Amid reports of the insane success of Wonder Woman, which has been shattering glass ceilings on its way to the top of the box office with the confidence of an Amazon on the battlefield, news came trickling in of moviegoers — mostly women — shedding tears during the punchiest action scenes of the movie.
While Gal Gadot imbued Diana's unwavering commitment to saving the world with an adorable innocence, she also talked extensively about the gruesome training that was necessary to give #WonderWoman a sense of indestructibility. And it shows. Between her character in Fast & Furious, the leather-clad Gisele, and the Amazon in skimpy armor, Gadot has gone from fit to impressively strong.
Take it from a woman: We're used to seeing statuesque women on screen whose bodies might make us want to watch our diet a little more closely, but it's another thing entirely to see a woman who makes you want to run to the nearest gym and grab a punching bag.
It's one of the ways in which Wonder Woman is so groundbreaking, throwing a woman into the midst of the overly masculine world of war and making her look not only credible, but better and more powerful than everyone else. Even away from the trenches, Antiope and her contingent of Amazon soldiers have a visceral energy that has nothing to do with hair gently flowing in the wind and everything to do with bulging veins and bursting muscles.
In an interview with Glamour, Gadot said how much her training for Wonder Woman had changed her perception of herself:
"Since I've started, I've gained about 17 pounds, and it's all muscle. I feel so much better now. When you feel strong, it changes everything — your posture, the way you walk. I look at photos from five years ago and think, 'Whoa, I was too skinny. It's not cool.'"
When you look at the biggest action heroines, they obviously have the necessary muscle mass to run through the woods or fight a villain or two, but none had yet gone as far as Wonder Woman's intimidating and enviable strength. In The Hunger Games, Jennifer Lawrence's Katniss is more about her cold-headed bow and arrow skills than the strength she can muster from her bare hands. The new lady heroes of the Star Wars franchise, Jyn and Rey, are also better runners than wrestlers; the camera doesn't linger so much on their bodies as on their brains and the tough decisions they have to make.
Even Black Widow, who arguably has the meatiest fight scenes of action movie women on screen, always retains a sense of glamour. From her skintight leather outfits to her plunging necklines and model-like posture, her moves — however violent they may be — never take away from the sexiness of the character. (One might imagine that this effect could disappear with a female director.)
Although it doesn't make these heroines any less appealing, it means a serious gap has persisted in showing the raw physical power of females on screen. But as the perception of our bodies evolves off screen — from Instagram hashtags advocating for a "strong not skinny" mentality to women ending the Fitness Bro's rule over the weight-lifting area — female movie characters can finally show muscle too.
This summer alone, movies and TV shows have introduced several takes on a less feminine and sleek fighting style. Wonder Woman is leading the way with Diana's moral and physical strength taking the world by storm, but there's also Charlize Theron collecting bruises in Atomic Blonde, set for release July 28. The trailer alone shows that no amount of lipstick will prevent her character from getting her hands dirty, and the fight scenes promise to be epic.
On the TV front, Netflix's GLOW — for Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling — has allowed the depiction of female nudity on screen to take a significant leap forward. The '80s fashion rules dictate that workouts be done in skintight, barely butt-covering bodysuits, but the way these bodies are put to use kills any notion of gratuitousness. The amount of flesh exposed in wrestling might allow these ladies to flirt with the audience, but it's all about their shimmering, sweaty muscles. On the ring, there's no wondering whether a certain angle will make you look good — your main concern is how much you can tower over your opponent.
Finally, women who get to own their bodies, no matter how much fabric they're wearing or what size they are. As Betty Gilpin's character Debbie puts it in one episode of #GLOW, this strength makes you nothing short of invincible:
"You know what the craziest part of this whole mess is? It's that I actually like wrestling. I don't know, it's like I'm back in my body and it doesn't belong to Randi, or Mark. I'm like, using it, for me. And I feel like a goddamn superhero."
It might be coincidence that Wonder Woman was released around the same time, but from now on we should only be expecting more entertainment that makes us feel like goddamn superheroes.
Who's your favorite female action hero?