Comparative Sex-Specific Body Mass Index in the Marvel Universe and the “Real” World.

By Karen Healey. M.A. University of Canterbury, New Zealand.

Terry D. Johnson. M.S. Department of Bioengineering, University of California, Berkeley.

Thanks to E. Cabell Hankinson Gathman and Dr Stephen Dann for peer review.

Note: Since this is doing the rounds again: The number of people who think that Terry and I got paid or received credit hours for this paper never ceases to amaze me. No, no, no. It’s a piece of pseudo-science* using an extremely dodgy diagnostic tool and basic maths to comically illustrate an important point – that the portrayal of Marvel women tends to a certain extremely unrealistic ideal body, and Marvel men not only contain more variety of body types (look at that spike!) but tend towards a less-restrictive and healthier model.

The point isn’t “Hey, everyone in comics has a weirdass body!”. It’s “Despite argument to the contrary, men and women are not portrayed with a comparable lack of realism, and this gendered portrayal says a lot about the depiction of women in comics as determinedly “sexy” at all time.”

For more, see my comments here.

* Which is to say, the numbers are real, and the maths is correct, but the point is social, not biological.

Correction

An earlier published version of this study incorrectly converted the weight of Marvel men at a ratio of 2.4 pounds/kilograms, instead of the correct 2.2. We apologise for this error.

Corrected, the results tend Marvel men more towards the heavier side of healthy and provide slightly more variance in the range of BMI for Marvel men. This renders the disparity between the BMI of Marvel men and women even more marked than previously concluded.

Abstract:

This study compares the mean and normalised distribution of the Body Mass Index of women and men in the Marvel Universe, and with women and men in the “real” world.

Introduction:

Body Mass Index (BMI) is a number calculated from a person’s weight and height and is calculated by the formula: weight (kg) / [height (m)]2. Though somewhat controversial and not meant to be used as a diagnostic criteria, it can be used to characterize body type and (with caution) fitness and health using readily available data. Commonly accepted classifications are listed below.

BMI Category
Below 18.5 Underweight
18.5 – 24.9 Normal
25.0 – 29.9 Overweight
Over 29.9 Obese

The following variations are known to apply to BMI calculation:

- At the same BMI, women tend to have more body fat than men.

- At the same BMI, older people, on average, tend to have more body fat than younger adults.

- Highly trained athletes may have a high BMI because of increased muscularity rather than increased body fat.

We would expect persons who are expert martial artists, have powers that rely on physical effort or are otherwise extremely physically active to have a higher BMI than normally active persons or persons who primarily use energy or psychic attacks.

Methods:

We randomly selected* 25 representatives of each sex** from the Marvel universe and used the Marvel.com website (1) profiles to provide height and weight statistics and calculated BMI (tables 1.1 and 2.1).

We then compared the normal distribution of the BMI of Marvel males and females to the normal distribution of the BMI of 20-29 year old

*** US males and females 1999-2002 (2).

* Random selection by use of the “random page” tool at Marvel.com.

** Teenagers and those whose powers or mutations can alter their body mass or sex were excluded from selection, the latter as population outliers. (Big Bertha and Luke Cage were excluded; Bruce Banner was included; the Hulk was excluded.) Also, many characters had no statistics listed – they were also necessarily excluded.

*** The “real” age of Marvel Universe persons is frequently altered by the powers or mutations of individuals,non-Euclidean time, cryogenics, magic, biochemical solutions, alternative dimensions, radiation, cloning and resurrection. The 20-29 year old age range was chosen as the most appropriate range comparison for the apparent physical age of most adult Marvel characters. This makes for a conservative comparison to older characters, since BMI tends to increase with age.

Results:

Table 1.1 shows the mean height of Marvel women is 172.72 cm, (5’8″) with a standard deviation of 4.86. The mean weight of Marvel women is 57.7 kg (127 lbs) with a standard deviation of 5.2.

The mean BMI of Marvel women is 19.33, with a standard deviation of 1.33.

Table 1.2 shows the mean height of Marvel men is 183 cm (6″) with a standard deviation of 6.6. The mean weight of Marvel men is 85.3 kg (188 lbs), with a standard deviation of 14.3.

The mean BMI of Marvel men is 25.5, with a standard deviation of 2.7.

Table 2 shows that the comparative BMI indicates that 28% of Marvel women are underweight, compared to 0% of Marvel men. 72% of Marvel women are in the normal BMI range, and 0% are in the overweight or obese ranges. 56% of Marvel men are in the normal BMI range, 40% in the overweight range, and 4% in the obese range.

Figure 1

Figure 1: Comparing the BMI distributions of Marvel comics characters and United States citizens. Height and weight data for comic characters was collected from the Marvel comics website with n = 25 for either sex. BMI data for United States citizens from NHANES, collected between 1999 and 2002, with n = 585 for males and 712 for females. These graphs assume a normal distribution about the sample mean.

Conclusions:

The BMI range of Marvel women is much less varied than that of all other groups and tends to the low end of the “normal” BMI range. This result is surprising, considering that many of the women sampled are martial artists or extremely capable physically and should, if anything, have a BMI that indicates a higher body fat level than is actually present.

The BMI range of Marvel men is more varied and tends to just over the upper limit of the “normal” BMI range. However, it is still less varied than that of the “real world” male and female groups.

We stress that given the physical and biological vagaries of the Marvel Universe and the relatively small sample sizes involved, these results are not conclusive. Data comparing male and female athletes from both world might provide more accurate comparative results, and we suggest this as a point for further research.

However, advance data indicates that Marvel women are portrayed as having a disturbingly low BMI compared to the healthy BMI range of their male counterparts. Furthermore, the range of body types expressed by Marvel women is surprisingly small. The distribution of BMIs in Figure 1 is by far the sharpest, with little variation from the mean compared to Marvel men, and far less variation than we see in actual men and women. This is true to a lesser extent for males in the Marvel universe as well.

The Marvel male is predisposed to be on the heavy side of healthy, which can be explained by the increased muscle mass of intense physical acitvity. The average Marvel female is approaching underweight despite a presumably active lifestyle. This may corroborate sociological and literary observations that in the Marvel Universe, women must fulfil criteria for being attractive by Western standards before fulfilling the criteria of biological realism.

References:

(1) Marvel.com

(2) Ogden CL, Fryar CD, Caroll MD, FlegalKM. Mean body weight, height, and body mass index, United States 1960-2002.NHANES Advance Data No. 347: October 2004.

Tables:

Table 1.1


Name Height(inches) Height(cm) Weight(lbs) Weight(kg) BMI
Felicia Hardy 70 177.8 120 54.55 17.25
Destiny 67 170.18 110 50.00 17.26
Ms Marvel 71 180.34 124 56.36 17.33
Storm 71 180.34 127 57.73 17.75
Kitty Pryde 66 167.64 110 50.00 17.79
Mary JaneWatson-Parker 68 172.72 120 54.55 18.28
May Parker 65 165.1 110 50.00 18.34
Jean Grey 66 167.64 115 52.27 18.60
JessicaDrew 70 177.8 130 59.09 18.69
Janet Van Dyme 64 162.56 110 50.00 18.92
Yuriko Oyama 69 175.26 128 58.18 18.94
Angela Del Toro 68 172.72 125 56.82 19.05
Elektra Natchios 69 175.26 130 59.09 19.24
Sue Storm-Richards 66 167.64 120 54.55 19.41
Jessica Jones 67 170.18 124 56.36 19.46
Betty Brant 67 170.18 125 56.82 19.62
Misty Knight 69 175.26 136 61.82 20.13
Gwen Stacy 67 170.18 130 59.09 20.40
Natasha Romanova 67 170.18 131 59.55 20.56
Emma Frost 70 177.8 144 65.45 20.71
Scarlet Witch 67 170.18 132 60.00 20.72
Madame Hydra 69 175.26 140 63.64 20.72
Arachne 69 175.26 140 63.64 20.72
Yelena Belova 67 170.18 135 61.36 21.19
Psylocke 71 180.34 155 70.45 21.66
Table 1.2


Name Height (inches) Height(cm) Weight (lbs) Weight(kg) BMI
Bruce Banner 69.0 175.26 129 58.64 19.09
Bobby Drake 68 172.72 145 65.91 22.09
Cloak 69 175.26 155 70.45 22.94
Pete Wisdom 69 175.26 158 71.82 23.38
Gambit 73 185.42 179 81.36 23.67
Alex Summers 72 182.88 175 79.55 23.78
Pietro Maximoff 72 182.88 175 79.55 23.78
Reed Richards 73 185.42 180 81.82 23.80
Helmut Zemo 70 177.8 167 75.91 24.01
Peter Parker 70 177.8 167 75.91 24.01
Scott Summers 75 190.5 195 88.64 24.42
Johnny Storm 70 177.8 170 77.27 24.44
Magneto 74 187.96 190 86.36 24.45
Danny Rand 71 180.34 175 79.55 24.46
Sam Guthrie 71 180.34 180 81.82 25.16
Jonah J. Jameson 71 180.34 181 82.27 25.30
Ben Parker 69 175.26 175 79.55 25.90
Frank Castle 73 185.42 200 90.91 26.44
Matthew Murdock 72 182.88 200 90.91 27.18
T’challa 72 182.88 200 90.91 27.18
Victor Von Doom 74 187.96 225 102.27 28.95
Piotr Rasputin 78 198.12 250 113.64 28.95
Nick Fury 73 185.42 221 100.45 29.22
Brian Braddock 78 198.12 257 116.82 29.76
Steve Rogers 74 187.96 240 109.09 30.88

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Table 2


 <18.5 18.5-24.9 25.0-29.99 30.0>
MarvelWomen 28% 72% 0% 0%
MarvelMen 0% 56% 40% 4%