Growing up, I remember how frustrating it was that my brother could swipe away the Ninja Turtles and Ghostbusters action figures that I was playing with if he decided he wanted to play with them. They were his toys after all. Although we shared toys like Lego and Nintendo, the bulk of my toys were Barbie, horses, and Littlest Pet Shop.
Now, Warner Brothers, DC Comics, and Mattel are teaming up to make sure that girls will have action figures of their own to play with: They will be launching DC Super Hero Girls, a line of action figures created especially for 6 to 12 year old girls.
According to the companies, the heroines form a “powerful and diverse line-up of female characters” with “strong, athletic bodies.” They will “build character and confidence” and empower girls to “achieve their true potential.”
On the surface, this is awesome news!
It’s great that girls will be able to play with dolls that aren’t Barbie. DC Super Hero Girls look dynamic and emphasize action. Playing with these heroines could help girls focus on what their bodies can do, rather than how their bodies look. Kids’ imaginary storylines might center on power and independence, rather than on trying on clothes or going on dates with Ken.
Below the surface, though, things look less optimistic…
At first glance, I actually thought the DC Super Hero Girls were a new line of Barbies. The companies claim that the heroines are diverse and have athletic bodies. Yet, their bodies perfectly resemble the beauty ideal that constantly bombards us! The girls are tall, slim, and hourglass-shaped, and — unlike their male counterparts — it’s hard to identify any muscles on their bodies. Also, all but two of the seven heroines are white.
DC Super Hero Girls will only confirm society’s narrow definition of beauty, and even equate it with strength (which is ridiculous, because strong bodies are not necessarily thin bodies). If DC Super Hero Girls are to be truly diverse, the companies will need to incorporate girls of different body shapes and ethnicities.
Another thing that bothers me about DC Super Hero Girls is that there is such an emphasis on “girls’ toys.” Why must toys be either for girls or for boys? Are boys not allowed to play with DC Super Hero Girls? Should girls not play with Batman?
Instead of coming up with “girl versions” of so-called boys’ toys, we need to figure out how to make children feel that they can play with whatever they want — no labels attached. This would require a multi-pronged approach. For example, toy companies could change their marketing strategy by including both girls and boys in their advertisements, regardless of the toy being sold.
Parents could play a big role, too. I loved my brother’s action figures. I’m lucky that my parents were cool with that, and didn’t scold me for coveting them as much as I did.
What’s your verdict? DC Super Hero Girls: Yea or nay?
Jessica Alleva is a PhD student at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. Her research focuses on interventions for improving body image. She is also passionate about research on the impact of media and sexual objectification on body image.