An “Action” Figure Based on Beauty– An Oxymoron?

Translation: The secret method to ending your pore and wrinkle troubles!

I came across the above ad while thumbing through a magazine in a waiting room. I had never before heard of the San Francisco-based Benefit cosmetics, nor their popular “Porefessional” product. What really caught my eye was the use of a character named “SpyGal,”created by famed comic book powerhouse Marvel. Now, I do realize that SpyGal is just a shameless promotional ploy, and a lighthearted and cute attempt at that. However, once I saw the words “action figure,” my mind became a veritable maelstrom of thought on feminist theory and other such weighty topics.

Most of all, I was struck by the irony of the term “action figure.” After all, our society continually emphasizes the toxic message that women are defined by their beauty, i.e. their role as [inactive] objects for the male gaze. As Mary Pipher eloquently put it in her book about adolescent girls, Reviving Opheliagirls stop being and start seeming when they enter adolescence.

Granted, SpyGal is an attempt to turn things on their head, since she is supposedly the empowered heroine. Also, I suppose she is an action figure, and not a doll*, because she wields a weapon and has adventures. But I find it hard to proudly stand behind a figure whose ultimate goal isn’t to save the universe but to ensure  through the use of her makeup ray gun that [heaven forbid!] women have pores that are not too visible.

Translation: This primer zaps oil and provides moisture to give you great skin. 

I find it fascinating that Benefit cosmetics made the effort to partner with Marvel (I guess to give their character some street cred). Comic books are notorious for their depictions of highly sexualized women–not surprising given their target demographic of young men. I was interested to see how Marvel would adjust its M.O. for an appearance-conscious audience of women who need to relate to SpyGal. After all, they need to see her as their hero (apparently, those pores are a tough arch rival that can’t be battled alone).

I guess it’s refreshing to at least see that she isn’t sporting a chestful of basketball-sized breasts, or ridiculously over-sized muscles. However, I find it a little alarming that her look is such a retro throwback to the 50s–an era that isn’t exactly known for its progressive cultural attitudes towards women. (Feminine Mystique, anyone?)

And as you can see below, Marvel is milking their SpyGal creation by actually moving foward with a dedicated comic book.

Why?! I guess I all I can do is roll my eyes and shake my head. If you’re going to actually dedicate some comic book resources to a female-heroine**, must it be for the one that has no compelling back story or motivation beyond ensuring that women remain beautiful?   What’s so heroic about that?


*The whole semantic issue of “action figure” vs. “doll” is beyond the scope of this blog post, but a truly interesting topic indeed! My quick two cents on the topic: clearly, boys (and their fathers) would have been too mortified to buy G.I. Joe “dolls.” Ah, the power of words–!

**Check out the following link for another interesting review of the SpyGal concept.

About mz jenny lee

Wearing many hats for a living...because who wants to wear just one hat? My many and diverse interests have lead to different blogs so I can give them individual love and attention :)! I hope you enjoy them! View all posts by mz jenny lee

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