitter fun of cultural expectations is awesome, and deserves much more attention than one blog post. Fortunately, if you look around, you’ll find that attention to the series is easy to find.

Unsurprisingly, however, this multi-decade fat activist was especially struck by Penny Rolle, pictured above. Penny is a mountain of a woman (“I don’t run”), with a complex history and a strong ethical sense. She’s one of the best “morbidly obese” characters I’ve run across in fiction, and the best Black one I can think of offhand.

Penny’s crowning moment, so far, is when the prison “scientists” hook her up to a mess of electrodes, on the theory that they can see how she imagines her ideal self, which will help them mold her away from her grotesque reality to something more palatable.

What do they find?

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

“I ain’t broke.

“… and you bastards ain’t never gonna break me.”

Best. Result. Ever.

DeConnick and De Landro are serious about their body image activism, along with all their other prongs of activism. The ads in the back of each issue would demonstrate that even if Penny wasn’t in the story:

If ANY PART OF YOU has ever been jealous of anorexics or considered extra-medical hormone injections or parasites, or use body hate to bond with girlfriends, you have bought in. It’s near impossible not to, but maybe today TRY not to believe that your VALUE is inextricably linked to some asshat’s assessment of your desirability. Fuck that dude. Fuck that CULTURE.

Read Bitch Planet. The rest is every bit that good, just about different at-least-equally-important social and political issues. Oh, and it’s also entertaining, well-paced, and very well-drawn.

Living in Weimar 4: Ideal Bodies

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Living in Weimar 1: On the Brink

Living in Weimar 2: Creative Ferment

Living in Weimar 3: How Bad Can It Get?


Laurie and Debbie say:

When we think (if we must) about fascism, one thing we think about is the Nazi idealized body. The image of the young, fit, blond, blue-eyed Aryan, with the prominent cheekbones and athletic frame was not created by Hitler and his cronies. Instead, they took a well-known European romantic trope which had been built over the previous centuries, and made it into a fascist wet dream.

A contemporary Aryan site, proudly featuring a swastika in its header, yields this quotation (under a picture which graphs the ratios of a “perfect” face:

Just as the NSDAP inner circle was far from flawless in physical appearance, we have no objection at all to physically unremarkable non-Jews joining us. But this does not mean we should set no standard for appearance as a racial ideal, as some other movements do. What we ourselves look like does not matter, but what type we consider to be beautiful reflects our idealism, and therefore matters a lot. (Emphasis in the original.)


To the Nazis, and historically many other Europeans before them, beauty was spiritual and soulful as well as physical; the outside reflected the inside. The Weimar Republic was in a period, as we are today, of change and opening up of standards, of including more kinds of people, more kinds of bodies. As always when this is happening, an undercurrent of fear was also growing. The Nazis were in the center of that fear: experiencing it, fanning its flames, making it their whole world and their road to power. They used the image of the body and made it Aryan. The vision was already very much in the cultural zeitgeist, so it was easy to transform into one way to exclude, to caricature, and to turn fear into hate, and hate into hateful action.


Trumpism is not fascism, let alone Nazi-ism. Nonetheless, we have recently been treated to a very clear vision of Trump’s fascination with the ideal body. Where Nazi adaptations of European idealized bodies were male and female, athletic, and committed to the fascist values, contemporary America’s ideal bodies are models and beauty queens, perfect unblemished women, available for rating on a numerical scale. What they do have in common with fascist beauty is the requirement that they be fit, young, blonde, and blue-eyed. (In this time and place, the social image of a flawless body is primarily about women’s bodies.)

Trump has completely bought into the American vision of the ideal woman, and into his penis-given right to judge which women are ideal, or how far they fall short.  Trump is utterly comfortable saying (in this case about actress Nicolette Sheridan) ““A person who is very flat-chested is very hard to be a 10.”

Buying into the ideal of the perfect body is a direct route to marginalization and racism. It’s not just about fat or flat-chested or old bodies, but of dark skin, dark eyes, or any other ethnic characteristic which doesn’t belong in either the Nazis’ or the Trumpists conception of a “master race.”

Ideals of beauty are not necessarily fascist; however, simplistic stereotypical ideals of beauty, especially when paired with fear of the outsider, are a breeding ground for fascism.