Toph Beifong originates from a series called Avatar: The Last Airbender.
This is a world where hybrid animals and humans live side by side and their world exists parallel to a spirit world. In this universe human civilization is divided up into four large nations including Water Tribes, the Earth Kingdom, the Fire Nation, and the Air Nomads. Each nation is the primary home of specific “benders”. Benders are humans who have the ability to control and manipulate a specific element such as earth, water, fire, and air.
There is only one person who can bend all four elements and that would be a human known as The Avatar. The Avatar is the bridge between the human world and the spirit world and acts as a means to help maintain peace and balance within both worlds. The Avatar is reincarnated in a cycle of fire, air, water, and earth. In the first series the Avatars name is Aang. Aang needs to master his ability to control all four elements in order to save the world from the Fire Nation as they are trying to dominate and control all of the other nations. Due to this he needed to seek out a teacher that could train him in the art of earth bending. Enter Toph Beifong.
When we first meet Toph we find that she is the young daughter of a wealthy upper class parents. Being born blind her parents became extremely overprotective of her, hardly even allowing her to go outside. Toph was constantly being looked down upon and treated in a condescending manner due to her disability, even by her own parents. Despite this Toph didn’t see herself as weak or helpless. In a flashback the audience learns that Toph got lost in a cave one day when she was younger and came across badgermoles. These large creatures were also blind but had the ability to earth bend. These creatures taught her the art of earthbending, allowing her to use it as an extension of her senses and even using as a means to “see” all of the vibrations that pass through the earth around her.
Despite her parents viewing her as this weak helpless child Toph had managed to master earth bending, even creating her own style of using it. Keeping her abilities a secret she would often sneak out and participate in underground earth bending tournaments where she took on opponents more than half her size and twice her age and still became the champion known as “The blind bandit”.
Though she was initially uninterested in getting involved in the war and helping Aang she ended up deciding that she was sick of her old current life and wanted to get away from it and the people who saw her as something lesser than them.
Toph becomes an extremely powerful member of the team despite being the smallest, youngest, and blind on top of that. She is a master of earth bending and even becomes the first person ever to discover the ability to metal bend. As she grows older she becomes the first Chief of police for Republic city and created the Metalbending Police Force. She eventually has two daughters with two different men, one of whom succeeds her as Chief of Police as she sets out to roam the world in search of enlightenment.
Based on feminist critique work and my own beliefs I think Toph is an excellent example of a feminist character. Her back story is pretty much a complete tear down of certain gendered stereotypes. She is presented as this quiet, timid, weak, pretty little girl when in reality she is strong, intelligent, rough, and outspoken. She is wise beyond her years and is what I would consider an exceptional role model not only for women and young girls but for those with disabilities as well. Rather than concern for her looks she rather fights for fun to show her power. She goes against her family’s wishes and expectations of her and goes beyond that, creating her own path and making something of herself.
I think a great example of how Toph goes against societal norms and what is expected of her as a female is a scene that is more subtle and not even related to her fighting skill though. There is an episode where Toph and Katara, a female waterbender who is also teaching Aang, go on a sort of girls day out. They go to a spa together and Toph finds enjoyment getting to spend time with someone closer to her age. Previously her parents home-schooled her and kept her at home, leading her to lack much in the way of friends. While at the spa Toph and Katara get their face done up in makeup. Neither of them usually wear makeup so when it comes out overdone Katara doesn’t really notice.
As they walk home a group of other girls walk by and laugh at them for the makeup and how badly it’s done. Toph seems to be upset by this and Katara feels bad about it, thinking it was her fault for suggesting going to the spa in the first place. Things are not as she expects however. Toph goes on to explain that looks never mattered to her, looks were never something that was important, after all, she was blind. Her parents may have had concerns for appearances but what Toph was concerned with was a person’s personality. After she explains this to Katara she proceeds to use her earth bending skill to knock the rather rude girls into the nearby river, getting a little revenge.
Toph is always covered in dirt, has messy hair, picks her nose, teeth, and nails, but she could care less. She goes completely against the idea of girls needing to be prim and proper as well as “beautiful” 24/7. I think this is a great example of breaking out of norm and going against the stereotypes and expectations put upon females. This isn’t to say that some of her habits aren’t necessarily gross or that women can’t enjoy dressing up in makeup or having what are classified as feminine traits but I think it is important that the entire spectrum of what a woman can really be is represented in all forms of media. All women are different, with different interests and desires. We can’t all expected to fit into one archetype and I think Toph is a great example of this and the diversity that more forms of media should have.