I love Superhero films! I don’t really have a favourite, they are all pretty cool if you ask me. I adore that I can sit back and watch fantastical creatures and super villains causing havoc without worry – because it’s not real! The suspense and fighting scenes pass by without even thinking about the impossibility of the movement sequences – because it’s not real! And then when it seems that the hero (and probably the whole world) is doomed, again, it’s no big deal – because it’s not real! So it was with interest that, when reading for my current study on social discourses surrounding the disclosure of male body dissatisfaction, I read the following in the Guardian comments section of an article on male teen’s ‘body worries’:
“I blame superhero films. Have you seen Thor’s body? Or Captain America’s? To be fair though, I have noticed a lot of other types of films and TV programmes that depict entirely normal men with really fit bodies.”
Of course, my first thought was (you guessed it!) – it’s not real!
But then I thought a little more about this and realised that whilst I may be correct in the statement that the film and character are not real, the actor playing the role most certainly is. So how does an individual gain the ‘Super’ body, such as that of Thor, required to undertake the role of the mystical ‘God of Thunder’? In addition, if this ‘God like’ figure is anywhere near representative of the supposed ‘ideal’ body (muscly, lean and athletic) suggested by 23% of schoolboy respondents in this study, is it healthy or a realistically achievable standard to aspire to?
We need only to perform a quick Google search to see that the Thor actor Chris Hemsworth, does not maintain the muscular proportions required for the Thor movies for long. Of course, this may be due to the demands of other film roles he has taken on between the Thor films. For example, following playing the character in the 2015 film Age of Ultron, Hemsworth was required to dramatically reduce his size in a very short period of time for the film Heart of the Sea. Even so, without the sizable cash incentive to constantly modify his body, I find it unlikely that Hemsworth, who’s social media involvement portrays a busy family man with 3 children, would aspire to maintain the God like figure indefinitely.
Indeed, in an interview for Looper (an entertainment website) called What Superhero Stunt Doubles Really Look Like, Bobby Holland Hanton states that in preparing to be Hemsworth’s stunt double in the Thor movies:
“I’ve never had to train so much in all my life – three hours each session, twice a day, six days a week.”
That is 36 hours a week – almost the average working week! Add to that the time taken to prepare the enormous amount of food required to fuel these demanding workouts, which Hemsworth himself identifies that “taking in that amount of food is exhausting,” (cited in Bailey, 2011), and you are now talking a full time job, with overtime! Thus, whilst obtaining such a physique may be possible as a full time occupation, with the demands of real life, for example; studying, work, chores, maintaining a social life, it seems a little less realistic.
Therefore, next time you watch a superhero movie, or see the actor on social media, remember that their current physical composition is a result of their body literally being their occupation. It is just another aspect of the characterisation process involved in a performance, such as accent, mannerisms and learning lines. Without the time and cash incentive that allows this, it is extremely unlikely that supposed ‘ideal’ bodies would exist. Therefore, let us not ‘blame’ superhero films for body dissatisfaction – because superhero films are not real! What we do need to blame is a society which consistently portrays superhero proportion physical composition as an achievable and realistic standard for everyday people (with study/work/children/etc) to aspire to.