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Should We All Lighten Up About Barbie?

By Alice Bradley

barbie.jpg
Photo by Picklepud

Recently in Babble, there was a Smackdown on the topic of Barbie: Yay or Nay? Both writers ended up on the same side, which made the Smackdown decidedly… un-smackdowny. No one was smacked down, in other words. There was no smacking. Down. Jeanne Sager and Mike Adamick both gave Barbie, in the end, a reluctant yay. Actually, more like an naaaa-okay.

Like most of us modern feminist liberal parents, Jeanne Sager never expected to buy her daughter a Barbie. And she didn’t. But then her daughter received one as a gift—and fell in love. ” I didn’t even know she knew who Barbie was,” Sager writes. But she did, and she knew it was something to covet.

So her daughter showed a moderate level of interest in Barbie, undressing her and dressing her over and over. Eventually she moved on to other toys. And in the end, what happened to her daughter? Nothing. “It’s a doll,” observes Sager. Just a doll that doesn’t have any more hold over her daughter’s psyche than her other toys. “She seems no more attuned to her own body after playing with a Barbie, no more obsessed with hair, clothes, make-up or weight.”
Mike Adamick’s daughter also received a Barbie for Christmas, much to his consternation. He worried that Barbie was a less than exemplary role model for a girl’s evolving notion of herself. He knew of a young girl who wanted to diet, to be more like her Barbie. “Some young girls see Barbie, want her body and then destroy their own. After all, isn’t Barbie a model for the perfect female?”

But then he, too, found that Barbie didn’t have much of an impact on his kid. Eventually, he realized there’s a lot more that influences a girl (or a boy) than just a single toy. “It dawned on me,” observed Adamick, “that I, her father, probably have a lot more sway over how she will one day view herself and her body than some stupid doll.” So it turned out that Barbie wasn’t the evil soul-killing machine out to destroy their daughters’ fragile self-identities—she was just a doll. A doll with exceedingly weird proportions, sure. But at least she wasn’t a Bratz. Those are insane.

I’m interested to hear what you guys think about Barbies. I don’t have a daughter, but I was a girl—a girl besotted with the world of Barbie. I had the Barbie Dream Boat and the Barbie Airplane and the Barbie Corvette. I had an entire tiny Barbie wardrobe filled with numerous Barbie outfits. I can still remember picking out those tiny get-ups in the toy store, with their eensy shoes. I just salivated a little. Over tiny plastic shoes.

I don’t ever remember feeling that I had to look like Barbie. I didn’t gaze into Barbie’s face and dream of someday being that beautiful. Barbie didn’t really do it for me, looks-wise. I was more into the Barbie accoutrements than the doll itself. First of all, she had feet that left her permanently on tippy-toe, the better to fit her high heels onto. Her hair was way too big for my tastes. And she didn’t even have nipples. Barbie was a blank slate, waiting to be clothed and sent off on an adventure. Barbie often interacted with the Hulk and the Green Lantern or visited my doll house, where she walked amongst all the stubby doll house figures like some benign, mute super model. Barbie was part of a much larger imaginary world, for me.

I have plenty of friends who were forbidden Barbie, and if you were to look at us all together, I don’t think you would pick out the Barbie owner among us. I don’t wear heels. I am unlikely to dress as a flight attendant. My hair is not bleached blonde. I have never suffered an eating disorder. I don’t think Barbie inflicted any lasting damage.
But Barbie today is different from the Barbie I grew up with. I couldn’t help but notice, on a recent visit to Target, that the Barbie wardrobe had taken a definite turn for the, well, trashy. I might feel less comfortable purchasing a Barbie for my daughter if it meant that she would parade around my house in fishnet stockings, a yellow mini, and a silver tube top. I don’t know what the current Barbie accessories are, so if they’ve moved away from vehicles and toward, say, princess castles, I would be less than happy. This is where I defer to the current parents of daughters. What’s your stance on Barbie? What have your experiences been? Is Barbie dangerous, or benign?

 

Alice Bradley
About the Author

Alice Bradley

Alice Bradley was a regular contributor to Alpha Mom, writing about current events as they related to parenting. You can read about her daily life at her personal blog, Finslippy.

...

Alice Bradley was a regular contributor to Alpha Mom, writing about current events as they related to parenting. You can read about her daily life at her personal blog, Finslippy.

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Laurellee
Guest
Laurellee

My 3 year old has 3 Barbies and a ken doll–and this feminist women’s studies major mama bought all of them for her. I loved Barbies when I was little, and I love playing Barbies with my daughter. We have so much fun, and I know that I have much more influence than any of her dolls, Barbie or otherwise. One Barbie has pink hair with a black stripe, one is the typical blonde, one is hispanic looking, and her Ken is black with a slight fro. Behold, the unity of the Barbie world! But f*ck no, there will be… Read more »

Kirstie
Guest
Kirstie

Barbie causes eating disorders .. really?
I never was one for Barbie as a kid. I had a few, but I never took any interest, according to my mom – I was instead obsessed with my Fischer-Price dollhouse, and if you recall, all the dolls in that were rather stocky. Probably not too body-image damaging, right?
I still ended up struggling with an eating disorder .. it’s not the dolls your daughter plays with. It’s the attitudes of the people around her that will have the most influence.

Ariel
Guest

I was a barbie girl and never had an eating disorder. And I loved LOVED barbie! And I simply understood, looking at my mom, that I’d probably look like her and I was cool with that. 6 Feet and big boobs simply were not in my stack of genetic cards. Barbie was, simply, a pretty doll. I have a 5 year old daughter who loves barbies and I’m so fine with that- because she also loves Star Wars (God, the torture! I cannot take whiny Luke one more freaking time this week!)and riding her bike and camping and dancing and… Read more »

tara
Guest

true confession: my barbies (yep, plural) were taken away from me when i was 5 because i went thru a *phase* (hated that word!) where barbie’s clothes would, oddly, slip right off whenever she was slow dancing with ken. around the same time, someone (not naming names) drew a more anatomically correct-looking wee-wee on ken’s, uh, lump … draw whatever conclusions you’d like from any of this.

Asha Dornfest {Parent Hacks}
Guest

My answer to most parenting brouhahas is “really? Is this really worth fighting about?” So I’m generally not a Barbie hater. As a child I played with Barbie (including the most awesome 70s Cabana set). My daughter plays with Barbies as well. However, to say that “my kid played with a Barbie and nothing happened” is a little misleading. No one will argue that the day after intense Barbie play most five year-olds will consider Weight Watchers membership. It’s a much longer-term, more subtle message about body image, beauty, gender roles, consumerism, and priorities. So while I’m not a 90-pound,… Read more »

jessica
Guest

I loved playing with my Barbies as a child. My mom passed down all her Barbie dolls to me and one day I will pass them down to my daughter. I never struggled with self image. I never once wished I looked like Barbie. I agree with Kirstie who wrote in the comments “it’s not the dolls your daughter plays with. It’s the attitudes of the people around her that will have the most influence.” The only time I was remotely influenced by Barbie was last summer. I purchased a pair of black Marc Jacob plastic flats. They reminded me… Read more »

Diaper Cake Becca
Guest

I played with barbies but mostly because my friends did. I remember really wanting the Barbie Jeep and Horse trailer one Christmas and being super excited that Santa brought me that…..but I don’t have any firm memories of actually playing with the barbies. I haven’t bought any for my 3 and 4 year old daughters….although I am sure, eventually, I will. I must admit there is a bit of a block in my mind about it. But, honestly, I just don’t want to have to be stepping on the junk in the middle of the night. Barbie’s accesories are more… Read more »

suburbancorrespondent
Guest

Note to Diaper Cake Becca: let me know when the “kiddos” reach the cleaning up after themselves stage – I’ve been waiting 17 years. I just make sure to throw out those darn shoes as soon as we buy an outfit, after reading this piece of news.

Deb
Guest
Deb

Inevitably, between yard sales, handmedowns and the like my daughter (now 10) has acquired many barbies. Less said, we figured the better, but we did try when it came up to point out how truly bizarre looking barbies are (heel cord extensions, printed on underwear, no nipples). Our daughter for a long time offered a fairly spirited defense and sometimes would spend hours dressing her barbies up (not unlike the hours she spends designing clothes on paper). But when it came down to it for her, they just weren’t very much fun to play with (in comparison, say, to playmobils).… Read more »

Nell (Deb's daughter)
Guest
Nell (Deb's daughter)

I’m 10. And I used to love playing with barbies until I realized that their heads came off and then I started switching their heads and making them look different. And I think that Barbie’s proportions are bizarre — though not as bizarre as Bratz. I mean who has a head that’s half their body weight and a waist that’s two inches wide. And I think it’s really bad of the company to make that their example of being a woman. Even Kelly dolls have make up! When I look at a Barbie I think oh I’m glad I don’t… Read more »

Cobs
Guest
Cobs

I had a Barbie (actually several) as a kid and I didn’t even THINK about the way she looked – to me, she was a stand-in for whatever character my imagination wanted to concot that day (so why not use any other dolls? Because Barbie had all the add ons and she was marketed so well – those pink boxes!) I do remember thinking that I wish my Barbie looked more like me, but I never wanted to look like her – ugh – that hair, got tangled so easily and her heads kept falling off…

Que
Guest

I am 15, and I remember making up new episodes of The Bachelor with our many Barbies and one New Kids on the Block Barbie…I don’t think that Barbie affected my perception of body image at all. I was a really independent child, though, and I remember making comments about how Barbie wasn’t realistic and that no one lived their lives or wore clothes like Barbie. (Remember Barbie’s pregnant friend with detachable stomach? THAT was creepy.) What DID make me want to be skinny as a child were the girls around me who were rail-thin and had boyfriends in the… Read more »

kate
Guest

I had a couple Barbies, but I just wasn’t that into her. I actually did a project on Barbie to complete my senior year of college. Barbie in the beginning was pretty feminist. She had jobs in a time where many women were in the home. And last I knew, whenever there was a wedding dress, it was always “wedding fantasy” or “bridal dream” so she never (technically) got married. But when I last looked at them, there were definitely a lot of outfits and accessories that screamed SLUT to me much more than LIBERATED WOMAN. And if she’s a… Read more »

Ally
Guest
Ally

I don’t have any children, but I had a bunch of hand-me-down Barbies from my cousin when I was a young’n, and I remember two favorites: one was a blonde and wore a denim jacket, and the other one had a button which made her hair grow. She was the bomb. I’d like to consider myself fairly well-adjusted.
Now my cousin who owned the Barbies before me…was a boy. (He turned out to be straight.) What do y’all think about boys playing with Barbies?

jen
Guest
jen

I think it’s not so much the body image as the diva-ish attitude that is irritating about Barbie and her ridiculous Bratz counterparts. But will my daughter grow up to drive a convertible pink corvette with a license plate that reads PRNCESS? Probably not.

Stephanie
Guest
Stephanie

I swore when my daughter was little (she’s now ten) that I’d never buy her a Barbie. Even though I played with Barbies as a kid and didn’t seem to suffer any damage (I liked setting up elaborate houses for the dolls with boxes and all kinds of recycled junk, then I’d move on to something else as soon as the house was finished), I just didn’t want to expose my daughter to the kinds of images Barbie embodied. My parents ended up buying her a couple of Barbies, against my wishes. My daughter played with them a couple of… Read more »

Michelle Lamar
Guest

I have two daughters. I didn’t take a hard stand on the Barbie issue. I think whatever parents ban from their kids, THAT is what kids want most. One of my daughters loved all the Barbie stuff, one didn’t. I am with Kristie…it’s the attitudes of the people around your daughter that will make the biggest impact.

Jill-e-b
Guest
Jill-e-b

I played with Barbies as a kid and it never once occurred to me to aspire to look like my dolls. I just liked all of the different outfits Barbie had. When I was four or five, the person I wanted to look like was Wonder Woman. Even then, I thought there was something unsettling about Barbie’s unnatural proportions. My six-year-old niece has Barbie dolls, and when I brought the topic up, she told me that she thought Barbie’s figure was “Weird. People don’t look like that.” I’m with Kirstie and Jessica – parental attitudes and example are what make… Read more »

Fairly Odd Mother
Guest

I grew up loving Barbie and probably played it a little TOO long (one particularly memorable moment was when my friend’s mom came down in their ‘rec room’ and found all the Barbies lying down around the pool with a Ken on top of them). My girls now have an impressive number of Barbies, a house, a van (which inexplicably has a light-up hot tub attached), a pool, a few cars and loads of clothes which are rarely on their body. Barbie is mostly naked. They use them to role play, at least that is what I hear them doing… Read more »

Ellen
Guest
Ellen

I loved Barbie; I had Barbie, Midge, and Skipper and the old cardboard Dream House. No Kens, so we had to borrow my brother’s GI Joe. My daughter didn’t play with hers for very long. I think it would be interesting for someone (anyone looking for a thesis idea?) to see if parents who object to girls playing with Barbies also object to boys playing with toy guns. Or video games. My kids had them all, and grew up to be fine upstanding adults. College degrees. No criminal records. No eating disorders.

PB Rippey/sleepless mama
Guest

There was definitely a “Barbie mystique” I was aware of, but once I HAD the doll, that went away pretty fast–along with her shoes, which were annoying and disappointing because they never stayed on–in fact her clothes never stayed on properly either or looked as good on her as in the commercials. Poor B. She became just another doll to me and couldn’t hold a candle to my books.

Lisa V
Guest

I had Barbie growing up, and it didn’t make me a bubble headed bleach blonde. Loreal and not studying algebra did that. I have three daughters aged 17 to 10, they all played or play with Barbie. They had cute clothes, they had slutty clothes. They had VW bugs and houses. But mostly Barbie and all her cloney friends lived in a lesbian colony in ball gowns, with never a Ken darkening the door. It didn’t make them think they should be her as a grown-up anymore than they thought they should be an escaped slave like their American Girl… Read more »

cagey
Guest

As I always say, my first serious boyfriend did far more damage to my self-esteem and body image than a mutant plastic toy EVER did. I will let my girl play with Barbies if she so desires, all the while trying to teach her to not listen to some fool she happens to date in college.

Rita Arens
Guest

I had an eating disorder, and I wished I was as skinny as Barbie. My daughter has about five Barbies. If you’re predisposed to an eating disorder, you will grasp on to any example of thinness, because that’s how you’ve decided you don’t measure up in society. It’s a mental health issue that plays itself out physically. If I hadn’t had Barbie, I would’ve just obsessed harder over Seventeen and Sassy. I did that, too. If you want to feel bad about your body, you can find plenty of images to obsess on even if your parents lock you in… Read more »

Lyla
Guest
Lyla

I played with barbies as a kid and I don’t remember ever thinking that I was supposed to look like Barbie. I think they are fine.

Savannah
Guest
Savannah

i’m 17 and a senior in highschool. i decided to do my topic on banning barbie. personally i’m pro-barbie. when i was little i had a whole rubbermaid container of them, plus a corvette, jeep, vw bug and a few horses. i also was giving toy firetrucks and ambulance to play with. i spent most of my time crashing barbies cars, then folding her up to smoosh her into the back of my ambulance. i was raised in a VERY feminist house, with a paramedic for a mom and a firefighter as a dad. i was also told i could do… Read more »

Elizabeth Dove
Guest
Elizabeth Dove

I think your friend had the right idea about her daughter recieving a Barbie. I think the attitude parents throw at Barbies or other iconic American symbols is inheireted by their children. I think its sad to see a thin blond adult woman brag about the way she cut her dolls heads off as a child. Your friend and many other parents (adults, children, etc) have strong opinions about Barbie, and she is just a doll, the child enjoyed it for the moment and moved on. A lecture about poor self-esteem, Barbie’s boob porportion, and how much a dream house… Read more »

Delena
Guest
Delena

Too much emphasis and is given on barbie. It’s essentially just a doll. I’ve had a barbie and I didn’t ever want to try and look like her. It’s a toy. You dress her up, do her hair and get her ready for all sorts of things. If people
Think too much of this then what should children play with? I think it’s ridiculous. As a parent it’s your job to teach your child right and wrong, values. You would also point out what you want them to wear etc..