“Listen, I know I wasn’t a great mother, but one way or another, I ended up with two great kids. Good enough to risk my bony old butt for, anyway.” —Toph Beifong
I’ve enjoyed corresponding with different artists when asking permission to use their work for Sartorially Smart Heroines and have made contacts with some awesome people, but Drake is the first to give me a “Hellz yeah!” in his reply. Enthusiasm like that is what keeps me working at this blog in spite of having such a gnarly schedule right now.
So, this may sound odd to most fans of Avatar: the Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, but I technically became familiar with Lin Beifong before Toph Beifong. I’d heard a lot of good things about this Korra show and knew that it was connected to this Avatar show that I’d also heard a lot of good things about. But since I don’t have Nickelodeon, I just never took time to check them out. After Korra: Book 4 wrapped up, I finally sat down and watched all four seasons of Korra in crappy, YouTube quality. I loved the series and soon ordered all four seasons on DVD. I’ve since watched Avatar (again, in crappy, YouTube quality) but haven’t gotten around to ordering the DVDs yet.
Like all of the heroines from Avatar and Korra, I found the Beifong women to be strong, smartly written characters—where leadership apparently runs in the family. Toph and Lin both served as Republic City’s Chief of Police, while Su united the Metal Clan and built the city of Zaofu. I love, as well, that in Lin and Su we have two powerful middle-aged women capable of kicking ass against some fairly nasty opponents. And while we mostly see Toph fight as a young girl, her appearances in The Legend of Korra assure us fans that she hasn’t gotten any less feisty in her old age. (Again, I apologize for the YouTube quality…)
Metal benders make up the elite division of Republic City’s police force. As Chief of Police, Toph and Lin wear metal armor that they can don or remove pretty much at will with their bending. Though there are clear stylistic differences, both feature solid but flexible protection against fire blades or jagged rocks thrown by triad fire or earth benders. Both segmented (lamellar?) cuirasses offer full torso coverage, as well as greaves and vambraces for leg and arm protection against hand-to-hand strikes from Equalist chi-blockers. Both suits feature loose pants and arming tunics for unhindered movement in combat.
There are some interesting divergences between their armors as well. Where Toph’s segmented spaulders reach from shoulder to elbow, Lin’s upper arms are covered by a streamlined rerebrace for better flexibility. While Lin’s metal boots have a retractable sole for using her seismic sense to detect underground tunnels and passages, Toph uses her sense to compensate for her blindness, using metal gaiters to keep her bare feet in contact with the earth at all times.
Matriarch of the Metal Clan, Su Beifong wears a slightly dressier, but no less practical armor for combat situations. Her cuirass and spaulders keep her upper torso protected without hindering flexibility at the waist and hips. Her boots and greaves should protect from disabling blows to the lower legs. Though not really ideal for, say, a trek through the bog, her tunic, pants, and arming coat are light and flowing for martial arts combat against Earth Empire soldiers or Red Lotus anarchists.
The most common weapons for metal-bender fighters are coils of retractable cables for subduing opponents, swinging to the rescue, or exiting airships at high altitude. Toph and Su wear theirs in holsters at their hips, while Lin’s cables thread through her armored sleeves and into a winch on her back. In addition, Lin and Su both use retractable metal blades up their sleeves for when the fighting gets personal or for smashing out the windows of Equalist mecha tanks. Beyond that, as metal benders and earth benders, our heroines can use pretty much any slab of metal or chunk of dirt as impromptu weapons.
When I hear people bring up the lack of representation of middle-aged and older women in adventure stories and other media, I tend to point them toward the Beifong ladies and their roles in The Legend of Korra. Feisty and independent, it’s clear that Toph raised her daughters to be the same. All around I love their strong, badass portrayals throughout the series—not portrayals one would inherently expect from a young-adult action/adventure tale, at any rate.
Huge thanks to Drake for his enthusiasm and for letting me borrow the Beifongs for the blog. Screen captures taken from The Legend of Korra DVDs, seasons 1 and 4, and are property of Nickelodeon and creators Brian Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino. Thanks as always for reading, folks. Take care and stay awesome!