The Beauty of Blackness and Representation in ‘The Powerpuff Girls’
The new Powerpuff Girl, Bliss, is so important to little brown girls around the world who sit watching the rebooted version of the show today.
By Jonita Davis
There used to be only one way to get my three girls, ages 2, 4, and 6 to settle down long enough to give me a break. I would pop in a DVD of The Powerpuff Girls cartoons or turn to a marathon on Cartoon Network. The girls would watch the show, mesmerized by the colors, the story, and the action for at least a half hour.
They each had a designated Powerpuff Girl. The oldest was Blossom, the four-year-old was Buttercup, and the youngest was always Bubbles. They would keep these parts for years, and act out their own fights for the safety of Townsville in my living room. Many a lamp and three couches were sacrificed to the cause.
My little brown-skinned girls would imagine themselves as these bold, magical characters and would spend hours recreating their favorite episodes or making up completely new villains and storylines. When their little brother came along a few years later, he would assume the role of either the professor or the villain of the hour. No, he could not be one of The Powerpuff Girls, those parts were only for girls.
I have to admit that I loved seeing my girls using their imaginations to make up stories that required courage, confidence, and even more imagination to fulfill. I truly believed that seeing girls in a position of power and intelligence on screen had something to do with the confidence and strength my girls have now. Today, my Blossom is about to celebrate her 21st birthday in a few days. My Buttercup is 1500 miles away at college, and my Bubbles is working her way through her senior year in high school. They are all strong and independent women. I think all those Powerpuff Girls sessions had something to do with that.
When I found out about the newest character, I immediately told my high school senior, who responded, “Don’t play with my emotions, mother.”
We planned to watch the show when it came on. Before that, I asked her about the old version. It turns out that, all those years ago, my girls had noticed what I did, that their idols were a bit paler than we are. I didn’t think kids even thought of that, but my Bubbles told otherwise. “Why do you think we were obsessed with straightening our hair until a few years ago? All of our favorite characters are white with so-called beautiful hair—straight hair. Even today I still think I should flat-iron my curls to make them prettier.” Her words hit home and made me wish that I could have offered more models for the girls while they were growing up.
This is why I think the new Powerpuff Girl, Bliss, is so important to little brown girls around the world who sit watching the rebooted version of the show today. My girls had confidence in their abilities. Their white Powerpuff Girls gave that much. However, my girls were missing a model of strength and blackness that could instill a confidence in not only their skills but also in their own beauty. They needed some character to tell them that brown skin was just as beautiful and different hair was just as pretty.
We watched the new movie event with Bliss and her sisters, and I have to say that the showrunners did a lot of things right despite the outcry from adult white fans longing for their favorite threesome. Bliss has an otherness that still keeps her separate from the other sisters. That otherness is her age and her powers. Black girls will identify with this because, in diverse groups, the black girls often embody that otherness as well. My Bubbles told me this while we watched. Although I did not like the idea of Bliss having no control of her emotions—as it feeds into nasty stereotypes about black girls—that too can become an important conversation point between parents and black girls watching the show.
I asked my Bubbles what it would have been like having Bliss when she was younger. She responded, “It would have been normal.”
That idea of having a black character as “normal” still bothered me, however. It still does as I view all the nasty comments on social media accusing Cartoon Network and Powerpuff Girl showrunners of “ruining childhoods,” pandering to “minorities,” and forcing politics on a kid’s show. These people grew up watching the first version with no idea that something was not right. They assumed the roles, recreated stories, and bought the memorabilia with no idea that something was missing. For those kids, there was nothing amiss. Their normal matched their reality. The characters were as pale as the people the kids interacted with every day.
Cancel this show. She is so out of place
— 🎵Lew🎵 (@YourBuddyLew) September 17, 2017
STOP RUINING MY CHILDHOOD
— ️ٓ (@loolfuckoff) September 17, 2017
For my little girls and many others, however, there was always something “not right,” something that kept them from fully assuming the personas of the characters they loved. For these girls, normal was having your reality differ from the media that you loved. Your family was brown-skinned people, but your favorite characters were all white. They were beautiful and confident, but none of them looked like you. So, what was the message here? “Straighten the hell out of that curl, girl. It ain’t normal.”
Adding just one character of color then would have changed things. That’s why I am so proud of Cartoon Network for finally recognizing that and rectifying it. Yes, there are still problems, but the representation is the important thing here. I hope they keep Bliss on for good, ignoring the protests of white adults who never had to question their identities at an early age. Maybe having a character who does NOT look like them can bring some perspective to those people—a new normal that is a tad closer to what my girls felt each time they got ready to turn my living room into Townsville and rescue humanity once again.
Author Bio: Jonita Davis is a writer, lecturer, and mother who loves to write about the places where parenting, race, and pop culture intersect. You can catch her on Twitter as @SurviTeensNtots or at www.jonitadavis.com.
Every single dollar matters to us—especially now when media is under constant threat. Your support is essential and your generosity is why Wear Your Voice keeps going! You are a part of the resistance that is needed—uplifting Black and brown feminists through your pledges is the direct community support that allows us to make more space for marginalized voices. For as little as $1 every month you can be a part of this journey with us. This platform is our way of making necessary and positive change, and together we can keep growing.