Avatar Art: Why Women Aren’t Men with Breasts

A few days ago the art director from Wizards of the Coast, Jon Schindehette, wrote a post on his blog about halflings. He posted some concept images of this core race from Dungeons and Dragons as well as information about their physiology, typical outlook and environment. This is always cool to see because it gives us, as players, some insight into what the designers are thinking about our game and it gives us bullet-pointed background information, which can be useful.

I was a little taken aback, however, by the art itself. I don’t know who the artist was (there is no signature and Schindehette does not credit it). The first thing I thought when I saw the piece above (the first one in his post) was “it’s a guy with breasts”.

You see, men and women are built very differently, and the difference is bigger than ‘women have breasts’. To start with, everyone has a center of balance. For men, it’s up in their shoulders. For women, it’s down in their hips. This dictates in large part the way we stand and the way we move (particularly the way we walk). The woman in that image does not look like her center of balance is in her hips, she looks like it’s in her shoulders.

Beyond that, she’s going to have other problems from having such tiny hips. A very athletic woman’s hips are usually around the same size around as her upper torso (where her breasts are). This is important because she has organs that need to fit there, she needs to be able to menstruate and she possibly needs to use those hips to give birth (narrow hips make that harder). I assume halflings have all of those needs as well (we’re told that they’re built like small humans, so presumably they reproduce like small humans). This woman is going to have serious problems. Oh, and she lives in a place without modern medicine.

Don’t get me wrong here, I really like seeing this art and I think a lot of it is very good (I was thrilled to see two women in great armor lower down). And I don’t want to see that muscular guy next to a waif of a girl who has no business being an adventurer, because that’s what these characters are, not just regular people. But I do want her to be female, not just a guy with breasts. Women are not just men with breasts. There can be a whole range of heroic women who look nothing like Marvel’s stick figure pin-up girls, but who are also female. Yeah, armor is going to hide a lot of that female figure, but she’s stripped down to a loin cloth. That shouldn’t be the problem here!

So I guess what I’m trying to say is that while I’m generally thrilled with a lot of the art coming out of WOTC right now, this shows me that there’s still something to be desired. Honestly, though, I’d rather this problem than the opposite (see nearly any cover from Marvel or almost any screenshot from Age of Conan).

3 Comments

  1. Ormiss said,

    May 25, 2009 at 9:37 am

    Hi! I found your site through http://www.fief.org. I’ve been reading the Shackled City campaign logs for entertainment and inspiration. :)

    I thought the points you made about anatomy were interesting to read, so I’m glad you made the post. The art style in the sketch makes me think that it’s done by Todd Lockwood. As far as I can tell, his work for 4e has been largely “limited” to concept art.

    Have a great day!

  2. The “creative” industry has the wrong people in charge « I Still Find It So Hard… said,

    April 13, 2012 at 1:58 am

    [...] my searches online for graphics to represent Halflings, I came across this entry in the Pixiepalace online journal. And I got to thinking. Only in an industry that is utterly [...]

  3. Lindsay said,

    June 21, 2012 at 8:00 pm

    Hi,

    I don’t dispute anything you say here — a better grasp of human anatomy in general, to say nothing of anatomical differences between the sexes, would be a great thing for fantasy illustrators to have! — but I would like to point out that there are cissexual women whose shoulders are indeed the broadest, heaviest point on their bodies. I am one of them, due to an intense weightlifting regime I started right around puberty and kept up through college.

    I do not know if my center of gravity is as high as a man’s, since of course I have hips too (they are narrow, not that much wider than my waist, but they *are* wider than my waist, which is more than most men have), and maybe I have two centers of gravity. Just saying, there is no single female body, and female bodies like mine are not depicted very often and it makes me happy when I do see one.

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