Absolutely excellent post. As a viewer, I’m absolutely distracted (by the mostly nude man), but there’s no way that I’d be facing him on the battlefield going “and now I’ll just wield this polearm and … oh no, he’s hot!”
By far my favorite point is that there is a difference between telling a realistic story and a naturalistic story. A naturalistic story tells a story that is completely plausible in our world. No wizards, no dragons, no secret vampires, no alien invasions. Telling a realistic story is telling a story that is logical and consistent and makes sense (even if the setting is in a fictional world or in a reality very different from our own).
PS: About the chainmail bikinis, specifically? Don’t say “oh okay but what if she were wearing it like a joke and then ended up being stranded somewhere in that,” because then it’s clear that, as a writer, you’re just using a “crowbar” to force your character into a bikini. Same thing if the bikini armor is somehow magical and sufficiently protective—it’s obvious and awkward because you obviously just wanted an enchanted bikini in your story.
There are plenty of opportunities to make characters wear less clothing. For one thing, people in the privacy of their homes tend to wear less (and everybody loves a good in-the-room shirt-change—they’re almost mandatory on supernatural dramas). Also, an kind of shape-shifter who does much more than swap faces is going to have a clothing problem. Unless you are using fairytale/Harry Potter magic where clothes transform, too, most versions of werewolves are going to have issues with their clothing. Same thing for someone who turns into a hawk or vapor or a fire golem or a giant squid.
But if you’re telling a story about a fantasy world and you want a warrior man or woman who is under-dressed, consider other things. Take Young Justice (the recent television series). Superboy often ends up with his shirt partially or completely destroyed, because while he is all but invulnerable, his shirt is made of cotton and does not take as well to being slashed at by claws or set on fire or hit with a blast from an energy weapon.
An invulnerable warrior would not necessarily have invulnerable clothing or armor, and if there were some rare material that was nearly as invulnerable as the warrior herself/himself, it might be expensive. I think that it’s a bit of a cheap move, but someone who is invulnerable and on a tight budget might spend the money on “modesty” armor that can survive a blast of dragonfire or being gnawed on by a pack of wolves. After that, you keep the story engaging and stakesy by deciding upon that unbreakable warrior’s vulnerabilities (drowning, starvation, suffocation, inhaled or ingested poison, magic, telepathy, kryptonite, whatever).
But even if you got yourself a dragonscale loincloth or a diamondmail bikini, you’d still wear clothing of some sort over that. And it probably wouldn’t be skintight. You don’t have to be ashamed of your body to not wear a catsuit—you might just want to be comfortable or not stick out like a nothing-to-the-imagination thumb in the middle of a crowd.
(You needn’t make such a character completely indestructible — there are a lot of superpowers that make a person not need actual armor, including unbreakable skin (which leaves you immune to cuts, not to bruises and crushing attacks) and regeneration (like a vampire or Wolverine), though most regenerators would probably want armor anyway)
Great response! simonjadis makes some really good points!
mod note: best parts bolded for emphasis
This week’s throwback: a real blast from the past! Comprehensive explanation of why “bikini armor makes no sense” is a completely different issue from “bikini armor is unrealistic".
As we explained in many posts before and after this old reblog, bikini armor is such an inherently absurd concept that it shatters suspension of disbelief for even most lavishly fantastic setting (particularly if male armor is conveniently not skimpy in comparison).
When there are so many more reasonable scenarios to put fanservice in your work than fashioning female armor into lingerie/fetishwear (and there always are), “fantasy isn’t supposed to be realistic” rhetoric just won’t cut it.