Having a “Sexy” Character vs Sexualization

A couple weeks ago I went to the Penny Arcade Expo and attended a panel discussion about sexism within the gaming community. One concept that was brought up during the presentation/discussion was the topic of being sexy versus being sexualized. At first I hadn’t given it much thought, but then I started pondering what it meant when I examined characters from TV shows and movies as well as literature. I started thinking of how women are represented in media today and how that affects young men and women growing up, exposed to what our culture supposedly represents. When I say representation, I not only mean what they wear or how they are designed, but also what their purpose in the show, movie or story is. For instance, when looking at the three Transformer Movies by Michael Bay, it’s clear why Megan Fox and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley were in those movies. Their roles were weak, uninteresting, and solely there to look good and not really contribute much to the story. In my mind, this is an example of sexualisation without being overt about it, neither actress was paraded around in nothing but a bikini during the films (though an argument could be made that something similar was done), but their purpose within the story was not very significant in my opinion.

This is where I started thinking of how a character is designed and to what purpose. What occurred to me, especially when considering female characters but not exclusively, is that a character can still look good, stylized in a way that’s interesting, cool, cute, etc. and still have a defined purpose in the story as long as its more than just eye candy. When I say look good, I mean still practical for the setting of the story they’re in,  shorts in a military combat make no sense. A character that is designed to simply be attractive feels very shallow and unnecessary when there is always potential to create a character that is deep and interesting while having a style that may interest readers or viewers.

As a writer, I feel that in writing a character and describing them, I try and give them a purpose in the story, always avoiding to just have them there. It’s interesting as this has now led to vast connections between characters to allow for more developed relationships and interactions. It also helps when developing a characters look. I find that the interaction between characters and the history of that character help to define what the character would look like. A character with a painful past and uninterested in interacting with others is not going to be wearing short shorts and a tank top.

From what I gather this is a rather controversial issue as some would claim certain character representations as sexist while others would stand to defend them. As I’ve mentioned earlier, I believe that a character can look good as long as it is practical within the context story. I do not believe there is any justification for the sexualization of any character within a story, movie, or show. By sexualization, I mean a character that is shallow, undeveloped, and normally dressed in a manner that is “sexy” and not taken seriously. Its more of a problem with female characters and a very harmful experience for young men and women growing up. We look to stories for role models as it influences are perspective on life and having scantily clad, undeveloped female characters that do not contribute to the plot are terrible examples to younger generations.

This is only my opinion on the topic and I would love to hear yours if you feel you have a different opinion on the subject or wanted to add something I may have not mentioned.

– Raphael

P.S: Sorry for the late post! Things have been very hectic as university just started and things are starting to settle down. As mentioned before, I will do my best to post once every week!

3 thoughts on “Having a “Sexy” Character vs Sexualization

  1. “I not only mean what they wear or how they are designed, but also what their purpose in the show, movie or story is.” Interesting distinction. I really enjoyed reading this, thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    Best of luck in college, I do not miss those late nights.
    -Eliabeth Hawthorne

    1. Thank you!

      Its a topic I’ve been thinking about a lot lately while I’ve been developing my own characters for my novel.

      I don’t like those late nights either, thankfully this is my last year before I graduate!

      1. I also like the subtle sexy, the ones you fall for by the end of the book even though they’re not traditionally attractive. I’ve still got a little more to read in XO, but that’s a good example of that, assuming there’s no drastic change between where I am and the end of the novel.

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