Body by Barbie

December 20, 2010 at 5:00 am | Posted in Lollipop | 29 Comments
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Lollipop’s Christmas list has revolved around one word this year. Barbie.

Every time I hear it, I cringe. Barbie. [Cringe.] Barbie. [Cringe.] (See?)

The ironic part is, I played with Barbies. Probably much longer than most girls. I loved them. My Barbies and their wardrobes are still in my parents’ attic somewhere. Peaches and Cream Barbie. Barbie and the Rockers. The Heart Family. Crystal Barbie. Ah, the memories.

So when I’m not asking Lollipop what else she wants for Christmas, I’m asking myself this: Why is it different now?

Here’s the simple answer: Because now I’m a mom. Because most women don’t look like Barbie. Because Barbie thinks math is hard.

But it’s more than that. It’s taken me a long time to make peace with my own body. To have that piece of pie when I wanted it. To understand that eating the entire pie was about so much more than, well, pie. To accept that I don’t look like Barbie, I never will, and that’s okay. It’s more than okay — it’s genetics at its best.

Did Barbie make my struggle tougher? Who knows? It could just as easily have been my subscription to Seventeen, the perky cheerleaders who were revered at my high school, or the sorority sisters I watched binge and purge. Or none of these things.

It could have been me. Just me.

I don’t want this for Lollipop. But I wonder if she can avoid it, if any girl can. I worry about her fledgling self-esteem. And how I can help her understand that who she is, exactly as she is, is beautiful.

I don’t think Malibu Barbie will help. So I guess I’m looking for Frumpy Barbie. Or at least Fully Clothed Barbie. Can Santa deliver one of those?

How do you feel about Barbie? How do you encourage a positive body image in your children, especially your daughters? And what’s the cringe-worthy item on your child’s Christmas list?



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  1. I love Barbie. I think it’s only adults who give a hoot about Barbie’s proportions. Little girls are just loving playing dress ups and hair pulling. Honestly, I don’t worry about it at all.

    How can you say that Barbie thinks Maths is hard? I was the proud owner of both Surgeon Barbie and Astronaut Barbie when I was a girl! x

    • When I was looking for a Barbie for Lollipop (yes, she’ll be getting one), I was going to get her Pediatrician Barbie. But she was wearing a low-cut sparkly mini-dress and I just couldn’t do it … At least Mattel could try to match the wardrobe to the profession! 🙂

      • Stacia! Are you suggesting that Pediatricians don’t wear low-cut sparkly mini-dresses? x

    • That must have been after they had the barbie that said math is hard. They got a lot of crap about it. But we feminists never forget….

  2. Paige hasn’t gotten to Barbie yet… and I kind of hope she doesn’t… I have all the same thoughts that you do. I also read the book about Barbie’s creator (I can’t remember the title, was it just Barbie?) and that didn’t help. Knowing what it took to get Barbie out didn’t give me any warm and fuzzies for her 😉

    • I know! I read a few articles on Barbie’s beginnings when I was putting this post together. Some of the marketing strategies made me a little (and a lot) sick to my stomach. I’d like to think we’ve come a long way from that, but have we really??

  3. Great post! I recently wrote one on the identical topic! Like you I played with Barbies incessantly but now am open to the idea that she may not be the best plaything for raising girls’ self-esteem. And did you know she was fashioned after a German sex doll?? Yes, it’s true, Mattell founder Ruth Handler was on vacation in Europe and got the idea for Barbie from a life size sex doll. I received some great comments on the topic, too, one reader even called Barbie a “feminist icon”! Check it out if you wish…I don’t want to spam you with a link 😉

  4. I adored Barbie – as well as Ms. Hart, a knockoff (and a brunette!). I think those are the only two dolls of that kind that I had – it was the clothing and accessories I was really after.
    I remember the first time I learned that some little girls weren’t allowed to play with Barbie. It was also the first time I thought about body image, positive or negative. Some friends of the family came to stay, and the mother explained her fears that Barbie would make her daughter have unrealistic hopes or even expectations. I didn’t even have a bra yet, and I didn’t envy Barbie her molded plastic legs, so the point mostly surprised me.
    In a college anthropology class, we watched a documentary about Barbie and had a heated debate about the root causes of negative self-image and body stuff. I still don’t really know what to think – I can’t say I’m totally satisfied with myself, physically, and the standards I’m using feel like my own. I know they’ve been influenced by media and popular images in ways I’m barely aware of, but I don’t think Barbie was much of a factor.
    In a year or two, you can get her a subscription to “New Moon” magazine to balance it out. 🙂 That’s what my mother did.
    I don’t have a daughter, but I have a son who likes guns. Help.

    • I would have loved to have sat in on that class, Leslie. How interesting! And I don’t even want to think about guns … Giggles is still going along happily with trains and tractors, so I’m going to milk that for as long as I can.

  5. I loved Barbies too. I had a house that my uncle made for me (and it was so cool I wasn’t even jealous of the pink plastic houses my friends had). The pictures on the walls of my Barbie house were pictures of my family. I also played with Barbies longer than what is probably normal!! Eventually I passed all my Barbie gear on to my younger cousin. A couple of days later her house burned down and my first thought was – oh no my Barbie stuff! (Hey, I was young.)

    Munchie loves Barbie too. I don’t think she gives any notice to her proportions… she likes to dress them in pretty clothes and send them out dancing. But sometimes she puts Barbie in her purple convertable and sends her off to work too, so I think it’s all good.

    • My Barbies always had nice houses (which I spent hours (HOURS) decorating) and good jobs, too. They’d been to college and were financially independent. I guess that does count for something!

  6. When I was little, I wanted Barbie so badly! But my mom wouldn’t get them. One friend gave me one doll that she had chopped the hair off of, and I made clothes for her. I think if a kid is really interested, they’ll find a way. Still, I don’t buy Barbie for my daughter. She is interested, because other kids are, but really, she doesn’t like dolls much, doesn’t dress them – or if she does it’s through me. And I’d rather dress groovy girls. If you’re after accessories and clothes, there are many other options.

    I think the body image stuff comes at us from all sides – toys, books, magazines, movies,… What matters most, I hope, is how you show your daughters that their value is not based on how they look.

    • I hope so, too, Kate. I worry about making my voice louder than all the others Lollipop will have screaming at her, but starting early, staying consistent, and being persistent have to count for something. (I hope.)

  7. Oh! Oh! Oh! I just found the website of an author I really like and she wrote an article about Barbie… hope the link works.

    • Good stuff, Lyndsay. I think she sums up exactly what I am thinking: “By banning the Barbie she had been trying to prevent in her daughter a recurrence of her own adolescent self-loathing. It wasn’t about her daughter at age four, but age fourteen.” And I know that can only backfire. So, like the author, I think I’ll keep my mouth shut (about Barbie specifically anyway) and just count the inventory.

  8. I think that as long as you put Barbie in the right category – fairytale fun – she’s all good. And so much fun. I loved them too. But seriously i never ever took on Barbie as a role model. She’s a doll.

    • I like the idea of thinking of Barbie as “fairytale fun.” But when I compare her to Cinderella or Tinkerbell or other characters that Lollipop is obsessed with, the difference I see is that Barbie is marketed as 100% real. There are no fairy godmothers or Never Never Lands to help perpetuate the idea of “fairytale.” That worries me.

      But she is fun. And I don’t want to deprive Lollipop of that.

  9. I think that by banning something, it just becomes that much more desirable. Only they don’t share their feelings about it. If she loves Barbie, get her one. And then talk, talk, talk about it. Always keep talking. Embrace what they love and stay involved in the conversations. Be it Barbie or toy guns or whatever else makes you cringe inside. See what they see and understand its magnetic draw.

    • “See what they see”: I love this advice. It’s so hard to do and so hard to remember to do. But I think you’re exactly right, Tracey.

  10. I wasn’t a Barbie person as a child. In fact, I think I flung them around, headless and sometimes without their Barbie clothes. My daughter is getting wind of Barbie, but I am not buying them for her yet. I suspect when the time comes, I will succumb to this demand, but in moderation.

  11. I played with Barbie for years but am lost as to what I will do with Emily when she reaches that age. I suppose that body image doesn’t necessarily come from a doll, as I never compared myself to Barbie, but comes from the parents–what we say and do when our bodies are concerned.

    The things I will soon deal with. Not having a TV will put this off for a little bit, right?

  12. Ugh. Bella is only asking for a Barbie too. I refuse to get her one. I found the girl from the Tinkerbell movie … she has brown braids and a yellow dress and a little girl’s body. That’s going to be our Barbie this year. I just can’t hand a Barbie over to my sweet 3 year old.

  13. I didn’t really play much with Barbies when I was little. I had a few, but it was never a big thing. And so far? My girls have no interest. But I imagine a day will come and then I will have to really think about all this…

  14. The first Barbie my N. got was a cast off from my niece when she was two. She was so delighted that her cousin had given her this special gift, I couldn’t take it away, but knew that we had crossed a border without my really intending to. Strangely, I have a more difficult time with what the princesses represent than Barbie — at least most Barbies are out there doing some occupation, not spending their days waiting to be rescued. Perhaps I think I survived Barbie just fine, but I wasn’t inundated with the Disney marketing, so I don’t know how that’s going to work out. I do know that I preferred the fantasy of Barbie — I would never dress like her, for example. My mom bought me the Sunshine Family, probably to compensate for issues like these, and I never liked them as well, perhaps because they were a little too much like my real life??? I do feel like a bad feminist when I let N. join in to all this, but hope not making too big a deal about it and encouraging other interests is enough to compensate.

  15. Stacia,
    Rose doesn’t know who barbie is yet, but I’m sure it’s not far off. And I will be cringing. And yet, I too loved playing barbies with friends and would have been furious if my parents banned them from me.
    It’s hard to tease out the origins of body-image issues (barbie? seventeen? hollywood?), but it’s hard to find a woman unscathed. And I do worry about my daughter. I think as someone else said, talk, talk, talk. Remind our children about all the different, normal, beautiful body types and the beautiful things we can do with our minds.

  16. I do wonder if it is possible to avoid Barbie and beauty and glamour and all of that if you are a girl. Interestingly enough, in grad school I was interviewed by a PhD student who was writing her dissertation on girls’ self image. She said that the single most significant influence on a girl’s self image is her mother – girls internalize their mothers’ words and beliefs so deeply that they impact them well into adulthood. So, while we can’t totally control the media images around us, we *can* control how *we* talk to our daughters. The fact that you don’t like Barbie is a very good sign!

    I don’t have a daughter but I do have a boy who is on the small side (he is often the smallest among his classmates), and I am very careful about never talking about his size in any kind of evaluative way. I want him to be confident about his body no matter how it looks.

    Great post!

  17. We have a lot of headless and armless Barbies. There is no reverence for Barbie here. My sister and I were sort of…well…odd when it came to Barbie. I think this lack of reverence helped something. Undoing the “perfect” put in a different message.

    But probably not everyone is willing to lop off Barbie’s head.

    OK, so I probably just killed all my potential for friends in the blog world.

  18. I enjoyed the imaginative aspect of Barbie, but I know I will cringe, too, if and when my daughter asks for one. Why couldn’t they have changed the proportions by now? And I do think I was affected by the body, though there is so much we see in media that affects our body image, it’s hard to dissect where specific negativities come from.

  19. I feel the same way but the barbie bug entered our home as well. Instead I bought LIV dolls which makes me feel slightly better and they still call them barbies but at least they are dress and not as stacked. (warning there is sound so turn sound off first)

    They are prettier than barbie and w/ the wigs we hopefully will not have haircut disasters.

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