Requests for Reconsideration at the Public Library Part Three: Scantily Clad Superheroes

Banned and Challenged Books, Censorship

By: Jacqui Higgins-Dailey

In my last post, I talked about a tween who requested we remove a title from our collection due to the topic of changing bodies and breasts in a children’s chapter book. Bodies are a controversial topic in children’s books and seem to be a theme for titles that are challenged at Phoenix Public Library. Whether the topic is puberty, sex, abuse or body image, there are a wide range of opinions on what is appropriate for children at every age level. As a librarian – and this is something I say a lot – it is not up to me to determine what is appropriate for anyone’s individual child. It’s my job to make sure that there is a wide range of topics and titles for children from a diverse range of backgrounds to meet many families’ needs.

The third title that came across my desk for reconsideration was, as usual, quite a surprise. It was a DK Reader Level 3 book titled Wolverine: Awesome Powers by Michael Teitelbaum. The issue was with a superhero in the book that was wearing a typical female superhero costume: a bikini. There is something to be discussed, especially with children, about women’s body image stereotypes and the unrealistic portrayal of women’s bodies in comics and graphic novels. However, the discussion is separate from the issue of censorship. There is a fine line between body image discussion and body shaming and I do understand the delicate balance that comes with helping children understand and grasp a more realistic and inclusive idea of bodies while also making sure that we do not shame people for their attire and style. In this case, the parent of the child who read the title, shared her concern that the superhero was wearing “lingerie” and deemed it “adult content” in a children’s book and asked that we remove it from our shelves.

I’m sure you know what my response was. We did not remove the title from our shelves. Honestly, the superhero in question was wearing just as much as many of the scantily clad male superheroes that went without comment. Without addressing this double standard, I pointed out that the title had been favorably reviewed, circulated in our collection at a high rate and contained typical comic book images.

It’s hard to see how frequently parents have a problem with certain books because of their relationship to the female body. I feel disheartened when I see these types of concerns on such a regular basis – not just in the form of requests for removal, but in daily, casual conversations. It’s a challenge but luckily I also notice that these important discussions about double standards, body image and dangers of body shaming are happening more frequently.

What do you do when you have to address a customer’s concern about women’s body image portrayals in children’s literature – or in any literature? Have you also noticed these requests for removal are more frequent when women’s bodies are involved?

Jacqui Higgins-Dailey

Jacqui Higgins-Dailey has been a public librarian for 10 years. After three years as adjunct faculty, she is currently a full-time residential faculty librarian at Glendale Community College in Arizona. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from California State University, Chico and a masters in library science from the University of North Texas. She is passionate about information literacy instruction and loves to read, write, hike and travel.

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