The Atlantic recently released an article detailing the January miniseries reboot of superhero Faith Herbert. A member of the Valiant Comics universe, Faith (also known as Zephyr) is a telekinetic hero with the ability to fly in and save the day. Appealing to the millennial crowd, she works as a writer at a Buzzfeed-esque website. She also just so happens to be fat.
Fat. An often avoided, always cringeworthy word. Since her 1980s debut, “fat” has been at the center of Faith’s character, being nicknamed “The Fat Lady” by her fellow superheroes. Even in the 2012 revival, she remained the punchline to many jokes pertaining to her weight.
However, the January miniseries — as well as the upcoming full series in July — have entirely revitalized Faith. Yes, Faith’s physique remains the same, but her personality is now at the fore-front of the character. She is portrayed as incredibly witty, caring and creative. There is not one fat joke to be heard.
In fact, there is not a single mention of Faith’s weight in the entirety of the miniseries. Instead, Faith is shown lounging in her underwear in her apartment, flirting with men and going about her days normally. Not once in the mini-series did a character, Faith included, make fun of or even discuss her weight.
While ignoring Faith’s weight may seem like a failed opportunity to spark the much-needed dialogue about both fat-phobia and fat-shaming, the comic is a refreshing twist from frequent criticism found in media akin to Nicole Arbor’s highly controversial YouTube video “Dear Fat People.” While this type of media does openly discuss the topic of weight, it does so with minimal consideration to the reality of overweight and obese individuals’ lives and perspectives, making it counterproductive and often offensive.
Because Faith does not engage in this conversation, she is a living representation of how overweight individuals, particularly women, can and do live without constantly speaking, thinking about or identifying their weight as their dominant trait. In fact, Faith stands completely separate from the body-positive, plus-sized woman, such as model Ashley Graham, who has recently dominated pop culture. Rather, Faith is what would be considered obese, a weight category that the media has clearly excluded from the “curvy” and “real” women seen in headlines. And when the media does choose to discuss the topic, it often becomes skewed into comedic tropes whose trademark is their weight.
Speaking on the positive-yet-skewed diversity, Faith has joined the existing female superhero crowd. These characters are typically thin, white, sexualized and supposedly perfect specimens. However, the additional premieres of “Jessica Jones,” “Supergirl” and “Agent Carter” have added to the diversity and decreased sexualization of female superheroes, especially with the former on the list being a survivor of sexual assault.
Even with this slight diversity in weight and backstory, all of these characters are still white, and in Faith’s case, blonde-haired and blue-eyed. While she may not be thin or traditionally beautiful, Faith’s character still adheres to the hegemonic desirability of a white superhero.
One can only imagine the potential backlash if Faith, in addition to being overweight, was non-white, disabled or a part of the LGBTQ community. While some progress has been made, such as the revival of Ms. Marvel as a Pakistani American and Echo as Native American and deaf, none of these women have made it as mainstream as the non-diverse female superheroes like Wonder Woman and Black Widow.
Overall, Faith’s character is a positive addition to the female superhero community. It is an incredible opportunity for overweight women to see someone who represents their size in a positive light within the media, even if it is within a smaller comic universe opposed to the ever-popular Marvel or DC Comics. It will likely be a long time until there is a full range of diverse female superheroes found in mainstream comics, but baby steps are still progressive strides in the right direction.