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Striking a Pose (Women and Fantasy Covers)

Snoopy

A while back, we had a discussion on the blog about the cover art for my princess novels. For the most part, I really like these covers, but they’re not perfect.

Now I could talk about the way women are posed in cover art … or I could show you. I opted for the latter, in part because it helped me to understand it better. I expected posing like Danielle to feel a little weird and unnatural. I did not expect immediate, physical pain from trying (rather unsuccessfully) to do the hip thing she’s got going on.

I recruited my wife to take the pictures, which she kindly did with a minimum of laughter.

Being me, I naturally couldn’t stop there. I headed over to Amazon and grabbed a sampling of book covers, primarily urban fantasy, and spent the evening doing a photoshoot. Click on if you want to see the results (or if you just really want to see a shot of topless Jim).

I’m tempted to use the Night Myst pic as my new author photo.

In all seriousness, I spent the rest of last night with pain running through most of my back. Even the pose in The Shape of Desire, which first struck me as rather low-key, is difficult to imitate and feels really forced. Trying to launch my chest and buttocks in two different directions a la Vicious Grace? Just ow.

To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with being sexual. I can totally see Snow from the princess books flaunting her stuff, for example. But posing like these characters drives home exactly what’s being emphasized and what’s not.

My sense is that most of these covers are supposed to convey strong, sexy heroines, but these are not poses that suggest strength. You can’t fight from these stances. I could barely even walk.

Guys, you should try it sometime. Get someone who won’t laugh at you too much to try to help you match these poses. The physical challenge is far more enlightening than anything I could say. (Wardrobe changes are optional.)

A few covers which I feel do a pretty good job of conveying strong, capable female characters: The Gaslight Dogs, An Artificial Night, The Darkest Edge of Dawn. Other suggestions and general discussion are welcome, as always.

Related: A contortionist and martial artist tries to imitate a comic book “fighting pose” … and can’t do it.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

Comments

( 213 comments — Leave a comment )
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temporus
Jan. 11th, 2012 02:36 pm (UTC)
Jim wins the internet again.
ceosanna
Jan. 11th, 2012 03:03 pm (UTC)
Yes, this!
(no subject) - temporus - Jan. 11th, 2012 03:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - stormsdotter - Jan. 11th, 2012 03:35 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Jan. 11th, 2012 03:57 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - rarelylynne - Jan. 11th, 2012 04:35 pm (UTC) - Expand
Ditto - Sara Mercik Beach - Jan. 12th, 2012 08:13 pm (UTC) - Expand
cathschaffstump
Jan. 11th, 2012 02:37 pm (UTC)
I would be interested to see a similar post on "manly" poses on covers, but I suspect these would be harder to find in SF/F.

This contorting of the female figure for photo purposes is something that, coincidentally, "How to Be a Pin-Up Model" talks about. The commentator (a woman) who talks about modeling suggests that if you are comfortable, you probably don't look your best. So, art is really following through on something that is encouraged in real life. Or modelling life.

Cath
jimhines
Jan. 11th, 2012 02:43 pm (UTC)
I think a series of "manly" poses would do a lot to clarify the differences. Hm ... this may require some follow-up work.

I'm curious about the Pin-up Model comments, though I suspect this would quickly turn into a rather in-depth discussion on concepts and definitions of beauty and attractiveness. Who gets to say what looks best, and is that definition a natural one, or one that we've learned after being taught that this is what beauty looks like?

I've talked about this sort of thing before, but actually posing really drives home exactly what is (and isn't) being emphasized as sexy or attractive...
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trektone
Jan. 11th, 2012 02:42 pm (UTC)
Hips Don't Lie
Maybe those poses are easier for women? Perhaps not. Anyway, thanks for the fun post. Recover in time for the live version at ConFusion!

jimhines
Jan. 11th, 2012 02:44 pm (UTC)
Re: Hips Don't Lie
That's possible -- I remember being "encouraged" by peers and such to walk and move and sit in "manly" ways when I was pretty darn young, so I suspect practice is one factor here.
Re: Hips Don't Lie - cathschaffstump - Jan. 11th, 2012 02:46 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Hips Don't Lie - trinker - Jan. 11th, 2012 08:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Hips Don't Lie - cakmpls - Jan. 11th, 2012 03:06 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Hips Don't Lie - dulcinbradbury - Jan. 11th, 2012 03:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
Hips may not lie, but 2-D images can. - kittydesade - Jan. 11th, 2012 03:42 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Hips may not lie, but 2-D images can. - jimhines - Jan. 11th, 2012 04:08 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - kittydesade - Jan. 11th, 2012 04:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Hips may not lie, but 2-D images can. - sihaya09 - Jan. 11th, 2012 11:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Hips Don't Lie - apricot_tree - Jan. 11th, 2012 04:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Hips Don't Lie - ellid - Jan. 12th, 2012 02:17 am (UTC) - Expand
suricattus
Jan. 11th, 2012 02:42 pm (UTC)
Quite brilliant, and yeah, many of the poses are as sexualised as any skin mag pinup. It's damned annoying and utterly pointless.

(I have been rather proud of the covers for the Cosa Nostradamus books. Even when they insisted on putting Wren in leather, they kept the poses reasonable, except for Free fall, which is a dream sequence, anyway. And Bonnie's been straight-up sensible.)

That said, um, Jim? The basic poses (when not exaggerated for cover license) are somewhat less painful for women then men. We swivel at the hip a little easier.... :-)

Edited at 2012-01-11 02:43 pm (UTC)
jimhines
Jan. 11th, 2012 02:45 pm (UTC)
trektone made a similar comment about the poses being easier for women. I suspect practice might be a factor as well -- girls and women are encouraged to move in different ways than men.
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dinahprincedaly
Jan. 11th, 2012 02:46 pm (UTC)
you are my hero
sartorias
Jan. 11th, 2012 02:54 pm (UTC)
Oh Jim, I just scared all three dogs right out of the bed, I was laughing so hard!
jimhines
Jan. 11th, 2012 03:00 pm (UTC)
My apologies to the doggies :-)
drakyndra
Jan. 11th, 2012 02:56 pm (UTC)
You know, a while back I got linked to a tumblr all about this sort of thing: Escher Girls.

Admittedly, it's dealing with comics mostly so there's addition biology!fail on top of the ridiculous poses.

Also, while the people above are correct in both biological difference and practice can make a lot of this sort of posing easier for women, it still isn't very natural.
jimhines
Jan. 11th, 2012 03:03 pm (UTC)
I don't know whether to thank you or curse you for that link. Wow...

"while the people above are correct in both biological difference and practice can make a lot of this sort of posing easier for women, it still isn't very natural."

Great point, thank you.
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sihaya09
Jan. 11th, 2012 03:02 pm (UTC)
DEAD. Dead, buried, and resurrected, omg.
jimhines
Jan. 11th, 2012 03:04 pm (UTC)
Brain fart, sorry -- is dead and buried and resurrected a good thing or a bad in this instance?
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(no subject) - jimhines - Jan. 11th, 2012 03:08 pm (UTC) - Expand
similiesslip
Jan. 11th, 2012 03:03 pm (UTC)
LOL

This made me laugh today and with a friend RIGHT NOW having heart surgery this morning..I really needed the laugh.

Thanks!:)
jimhines
Jan. 11th, 2012 03:07 pm (UTC)
You're welcome, and I hope everything goes well for your friend!

I find webcomic archives to be a good distraction sometimes. If you read my blog, you might appreciate Order of the Stick or Dr. McNinja.
saya22
Jan. 11th, 2012 03:08 pm (UTC)
When it comes to women on covers I love it when they stand up straight and proud. It's not the cover of her books but I love Kidby's portrait of Susan and Tiffany of the Discworld series





Yeah, I couldn't find that Tiffany picture without Flynn attached to it.
jimhines
Jan. 11th, 2012 03:10 pm (UTC)
One of the things I like about that first pic is that both women come across as strong and confident, but in different ways. Like they're actual *people*, you know?
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chickwriter
Jan. 11th, 2012 03:18 pm (UTC)
You rock like a rocking thing. <3s x 1000.
p_sunshine
Jan. 11th, 2012 03:21 pm (UTC)
Love this!
roseneko
Jan. 11th, 2012 03:27 pm (UTC)
Hilarious and thought-provoking - great combination. I don't necessarily mind the trope of "sexy and capable" much (sexy characters are more fun to watch/read about), but the fact that female characters practically *have* to be perceived as sexy in order to also be perceived as capable is worrisome.

It's not just in SF/F, either. I love the show Castle, and Stana Katic's character in particular - she's smart, capable, independent, has great chemistry with Nathan Fillion, and can lay on the snark like nothing. But she's constantly traipsing around in two-inch heeled boots, including in places where they're completely impractical. I realize it's as much about wardrobe as it is sex appeal (making sure she and NF aren't too ill-matched in height), but it's still entirely about looks, and it drives me bonkers.
jimhines
Jan. 11th, 2012 03:36 pm (UTC)
Agreed on all points. And of course, I'm immediately thinking about my own books now, where I do have women who are sexy + competent - Snow White, Lena Greenwood in the new series - but also women who are highly competent and capable without forcing the sexy. Both are valid, and I think it's a disservice to focus exclusively on the one.

And yeah, Beckett in heels chasing after bad guys ... just no.
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2" heels - (Anonymous) - Jan. 12th, 2012 10:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
la_marquise_de_
Jan. 11th, 2012 03:34 pm (UTC)
My hero!
This is wonderful, Jim. What's fascinating additionally is the eye-line on those covers -- the women are either giving the 'come-on' stare, or some form of 'coy-little-me'. What they don't do is look at the viewer as an equal: they're inviting Gaze, not expressing their personality. You photos really bring that out.
jimhines
Jan. 11th, 2012 03:38 pm (UTC)
My wife gets the credit for that - she did a really good job of helping me adjust my head/face/gaze to try to match the covers.
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adelheid_p
Jan. 11th, 2012 03:35 pm (UTC)
Somewhere (perhaps you posted it) I saw a blog or article on pinup poses where they had a bunch of men do them --it included the pictures. But having you do the cover thing is funnier! I think someone else pointed out that women are shaped a little differently and some of those poses may be easier for women. I'll also note that the pose on the tree trunk seemed to me to be more her trying to get over the trunk (so it might be she was moving when the picture was taken) than a static pose. Having hiked in the woods and crossed similarly large fallen tree trunks, it seemed to be the way I would do it --put one foot almost over top and bring the other one around to meet it. It might be a good experiment to ask your wife or some other female friend to just try the poses and see if they experience similar difficulty. That said, I totally agree that these aren't natural everyday poses and I would much more prefer covers similar to the ones that saya22.
jimhines
Jan. 11th, 2012 03:54 pm (UTC)
Hm ... I see what you're saying on the tree trunk, but I'm not getting that same sense of motion. I think it's mostly the head/face and upper body that feel more static to me.

A long time ago, back when I was at MSU, someone described an exercise in which men try to mimic the poses of women in pornography. I confess I was never brave enough to try that one...
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asakiyume
Jan. 11th, 2012 03:37 pm (UTC)
Fantastic! I want you on the cover of ALL THE BOOKS!!
jimhines
Jan. 11th, 2012 03:46 pm (UTC)
I think the publishers might object. They want to actually SELL books, ya know?
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seanan_mcguire
Jan. 11th, 2012 03:39 pm (UTC)
One of the things that's made me happiest about my covers is that they're all natural poses. Even Verity on Discount Armageddon—who is Snow-sexualized, as in, "in character," not Talia-sexualized, as in "I cut you now"—is in a position I can replicate. And I'm not the most flexible girl going.

Overly sexy for no reason makes me cranky.
jimhines
Jan. 11th, 2012 03:52 pm (UTC)
"Overly sexy for no reason makes me cranky."

Yep. I also question whether some of these poses are truly sexy... Tastes vary, of course.
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cathshaffer
Jan. 11th, 2012 03:47 pm (UTC)
Yo, we need to get you to a yoga class to work out that hip problem. We could probably get another inch of thrust for you in pretty short order.
jimhines
Jan. 11th, 2012 03:50 pm (UTC)
Yoga workshop at ConFusion!
(no subject) - cathshaffer - Jan. 11th, 2012 03:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
britmandelo
Jan. 11th, 2012 03:49 pm (UTC)
I think I love you, Mr. Jim C. Hines.
celtic_catgirl
Jan. 11th, 2012 03:56 pm (UTC)
I see that you are prepared for the nerf zombie apocalypse.
jimhines
Jan. 11th, 2012 03:58 pm (UTC)
Always!
pantryslut
Jan. 11th, 2012 03:59 pm (UTC)


Why is that lady in the last cover cutting her own clothes off?
aliettedb
Jan. 11th, 2012 04:01 pm (UTC)
My tea just about spilled on the keyboard. Can I add my vote for more covers with male models? We need more research data *evil grin*
(Laura has a point that women do swing a little more easily on the hips, but still, I very much doubt normal women could hold those alluring poses).
hellmutt
Jan. 11th, 2012 04:07 pm (UTC)
I'd hit that if only I had the right sexual orientation. :)
paragraphs
Jan. 11th, 2012 04:08 pm (UTC)
yes I am at work, no I am not supposed to be on the internets much less livejournal, and laughing crazily in my office is probably not a good idea either but...

SO WORTH IT!


replyhazy
Jan. 11th, 2012 04:10 pm (UTC)
I want to turn this into a WisCon panel SO BAD. Ever been to WisCon?
jimhines
Jan. 11th, 2012 04:16 pm (UTC)
A long time ago, yes. I really need to get back to that one...
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