September 22, 2008

Barbie: Friend or Foe?

So my three year old daughter recently learned that there were a bunch of my old Barbie dolls hanging out in the attic, and begged me to get them down. I think three is a little young for Barbies, but she loves dressing her baby dolls and so I said okay.

I'm really not even sure where she learned about Barbies, though I can guess it was daycare. But, oh boy. When I mentioned the "B" word to my good friend (a woman), she was none too happy, which got me thinking.

And I'm going to come right out and say what I was thinking: I don't have any issues with Barbie. I truly believe that I have one of the most positive and healthy self body images of any of my women friends, and I grew up playing with Barbie dolls.

Yes, Barbie's proportions are all out of wack, of course they are; she's a plastic doll. Never once in all my years of playing with Barbie did I look at her and think: "Gee, Barbie, I wish I could look just like you." In fact, that never even crossed my mind until people started getting all worked up over Barbie, her size, and her looks. I grew up with black, Latina, and white Barbies (with red, brown, and blond hair), by the way. As well as the original Ken doll who has actual hair--that is almost shoulder length and brown--and is really pale (not oddly tan like today's Ken).

I do recognize the extreme importance of promoting positive, healthy body images, especially for our young girls (though boys are suffering from body images, as well). This is a huge "hot button" issue for me. But I believe these are learned first from our mothers (and even our fathers). My mother didn't stand in the mirror naked beating herself up over her weight or size. In fact, I never heard my mom say much of anything about her body, other than we need to respect our bodies.

Too many girls out there (and a lot of women I know) don't have this same experience, and that's unfortunate. Instead, women's poor body images are being blamed on things like Barbie being proportionally incorrect--and that's not the whole story; there are so many other factors involved. And to attempt to solve the issue, we need to look at the whole picture.

All I know is that it never occurred to me that I should try to look like Barbie or that there were even women out there who did look like Barbie. She's a plastic doll. Maybe I'm in the minority with this.

I just enjoyed putting Barbie in interesting scenarios (crime fighting, horse back riding on all my plastic horses, parading her around the "Cat Collar" bar I liked to pretend she worked in) and changing her clothes 15 times in an hour. If there was anything negative that came from my Barbie playing, it would have to be that I often can't seem to stay in one outfit the whole day long. I'll probably need to work with my daughter on this.

I realize I am over simplifying a very complex matter. And maybe I'm a little sensitive to how other women will react when I mention I let my daughter play with Barbies. But all I'm getting at is that I will make damn sure that my daughter understands Barbie is not real, nor are her proportions, and help my daughter in every way I possibly can to feel good about who she is, what size she is, and what color she is, all while allowing her the freedom to have imaginary playtime with a plastic doll.

Next up: Are Bert and Ernie really gay? Groan