Today… I Bought A Barbie


So, today I had a whistle emergency at work.  Those of you who don’t plan events in your everyday jobs may not be familiar with the type of emergency that sends you frantically around town searching for a whistle.  Suffice to say, for me this is not altogether uncommon, and I found myself today running up and down aisles at Walgreens looking for a whistle (or something that makes a reasonably loud noise) fifteen minutes before an event I was hosting. 

I am certian anyone who reads this won’t be particularly surprised that the sixteen-year-old-kid behind the cash register was not helpful, and didn’t much care that I had a whistle emergency.  Turns out, she was blissfully unaware of any types of noisemaking items the store might possibly carry.  Ah well, so I use my powers of deductive reasoning to look in the toy aisle, where they do, in fact, have a harmonica, but that didn’t meet my particular needs.  So I decide to give up on the whistle, when I notice that there is this lonely Barbie doll on the top shelf.  

She’s not actually Barbie, I guess, apparently her name is Madison, and she’s a sort of mocha latte-colored doll that carries a dog in her purse and wears platform shoes.  And I find myself buying her.  Not because I expect that my daughter-to-be will wear a leopard-print cami and daisy dukes, or anything.  Not even (really) because the lonely doll was on clearance-they are discontinuing her line in favor of the (I am so not joking here) Bling Bling Barbies which are glittery.  And sluttier, a la the Bratz dolls. 

The funny thing is, this isn’t the first Barbie I’ve bought since becoming a parent.  For Dillon’s second Christmas, along with a train table and ridiculous amount of "boy" train paraphernalia, I got him two "my scene" Barbies.  One that looked just like Charles, complete with goatee, combat boots, a-line tee shirt, glasses, and laptop.  And one that looked sort of what I have imagined D will look like as a young adult-big curly hair, light brownish (hair and skin), band tee and skateboard.  Dillon has since incorporated these dolls into his play.  These two guys may help the Green Lantern catch bad guys, or D may make masks for them for Halloween, but while they are not his favorite toy, they aren’t ignored, either.

 But a part of me (the Women’s Studies major part, most likely) is somewhat more concerned about the potential ill-effects Madison might have on my daughter than about how her male counterparts might affect Dillon.  Personally, I played with Barbies as a kid (not obsessively as many of my friends-most likely because my parents weren’t as into consumerism, etc., so I only had one or two) and I doubt that toy affected my body image more than any other aspect of the mass media.  I wanted to be She-Ra more than I wanted to be Barbie as a kid, and she frankly wasn’t proportioned any more realistically.

My husband saw Madison and asked me about the fact that this African-American doll has blue eyes and reasonably straightish hair (think Beyonce) and asked me what kind of message that is communicating to our daughter who probably won’t have either.  But I certianly plan on filling her life, bookshelf and toy box with representations of all types of beautiful women.  

 I’m not sure we’re being fair, though.  I was smart enough and empowered enough (mostly) to take the bullshit representations of beauty in the media and file it away.  I think that was due in part to my parents, who didn’t much buy into the Beauty Myth, in part due to lucky genetics, as it’s easier to not stress out about your body if you are a pretty skinny girl, and in part due to a b.s. detector I’ve mostly always had.  So why don’t we think our daughter is going to be smart and empowered enough to be able to play with Barbie and not want to grow up to be her.

This quote from Mother Jones pretty much sums up people’s concern: 

 "Translating Barbie’s plastic proportions into human being terms is a favorite pastime of eating disorder activists and other anti-Barbie crusaders; estimates have put the doll’s life-size bust between 38 and 40 inches, her waist at 18-24 inches, and her height between five and a half and an outlandish more than seven feet, with a weight of 110 pounds. Need some help visualizing that? Imagine Anna Nicole Smith’s breasts, suspended above Kate Moss’ waist (after a fast) all resting comfortably on Cheryl Miller’s frame (after a mid-life growth spurt)."

So, the question remains, why on Earth would I purchase this monument to unrealistic, self-destructive behaviors for my kid?  

And I’m not entirely sure I can answer that.  But, I can tell you that someone asked Naomi Wolf (author of The Beauty Myth and other great books) if she let her daughter play with barbie, and it turns out, she did. I think it’s because we have to have more faith in our kids, that we will teach them to be critical thinkers, and that sheltering them won’t necessarily make them better people.

Recommended viewing:

The Simpsons: Lisa vs. Malibu Stacy Episode

I, Doll (if anyone finds this anywhere, please let me know, it’s an awesome documentary about Barbie & body image that I saw in college.)

2 Responses to “Today… I Bought A Barbie”

  1. Hema says:

    I had the no-name brand version of the Barbie while growing up. I think her name was Skipper (was she in the Barbie family?). I remember having fun dressing her up and acting out scenarios with her and her friends but never really relating her body measurements to me or what is expected of me. I think that has to do with the fact that I never thought of her as being anything close to me. She had white skin, I have brown skin, she had blue eyes, I have brown eyes, she had blond hair….well, you get it. I think your little girl will grow up just fine with a Barbie doll or two. Even if this Barbie doesn’t resemble her, your daughter will have the chance to model play or to beat up the Green Lantern! 🙂

  2. Cheri says:

    I had a skipper doll, too. She’s Barbie’s trailer court cousin.

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