When I was growing up, Barbies were my absolute favorite. My best friend and I had a whole process for picking out which Barbies we got to play with, which outfits they would wear, it was a deal. I had giant buckets full of Barbies and accessories. I had the dream house and hand-me-down Corvettes. (And for my most recent birthday, my sister got me a Baker Barbie, as a part of her “You don’t have to adult” theme!)
Barbie has always taken a lot of non-sense from people and I never understood why. She encourages imagination, and even problem solving (Who gets to drive the Porsche vs. who gets to drive the Corvette? On your wedding day you can drive the Corvette, other days you get the Porsche.) And don’t even get me started on my love for their new “Imagine the Possibilities” Campaign! Barbie has been a veterinarian, a CEO, and even the president, imagine if girls all really believed they could do that.
The most recent Barbie news is the introduction of new body types. When I first heard that, I thought “Woo! That’s great! Positive body image!” And then, as is tradition, I continued to think, and stew about the topic a little bit more. And the more I stew, generally the worse it gets.
Let me me preface this by saying, I am a college-educated girl who has learned about the harmful effects of media portrayals and the stereotypes that get thrown into the world, etc. I do believe that some things, like music videos, will have a negative effect on a child’s viewpoints as they mature. However, personally I do not believe that the toys we play with are one of those. Barbie is a doll. She is made of plastic. I clearly loved Barbies growing up, but not once did I ever think to myself, “I want to look just like her when I grow up,” nor did I once look at a Barbie and think “She looks just like me.” She was entertainment. She was a toy, just as much as my Winnie the Pooh bear was, and my plastic kitchen was. When I cut her hair, it didn’t grow back like mine did! Do we really believe that because Barbie’s body was completely unrealistic that we are harming our kids? Like Kirstie Alley said: “I’m glad I was raised in the 50’s when a doll was an object, not a role model.” I’m glad I was raised in the 50’s when a doll was an object, not a role model” and she is considered “plus-size” herself!
What about other dolls with unrealistic body types? My favorite doll to play with had toes all the same length, no belly button, a plush body with plastic arms and a head that can turn all the way around, that’s not realistic either and yet we aren’t doing anything about that. I’m all for diversity but I don’t think this approach is the way to do it.
Lately, we have been very gung-ho about not fat-shaming people, and accepting people of all body types, but we don’t actually do that. First off, I think it is important to know the risks you take when you are overweight, but we just don’t talk about that. And yes, we want everyone to feel comfortable in their own skin and be treated equally, but let’s face it, we’re nowhere close to that. Commenting on someone’s weight is only taboo if it is to a larger person. How is that okay? I have been “skinny-shamed” more times in my life than I can count and I just have to deal with it. “You need to eat a sandwich,” “Put some meat on your bones,” “So have you ever had an eating disorder?” I’m sorry, but those questions can be just as damaging as calling someone “fat.”
And why is it that we only gave Barbie a makeover? Ken isn’t perfect either and yet when he gets makeovers, it doesn’t make the news. Ken doesn’t come in “beer-gut Ken,” “Balding Ken,” or “Petite Ken” and yet nobody thinks that he is harmful to young boys who might play with him. The double standards are ridiculous.
Many young children playing with Barbies will not stay the same size they are at that age. We grow up, we grow out, we shoot up, our body changes because that’s what nature does. If Barbies are really damaging our kids’ minds don’t we teach these kids about what actually matters, your morals, your heart, your values. Why don’t we teach them how to build themselves up when they’re feeling down, rather than just forbidding them to feel down. There are so many more valuable teaching points we can turn to than to just make a doll that looks different. At the end of the day, it’s a doll. If your child feels inferior because of the doll, you may have bigger issues to think about.