Lara Croft: Sensual Killer or Feminist Icon?

[Editors note: Image above taken from Vanity fair ]

Words by Nisha Bhamra

A significant topic of discussion as of late has been the physical representation of female leads in action/adventure narratives. Characters like Wonder Woman, Black Widow, and Lara Croft have been critiqued, objectified, and judged purely based on their bodies. Lara Croft in particular has always been a figure of huge debate when it comes to this topic: many dismiss her as a figure embodying sexism, but for so many others she was the first to offer a dimensional female protagonist. The recently released adaptation of the video game character is portrayed by Alicia Vikander in Tomb Raider(2018), and her physique has rejuvenated this discussion.

Lara Croft has always been massively sexualised with her original model infamously being (‘accidentally’) given breasts 150% larger than intended. Lara’s dimensions are almost as comically unrealistic as Barbie’s, with the former weighing 50kg despite being around 175cm tall and having a considerable amount of muscle. It’s pretty clear what she is meant to represent, whether intended or not: she is an object of desire for men, who uses her supple body to conquer all those who attempt to destroy it. This was only perpetuated through Angelina Jolie’s portrayal in the film Lara Croft: Tomb Raider(2001), which established the character within wider pop culture.

 Despite this, Lara Croft remains a role model for young girls and women, as she was and still is for myself. As a child I didn’t acknowledge her body or clothes (which some deem as revealing – I assumed she wore shorts and a vest for practicality and range of motion), only her facial features which somewhat resembled my own. I saw myself in this adventurer, and was inspired by her. It’s a goal of mine to emulate her degree of strength, and I believe that kind of inspiration should be accessible to all young women.
While she uses her strength to casually kill those in her path, this seems to be symbolic for how women are perfectly capable of protecting themselves and being their own heroes. This is particularly relevant today following the release of films such as Wonder Woman (2017), which presents the same idea: Diana wears arguably ‘revealing’ clothes, though like Lara, her attire is designed entirely for practicality and defence. Diana is still heavily regarded as a figure of female empowerment – so why is Lara’s status as a feminist icon questioned so heavily?

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 Unlike Lara’s first two incarnations, the latest reboot of the games (2013), sees Lara with a much more realistic body, with full length cargo trousers (which makes much more sense than shorts – with protection from grazes and additional storage space). There is much less emphasis on her figure and more on her mentality. The new film starring Vikander draws inspiration from this incarnation of Lara.

As you can see from the trailer, (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3KkhD0MnaJU) Lara is a motivated university student in pursuit of adventure, and has undertaken MMA as a method of training. Her physicality is more alike to someone from such a background, unlike that of Angelina Jolie in the first film adaptation of the franchise. The latter clearly pertained to the sexualised image of Lara Croft, as opposed to the empowered version Vikander is portraying.

 Some still equate the more voluptuous image of Lara to more strength, skill, and therefore a more ‘badass killer’. Vikander had gained 5kg of muscle for the role, as seen in the trailer and promotional content (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oWXq7mKcx5s), and proven in the film, as she effectively performs many of Lara’s signature moves, including pull-ups, rock climbing, and rope swings. She is clearly the embodiment of a female role model, yet plenty of ‘original fans’ reject this.

Clearly those (mainly men) who appreciate Lara’s ‘old’ body, prefer seeing a woman with an emphasised waist, hips, and breasts, soullessly killing those who challenge her. It combines two stereotypically masculine indulgences: assertive aggression; and enticing, shapely women.

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The comparison — being ‘bone skinny’ — is equated to powerlessness, which opposes the point of the remodelled Lara. She is an ordinary student, who women will relate to, training for survival. The men that claim that Lara being relatable is unimportant, evidently believe that the anticipated audience of such action/adventure narratives is heterosexual men, and in turn, that women aren’t interested in action-adventure films or gaming — this clearly couldn’t be further from the truth.

Lara is the protagonist of an action-adventure film, in the heart of violence and combat. She is an ‘average’ girl that’s capable and keen to develop her physical strength, in order to protect herself as she quenches her thirst for knowledge, rather than pandering to the desires of men — that is why she is a feminist icon.

Read more from Nisha on her blog: The Violent Scribler  

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