As I browsed the headlines this morning, I noticed that Bulimia.com's revised video game characters are still doing the rounds. I'd scrolled past the figures in my news feed a day or so ago and, scanning straight onto the next thing with the attention span of a gnat, I thought distractedly - oh good, something pro-women in the gaming industry.
As a kid with a male best mate, playing on the PlayStation usually involved my begrudging adoption of a male alter-ego in the virtual realm or, failing that, a bushy-tailed flying squirrel, both of which were about as relevant to me as one another. Although things have far improved from where they were, there's a long way to go.
So, looking at the headlines, female representation in gaming - tick; standing up for realistic female body image - tick; orchestrated by a real life, responsible charity looking to promote a healthy message to impressionable girls (and boys) - tick. All the good stuff.
Having actually settled into paying a little more attention today, however, I have to say I respectfully disagree with Bulimia.com on this one. Respectfully, because they are a great organisation trying to do a great thing, and nothing will detract from that intention.
Having said that and at the risk of sounding like Nicole Arbour (god forbid), I am sick and tired of seeing fat bodies celebrated as 'real', 'womanly' and 'healthy', like we can't expect to be anything else.
The women in video games, nine times out of ten, are characters which lead active lives - perhaps they fight or adventure for a living. No doubt, some may carry more weight and undoubtedly do it with huge strength and prowess - look at sumo wrestlers for instance - but when a body leads the kind of life that most of these characters are designed to lead, nine times out of ten it will be strong and lean. As a result, that's how these characters would 'realistically' look.
What I find most offensive about the doctored images is not the one-size-fits-all thickening of the waists and reduction of the boobs, but the removal of the muscle tone! What?! So muscle isn't realistic for a woman; not healthy for a girl to aspire to? Are you kidding me? All of the female characters lose their visual hardness, their edge, their strength with these images.
I think we should push for more representation in these games; I just don't think this is it. Bulimia.com are moving along the right lines; they have the right idea but this hasn't been executed in the right way. If designers were to portray the females properly, with appropriate bodies to represent their lives, cultures, activities etc - that's a great thing. There should be big, strong, heavy fighters; lean, slender ninjas; sculpted adventurers and climbers. Girls with big, powerful thighs and muscular arms. Some should be soft and curvy and some should not; that is realistic.
We see a strange mix of messages in our society now, from pressure to care too much about what you look like to pressure to not care at all. The truth is; we all care, whether we are a size four or a size thirty-four. Human beings want approval; we want to look good. The point is that we should be less focused on looks and more focused on how we feel. Being healthy and strong, exercising regularly and eating right, should be our priority. If it were, none of us would be able to get pushed around by these internal and external pressures.
The extremes of super-skinny, super-athletic, super-sized have got to go. We need to welcome genuine health and diversity. I think what frustrates me the most is that, once again, these female characters are being judged on appearance - fat or thin. It's not a question of their lifestyle, their looks haven't been altered to make them more realistic but to make them more achievable with less effort.
Jade, for instance, is gorgeous in her original form. Her body is strong and sculpted; she is a powerful woman with big thighs and muscular arms and shoulders. She's badass - and she would be, she would live that life. The 'revised' Jade looks like she's been grabbed out of that active, adventurous life and plonked on a sofa somewhere for six months, confined to a desk job and fed processed food. I know which life I would prefer and, ultimately, which body.
Time for a disclaimer - I am not saying all overweight people are unhealthy. I've said clearly that there should be big, heavy female characters that kick ass represented in relevant games, just like there are in the real world. But rather than just saying we need more big girls, I'm saying we need more variety and representation and females whose bodies are fit for purpose, whatever they decide that should be.