Mattel will be introducing a new doll this fall called “Black Canary” Barbie. The British newspaper The Sun carried the story first, and it was unclear from their article if the doll will be available only in the U.K. or worldwide. The inspiration for this doll is a DC Comics character of the same name. The comic book super-heroine is a martial artist and possesses a supersonic scream that shatters objects and incapacitates villains.
Black Canary was originally thought to be a villainess, but was actually an infiltrator in a criminal gang. While I will concede that her appearance has changed a bit over time, and yes, those changes have been more provocative, the general look (curvy and blond) has not really changed in the last 61 years. It seems to me that Black Canary, the comic book character, and Barbie, the doll, land pretty close to one another in terms of appearance.
While it remains to be seen if this doll will be a big seller, it comes as no surprise that it has critics. And the Christian community in the U.K. has already expressed their outrage. Christian Voice calls the doll “filth.” And while it is not clear if it was The Sun who took some editorial liberties, or if it was a quote from Christian Voice, the newspaper headline refers to the now doll as “S&M Barbie.” Given that the doll’s inspiration was a comic book character, whose sexual preferences are probably unknown, this seems a bit over the top, and only fuels the controversy unnecessarily.
I have never completely bought into the criticism of some, who suggest that Barbie creates unhealthy body image aspirations in young girls, (with what would proportionally be a 5’9″ height, 36″ bust, 18″ waist, and 33″ hips), or that her material acquisitions of clothes, homes and cars, will result in an unreasonable pursuit of these same things by grown-up former Barbie owners. I would submit that there are far greater and more potent influences in these regards than a doll that might get played with for a few years, or more likely a few months.
So, what do you think? Is a little girl playing with a doll inspired by a comic book superhero a bad thing? If it is, then surely little boys should be discouraged from playing with superhero action figures. How about games of fantasy wherein a child imagines he or she is a superhero? Should the line be drawn because the superhero (and therefore her action figure doll) wears fishnet stockings? While this particular outfit is unique, is it any more provocative than some of the other attire that can be purchased for Barbie?
Sure there are lessons to be taught about the need for propriety of dress and modesty. But hey, it’s a doll. And while there may be some strange and peculiar exceptions, I would dare say that the vast majority of little girls who are playing with Barbie dolls, still live under the authority of parents or some other adult, who can control what that little girl wears and when she wears it, if there is a concern about a level of emulation that leads to the desire to wear leather and fishnets. And if a conversation with a child on this subject is too difficult, please refer them to me. I would be happy to remind that child that while they may be super, they are not a comic book superhero. And just as they do not possess the power of an incapacitating supersonic scream, they do not dress that way either.