Critique, Feminism, Games, Geek Culture, Gender, Opinion, Sexism

Lara Croft, Ledge Hanger: However Much She Weighs, She Can Lift It

I like Lara Croft. I have always liked Lara Croft. The Lara Croft that I understand—which is not always the Lara Croft described by her production companies, or her fans, or commentators.

Tomb Raider 3 promo art, Eidos, 1998, via Robert Browne's Infographic Faces of LaraI look at Lara Croft and see: a woman in her thirties of independent means who does what she most wants to: running around amongst cool, forgotten ruins, connecting with history and with objects that saw it. She wears shorts and a tank top and walking boots with thick socks. She wears a belt and a second belt with gun pouches attached to it, and a small backpack presumably full of kit. Her hair is tied back, obviously, and sometimes she intimidates people with Lennon/Osbourne glasses. Lara shoots people if they’re going to shoot her, and she is rarely happier than when she’s climbing a thing. I see a person I could be under certain circumstances.

I look at “facts about Lara Croft”, and I see…

Lara Croft profile, tombraider.wikia

…Total fuckin’ bullshit.

Lara Croft is rich and uncompromisingly capable, therefore Lara Croft will have a well-fitted bra. If Lara wears a 34 band, that’s the band she needs; her lifestyle is too active for it not to matter. Because bra measurement is strange and ridiculous, her actual ribcage probably measures 32 inches around. Because she wears a D (of course she wears a D, it’s the only “big breast” letter! If everything you know about breasts you learnt from hearing bigger boys talk about Baywatch issues of Playboy), the circumference around the fullness of her breasts must measure four more inches: thirty six inches around. This is how bra sizing works. One extra inch for an A, two for a B, etc. In British dress sizes, on average, this will place Lara in the area of a 12. Tomb Raider is a British creation and Lara is a British character, so there’s no reason that US sizes would be used on her profile. Lara Croft cannot wear an 8 and a 34D, because supported 34D breasts would not fit inside of a size 8 garment. You can’t put a bigger thing inside of something smaller.

A twenty-four-inch waist would actually fit a 6 far better than an 8, so there’s no point in suggesting that she splits the difference between waist and bust to settle on something that doesn’t fit comfortably anywhere. Lara’s given measurements are so non-average that highstreet dress sizes are irrelevant to her body. She’s lucky to be monied enough to simply buy made-to-measure clothing. There’s literally no reason to include a dress size for this character. But it’s there—because women’s bodies must be defined for consumption, and they must be defined within artificially idealised parameters.

Lara Croft bust measurement graphic, Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Anniversary (Collector's Edition) (Windows)

The above image is a list of Lara’s attributes from the so-called “original timeline”, covering the first six games, sourced from TombRaider.wikia. The bust and dress sizes are corroborated here and here, as well as in Tomb Raider: Anniversary bonus features (above). Many Tomb Raider games’ official sites have been removed following the publication of subsequent games, and so what we call canon facts are hard to find. Of course, in the realm of “geek interests”, there’s heavy investment in the idea of canon as a moral good, as well as an absolute; I’m certainly able to believe that, having seen a glimpse of jocular pro-commentary suggesting that Lara can’t weigh more than 100, 110 lbs (how does she do it all, etc), a zealous fan might feel they’re doing good by passing on this information as useful fact. I can’t say for sure what’s “really true”—that alleged facts are in play at all is the problem.

The weight given—an impossible weight—is linked to a profile on Tomb Raider’s official site that doesn’t, or perhaps no longer exists. Was it official once? Various weights are given for Lara, for some appalling reason. Her “original 1996 profile” is the only one with credible possibility: nine stones four pounds (130 lbs) for a woman of five-foot-eight or nine is an undeniable match for women who are alive, healthy, and active. One hundred and ten pounds is not. Consider: Lara is constantly active and controls the recoil of twin pistols, as well as handing by her fingers as she jumps between ledges, day after day, year after year. She is tall. A gymnast of 110 lbs competed in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, in fact. Samantha Peszek was every bit as spectacular an athlete as the imaginary Lara, and the same weight. But sixteen years old, and five-foot-nothing.

Raoul Ranoa Lorena Iniguez Los Angeles Times

The fact that there is a “canon” weight for Lara Croft which is within the realm of reality is not actually a bonus. It’s horrible. What does it add? A cue to begin objectifying her, exotifying the lightweight, demanding personal information as proof of your subject’s womanhood. When dealing with an illustration, a caricature, a digital model of an “idealised woman”, why try to apply real-world values to her entirely false frame? They won’t match up. They won’t allow comprehension of how this body would look if she were real. She’s not real, and that’s the point. When a character inhabits a world of magical realism, and their body is not explicitly part of the “magical” side of that equation, using measurements which can be comparatively applied to ourselves only warps expectations of how our real bodies should be.

Let’s pretend for a second that the nine stones four pounds measurement is the only verifiable, official definition of Croft’s weight (in fact, here’s The Times with a 1999 profile that puts the lie to that). Does this indict the fandom, leaving the trademark owners in the clear? Well, no. Aggressive proponents of weights of, or below, 120lb for women (particularly women in body-weight lifting professions, I am looking at you WWE commentators of history) are worse than those who simply say, of course we shall know and discuss the weight of this woman. But being “less bad” than somebody atrocious is no guarantee of positive morality. There is no reason at all why we should know the weight of Lara Croft. It’s not that an audience was thinking, “well, a frail woman surely cannot weigh enough to be able to, mayhap, climb a rock!”, and the creative forces behind Tomb Raider leapt up shouting “why, we shall define her weight as that of a woman who quite likely COULD climb a rock! Huzzah!” Prejudice doesn’t work in quite that way. We are not yet so far gone as a people that we cannot believe that a female might be physically able to do a sport at all, even if we widely allow that, if compared, she must be less good at it than a man. (Which man? Just … just the kind of man who would be better!)

No, it’s clear from the multiple instances of lowballed weight estimates available on Lara Croft profiles (110, 125) that the parties interested in discussing these weights have no clear understanding of what the numbers mean. If they did—they’d know they were wrong. The impossibility of fitting 34D breasts into size 8 shirts, the pointlessness of adhering to dress sizes if you can buy tailoring, the blatant falseness of Lara Croft being 100 lbs, five-foot-eight, 36 inches around the chest, and a worldclass rockface dangler/militia combatant/tarzan impersonator: these things speak to an ignorance of bodies, and the bitterly foolish choice to define them anyway.

Low weights have an association with descriptions of women intended for titillation. 34D somehow achieved the position of ultimately sexy bra size, without the average individual having much idea of what “34”, or “D”, or the combination thereof, actually signify about a breast, or the body it’s a part of (it’s “not everything”). Size 8, UK, is an approved, public-profile dress size for models and pop stars and pretty women in the newspapers. Never mind the actual facts of Lara Croft. Never mind how well those facts align with “hot, independent woman” without also applying invasive, and I say again wrong, numerative detail to her brand.

Lara Croft, Tomb Raider, in the buff, Core + Eidos

I JUST CAN’T MASTURBATE UNTIL YOU GIVE ME SOME NUMBERS

In 2013 Lara Croft was rebooted; she has no weight and no circumferential measurements in her new games. New commentary is hamstrung, at least to that extent, by the lack of canon fancies to work with. She’s shorter (or is she? See below), now, of course, and younger, and her hair’s rather well washed and shiny for the amount of dirt that’s on the rest of her. Nothing’s perfect. The old information’s still there, the old games are still playable (and really, really fun)—and the damage hasn’t un-happened just because it’s not being compounded in new releases. Lara Croft’s numbers are still messing with people’s perceptions of reality. Have games development companies (and, crucially, their publishers) learned better? As a blanket statement, absolutely not. In individual cases, I hope so. Have individual audience members stopped publicly guessing weights, bra sizes, waist circumferences, intimate personal detail? No. And fuck you too.

Further Times scans can be found here.
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  1. bob

    September 6, 2015 at 12:47 pm

    you do realize 90% of game characters get pages like this? Star fox gets one. The numbers appear stupidly thrown together so criticize that but don’t criticize the concept because that criticism fails a basic understanding about what is generally available about popular characters

    1. Claire Napier

      September 7, 2015 at 8:58 am

      Don’t be a dope, bob, think harder about what’s been said here. Contextualise.

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