The Legend of Korra and Avatar: The Last Airbender are two of my all time favorite shows. They are complex, poignant, adventurous, and visually striking, but on top of all that, they crafted fabulous multi-faceted characters for both genders. Don’t worry, there are no spoilers in this article. I am not discussing story lines and plots in particular here, however you might understand this post better if you are at least familiar with The Legend of Korra.
Many interviews and reviews have focused on how great it is that The Legend of Korra features a strong female lead. And it is great! This was continued from Avatar: The Last Airbender, where there were many strong, complex female characters on both the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ sides of the conflicts (although very few characters in the Avatar world are ever really as simple as ‘good’ and ‘bad’). There was Katara, Toph, Suki, Azula, Mai, and Ty Lee, just to name a few. They were all girls with strong abilities and complex story lines; full bodied characters that made you feel for them at various times throughout the Avatar series. They were also all very beautiful, in the conventional sense.
Fast forward to The Legend of Korra, and the animation has changed a bit. While in the original Avatar series, Sokka and Katara were supposed to be aged around 16, Korra is supposed to be just a year older in The Legend of Korra, at age 17. However, she and her friends seem much older, and more adult in their physiques. The animators are using an edgier, steampunk infused style of animation for The Legend of Korra, and they made their teenage characters look more realistic for their ages than those in Avatar, who were made more childlike.
While many interviewers and reviewers have commented on the strong personality Korra has for a female lead character, what I find equally interesting is Korra’s appearance. The creators gave Korra a muscular, athletic build, with a fuller, thicker figure than women they have previously animated. She has strong arms, shoulders, and back muscles that are clearly defined, even when she is at rest and not fighting. She has a larger chest than most other characters, thicker waist, and full hips. The difference in body type is especially noticeable in comparison to her friend, Asami. Asami has the traditional ‘feminine’ body image normally thrust on women: slim but shapely build, long flowing sexy hair, and full make up.
Bryan Konietzko, one of the creators of The Legend of Korra, described his inspiration for Korra’s physique and personality in an interview with The Wall Street Journal:
I later realized she was inspired by my sister, who is pretty tough… Definitely female MMA fighters, I’m a big mixed martial arts fan, and watching women’s MMA grow was definitely an inspiration.
Now, normally I wouldn’t advocate scrutinizing anyone’s appearance, and especially not a women’s body — but I think it’s awesome that the creators designed Korra this way. Not only did they create a powerful female lead that is so lacking in today’s entertainment, but they made her body reflect her interests in a realistic way. In The Legend of Korra, bending has become a sport that mimics mixed martial arts (MMA) fighting in our world. Korra is athletic, and an accomplished bender. As such, her body reflects her dedication to fighting in a realistic way, and it’s beautiful. It’s a form of beauty that young girls should see. The more body types young girls and women are exposed to, the better. As Janet Varney, voice actress for Korra, says:
As a girl, as a woman, it’s frankly really gratifying for me to see this new series catapult this incredibly cool female character into the minds of children, and girl in particular, who I hope will feel empowered by her, and inspired by her.
I think it’s very important that women and girls are exposed to this ‘alternate’ form of beauty. I use the word ‘alternate’ with unease, because there is nothing strange or different about Korra’s physique. It just seems different because we are constantly seeing skinny women with slim figures wherever we look in the media. This makes a body like Korra’s seem out of the ordinary. We need more models like Korra to reassure girls and women that all body types are beautiful. That strength is beautiful. It’s OK to have muscle tone and be strong.
We all know the media pushes slim, toned images of women to us, and that lately people have pushed back saying big is beautiful as well. We’re now testing the ideas of beautiful big butts and hour glass figures (Kim Kardashian, Nikki Minaj, and Christina Hendricks, just to name a few)), and the belief that people can be beautiful at any size. Korra gives girls the option of being muscular, strong and athletic as a form of beauty. Because while toned has always been the desire for women, you had to do it while still staying small, slim and sleek. Girls and women are always afraid of becoming too ‘big’ or ‘bulky’ with muscle training. But Korra shows that you can have muscles, a big chest, thicker waist and hips, and be beautiful, because you are healthy and strong. That you don’t have to give up sports when you reach high school to prevent developing a ‘manly’ body. And that although you are strong and independent on your own, it’s also great that the right boys will admire you for your spirit and their strength.
So thanks Korra, for showing us that not only can you be badass, you can look good doing it.
Alverson, Brigid. (April 16, 2012) Interview: Voice actress janet varney and the secret origins of korra. http://geek-news.mtv.com/2012/04/16/legend-of-korra-janet-varney/
Thill, Scott. (July 18, 2014) “You gotta deal with it!”: The TV writers behind the powerful female character no one is talking about. http://www.salon.com/2014/07/18/you_gotta_deal_with_it_the_tv_writers_behind_the_powerful_female_character_no_one_is_talking_about/
Thill, Scott. (April 13, 2012) The legend of korra upgrades avatar’s mythic bending epic. http://www.wired.com/2012/04/legend-of-korra/