February 20, 2012

Lessons from Barbie

I have seen pictures of me in dresses as a very young child, and apparently there was one doll I actually liked. But from as far back as I have memories, I was not the least bit, well, girly. Or interested in traditionally girly things.

I was what one might call a tomboy. I would choose climbing trees over playing house. Preferred riding my bike to the creek to catch critters to dressing up dolls. In fact, I hated dolls, especially Barbie.

One time I was given a large plastic Barbie head on a stand. You were supposed to do her hair and make-up. All the tools and accessories to do so came with her head. She had long flowing locks of blonde hair, blue eyes and pink lips. I cut off all her hair and took a Sharpie to her face.

I’m sure a psychiatrist could have a field day with that. I’m actually surprised my parents didn’t drag me to one after that episode. It was not the first time I had defiled a Barbie. I think even at a very young age I did not like what she represented. I still don’t, to this day. 

Now that I have a little girl of my own, I've been taking another look at Barbie.

Overall, I believe in letting my daughter play with whatever she is interested in. I have not attempted to steer her in any particular direction or control what she gravitates toward. I try very hard not to label things as being for boys or girls. She can like what she likes.

But Barbie makes me uncomfortable. It's not just that I don't like her personally. I worry about what my daughter might learn from her. Lesson like:

Physical perfection is paramount. 

Science has proven Barbie's proportions are not attainable without surgery. And much has been made of the potential for Barbie to affect a young girl's body image. Does she send the message, "You're just not good enough?"

Life is about the accumulation of stuff.

Barbie has a townhouse. A beach house. Cars, cars and more cars. A jet. A wardrobe that would rival that of any Hollywood star. A girl just can't have too many nice things, apparently.

Achieving physical perfection and having all the great stuff will get you a man. 

What is the point of looking great and having so many fancy things? Catching Ken. (Although his sexual orientation has been the butt of many jokes.)

Yes, I sort of mean all this to be tongue and cheek, but not entirely.

Now, Barbie has evolved over the years. Her waist has been widened - slightly. She comes with brunette and red hair now. There are African-American Barbies. And Barbies from around the world. 

There is an I Can Be™ line of Barbies. According to Mattel's website, it is "designed to inspire your daughter to discover her dreams through a variety of empowering career-themed roles. You’ll find exquisite examples of the many directions your girls (sic) career can take."

They have the following dolls: Art teacher, Babysitter, Ballerina, Chef, Cooking teacher, Fashion Designer, Kitty Care Vet (what the heck job is that?!), Lifeguard, Movie Star, Pet Vet, Racecar (sic) Driver and Zoo Doctor. But hey, they did throw in an Architect.

Are you kidding me?!

I do not think badly of or judge people who like Barbie and/or choose to introduce their young child(ren) to her. I have friends who are quite fond of her. And I don't necessarily believe just because I don't like Barbie, I shouldn't let my daughter play with her. I am conflicted, and seriously considering banning Barbie from our home.

What are your thoughts on Barbie? Did you play with her when you were a child? Do you feel she influenced you? If so, in a positive or negative way? Do you have a little girl? Does she play with Barbie?
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