Things I Suck at Friday, Early Edition: Being OK With Barbie

I have a Barbie complex.  I hate them.  I didn’t play with them when I was little, and so of course my daughter loves them and is a real “girlie-girl.”  I have embraced my inner princess when it comes to the girlie stuff (loads of nail polish, glitter, pink fluff, pink, and oh yes pink).  But Barbie makes me gag.  The ‘free-range‘ parent in me sits on one shoulder saying, “Get over yourself!  It’s just a freaking doll with boobs!”  And the grossed-out parent in me sits on the other shoulder saying, “It’s a freaking doll with boobs!”

I feel like we’re all assaulted with images of women that are gratuitous and unreal, why on earth would I give my daughter (or my sons, for that matter) a doll who looks like that to play with?  I struggle, because Barbie and her friends are so much a part of the pretend play that little girls engage in at this age.  I am aware that my adult eye see “hooker” and my daughter’s 5-year-old eyes see “doll with breasts like mommy.”  She has no frame of reference to connect Barbie’s body with hers.  Yet I just can’t get past this aversion.  We’ve encouraged pretend play with baby dolls – trust me, my Shayna has plenty of dolls, doll accessories, doll everything.  She loves it and she spends literally hours either by herself or with friends playing with these dolls.  Yet every. single. time. we go to Target she asks for a Barbie.  All her friends have them, and I know even at 5 this is an issue for her (a total girl thing.  my boys were not aware of this kind of social stuff for years.  and clearly, based on their lack of desire to shower, still aren’t).

*sigh* – any advice from veteran parents of girls out there?

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19 Responses to “Things I Suck at Friday, Early Edition: Being OK With Barbie”

  1. My Barbie Dilemma « the Rebbetzin Rocks Says:

    […] My Barbie Dilemma Wednesday, September 23, 2009 Posted by the Rebbetzin in parenting. Tags: barbie, boys vs. girls, daughters, momma rocks trackback Help!  I have a Barbie complex. […]

  2. beanie Says:

    Soooo…I started off, sharing your aversion to Barbie. I remember telling my husband, “If she were a real person, her measurements would be 38-17-32, for the love of Pete!”

    And yet, my daughter still heard the siren song of the Barbie doll, bolstered, no doubt, by my mother-in-law…but that’s a different story for a different day. I think they are attracted to Barbie’s glamour. Let’s face it: Polly Pocket just doesn’t carry off the bling nearly as well.

    I’ll tell you something, though. Kids are smart. They know what’s real and what isn’t. And my 9-year-old daughter, who loves her Barbies, can just as easily walk up to a harried cashier, 40-pounds overweight and having a bad hair day, and tell her that she looks “beautiful”. And when you ask her why, she’ll tell you that the cashier had pretty eyes and that she looked kinda sad today.

    So don’t worry. Just reinforce that Barbie isn’t real, that she’s no more life-like than the Bratz (thank God those are gone!!!) and that there is true beauty to be found in every woman she’ll ever meet.

  3. edibletorah Says:

    Hmmm…. This is from a guy’s perspective, so everything I say could be wrong.

    What about focusing on what Barbie *does* instead of what she *is*. No, I don’t mean accessorizing with the pet hospital, teacher outfit, etc. I mean letting Barbie be just another one of “the dolls” and focusing (ie: discussing, commenting on, etc) what Barbie is doing during your daughter’s imaginative play.

    Because it seems to me that if her doll was named Blobbie and looked like Jabba the Hut in a Dior ensemble, we’d be doing the same thing. Focusing on Blobbie’s career as the captain of the female sumo wrestling team, her work with the malnourished in Darfour.

    OK, maybe I’ve taken the example too far. Or at least to a galaxy far far away. But hopefully you get my point.

    Now go ahead and tell me how wrong I am.

  4. LisaS Says:

    my daughter was really into Barbie for a while too, and i took edibletorah’s p.o.v. on it just as a coping strategy.

    but now i’ll offer hope: within a year she grew tired of her Barbies and had me box them all up to put in the basement until she wanted to play with them again.

    now (2 years later–she’s 7) she wants to eBay them.

  5. surflife Says:

    I am always thankfull I had boys. I have never been a girlie girl and just couldnto do pink but mostly I never wanted the Barbie dilemma – I am so with you – wish I could help but have no ideas – not really worth commenting – sorry. On the upside I love the name of your blog !

  6. April L. Hamilton Says:

    Better Barbie, who’s been a vet, a doctor, an astronaut, a pro athlete, a teacher, a dentist, a racecar driver, a businesswoman and a good old fashioned Mom than Bratz, with their slutty clothes, f**k me pumps and heavy makeup. All the Bratz seem interested in is shopping, being celebrities, boys, clothes and makeup. All they’re missing is a poledancer playset.

    I think everyone, even my 7 yr old daughter, knows Barbie’s bod defies the laws of physics, and while I was never crazy into Barbies as a girl, I don’t think the brief time I spent playing with them figured into my adult body issues. No, for that you can thank every airbrushed fashion magazine, and every starlet who claims in interviews that the key to her rockin figure is to “eat right and exercise” while she’s secretly snorting speed or sticking a finger down her throat off-camera.

    [Bitter? Party for one? Bitter? – yeah, I’ll own it!]

  7. edibletorah Says:

    Speaking of body image and airbrushing, I’ve always loved this page:

    http://homepage.mac.com/gapodaca/digital/bikini/index.html

    It’s been around or a while. It gives you a good idea of the amount of work taken to make a model look “normal” – in the sense that we’d look at the end result and say “sure, that’s what I expect”. But when you see the original image (roll your mouse over the picture) you realize the extent to which the images we see are pre-processed on a daily basis.

  8. Kelly Says:

    Here’s the thing. My kids are allowed a limited number of toys they have. If they want a new one, and I’m willing and able to buy them one, they decide which toy to pass on to a friend or donate to the Goodwill. Within those ranges they can have whatever toys they like.

    My kids are also homeschooled. I know this is not for everyone, but I’ve noticed this leaves them free from so many influences, ideas, and wants that are heavily marketed and gender-stereotyped. My daughter plays with a variety of toys and doesn’t “obsess” on the girlie ones nearly as much as she did when she was in public school for a year.

    Remember, it’s your house and you can say “no”. I’m sure you have restrictions you place on your children and values you enforce in your house; Barbie is part of a very harmful culture against women and girls and I wouldn’t fault you for saying “no”. However, when it comes to raising girls there are lots of other ways to help thwart our culture’s toxicity in this regard.

    Good luck!

  9. the Rebbetzin Says:

    beanie: always there with the reassuring advice! thanks 🙂

    ET: oo I think I’ll call you ET from now on . . . phone home . . . ok anyway, I think your take is interesting – you’re right I can just focus on the “story” being played out rather than placing my adult perspective on it. Also thanks for the link wow.

    Lisa: ebay . . . enterprising young lady!!

    surflife: boys have their own toy issues (pun totally intended :-)) but I will say they have been far easier in this regard than my daughter.

    April: Oh, I draw the line at Bratz. Those are hooker dolls. They are disgusting. And thanks for your thoughts – you are right about the magazines!

  10. the Rebbetzin Says:

    Kelly: I agree – what we expose them to (or not) is paramount. We don’t have cable TV for a reason. I also think women relatives are great role models and far more influential than toys. I don’t dress like a hooker, and the women in my family dress and live modestly and live the values that we want to impart. I have to believe that will have a big influence on ALL my children. I don’t want my sons dating girls that dress like that any more than I would allow my daughter to dress like that.

  11. Kelly Says:

    We don’t have television at all – but we do watch movies. Lacking a television has helped my kids become earlier readers, a bonus I hadn’t thought of until I observed it.

    We have prostitutes in the town I live in, mostly working the to support a drug habit. I don’t call women “hookers”, “sluts”, or “whores” – because they are all very misogynistic terms and truthfully, I think the way we talk about women is important – even the women whose values and lifestyles differ from mine.

    I read Rachel Simmons “The Curse of the Good Girl” – it’s a great book for helping raise girls to be authentic and discover their values and integrity. I highly recommend it!

  12. Simon Says:

    It’s not Barbie’s body I object to most, it’s her mind.

    At least Mattel backtracked on Teen Talk Barbie’s “Math class is tough” utterance:

    http://www.nytimes.com/1992/10/21/business/company-news-mattel-says-it-erred-teen-talk-barbie-turns-silent-on-math.html

    Mostly I dislike Barbie because I don’t think she’s an open-ended toy that allows any space for imaginative and explorative play that stretches children in a fun way.

    However, I sometimes fear that we go the other way and buy too many ‘worthy’ toys so the Barbies our girls accumulate from friends and relatives offset that.

    A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down as a wise woman once said 🙂

  13. surflife Says:

    Ok I have just read your blog in screen time – are you sure we where not seperated at birth! We so do the same – no TV during the week and it is limited on the weekend. Computer only for prep during the week and then they get an hour on the weekend to play games etc look at web sites. We got a Wii for Thing 1 11th birthday – we thought it was the least passive of the consoles. We all play and have a games night on it! Do remember one parent when Thing 1 went over to play at age 7 saying how excited he was at being able to play on an Xbox did we not have one. Answer No – her reply how have you managed to not buy one my son insisted on buying one – my thought was unless he has his own credit card then YOU actually bought it for him!!

  14. tanyader Says:

    I have two girls and I don’t think either one of them played with Barbies. It’s strange but the Barbie issue never came up. They were more interested in Webkinz and Club Penguin. My youngest child loves the pretty princesses and spends a lot of time drawing pictures of them in Gimp or Paint.

    I’m inclined to say that in your situation I would probably allow my girl to play with Barbie but have discussions with her about how she is not a realistic portrayal of women. Of course, even if they never play with a barbie doll, all girls are exposed to some pretty unrealistic depictions of women so it’s unfortunately a necessary conversation to have whether they play with Barbies or not. This parenting thing sure is rough!

    Don’t take what I am about to say the wrong way, but I sometimes wonder why we parents and the school system are so obsessed with ensuring that kids be early readers. Does it really matter when kids learn to read, as long as they are proficient with reading by the time they reach grade one or two? I do think it’s great to restrict kids tv watching and computer consumption but I do often wonder about the obsession with reading. The whole school system is structured around reading comprehension, which is measured by standardized testing. Aren’t there other things that children need to learn when they are four, like co-operation and respect?

  15. Kelly Says:

    tanyader, I agree with what you’ve said. I also think that “unrealistic” stuff about women is important to consider when you’re raising boys, too. After all, they are being inundated with those messages the entire time they’re growing up too!

    I also agree with what you’ve said about reading. In fact I think it can be normal for kids even older than grade 1 or 2 to still not be able to read fluently – and it’s important to not put a bunch of pressure on late readers. My kids are early and adept readers and I get praise all the time for this. I also get a lot of assumptions – people think I drill them on reading at home or that it’s something I’M doing that “made” early readers. Besides not having a tv and video games, no, I haven’t done anything in particular, let alone drilled them the way the school system does (in fact all that drilling is one of many reasons I took them out of school).

    People learn at different rates and in different ways, especially including children.

    Sorry for the reading hijack! But I just really related to what you’ve said.

  16. Edible Torah Says:

    Re: Reading: My perception and experience with reading in school – based on experience with 4 kids in 4 different gradeschool buildings, 3 school systems and 2 countries is that the emphasis is pretty universally first on building a love of the printed word – to appreciate stories and information and books/reading as the delivery method of stories and information.

    Then second (in preschool through first grade) is emphasis on phonics and letter decoding.

    And finally (in grades k-2 based on a child’s ability) on reading and writing.

    I’ve only had one teacher ever give the impression that “readers” were a better class of student than “non readers”.

    I had one guidance counselor put it best: “If all we manage to do, by the end of grade 4, is to instill a love and appreciation for the printed word, and a solid number sense, then we’ve done our job as educators. We try for more, but really that’s what we’re here to accomplish, at the core.”

  17. edibletorah Says:

    Back to body image. Check out what the French gov’t is considering:

    French MPs want health warnings on airbrushed photographs
    A group of 50 politicians want a new law stating published images must have bold printed notice stating they have been digitally enhanced.

    Campaigning MP Valerie Boyer, of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP party, said the wording should read:”Retouched photograph aimed at changing a person’s physical appearance”.

    Mrs Boyer, who has also written a government report on anorexia and obesity, added: “We want to combat the stereotypical image that all women are young and slim.

    “These photos can lead people to believe in a reality that does not actually exist, and have a detrimental effect on adolescents. “Many young people, particularly girls, do not know the difference between the virtual and reality, and can develop complexes from a very young age.

    read more here:
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/6214168/French-MPs-want-health-warnings-on-airbrushed-photographs.html

  18. Chris Says:

    being a stay at home dad with 1 boy 1 girl and 2/3 of a second boy, i find that most of the time, problems like these are more parents imparting their issue/worry/etc onto the situation without realizing that the kid doesnt see the issue.

    kids are very good at spotting stuff that is just simply wrong without understanding why it is wrong. if your 12yr old girl is holding a barbie up to a mirror and comparing it to herself, thats a problem. if your 4yr old is playing with it, its just a doll.

    that being said, Bratz has never and will never be allowed in my house. there is such a thing as going to far and those dolls are just down right offensive.

  19. Michelle Shapiro Abraham Says:

    So I just explained to my one-week-from ten year old daughter that an old friend who is a mommy of a 5 year old was trying to figure out if her daughter should be allowed to play with Barbies. “Why would it be a problem?” Avital asked.

    “Well,” I said, “you know, Barbies don’t look anything like real people and she is worried that if her daughter plays with Barbies she will have this weird idea of what real people are supposed to look like.” My daughter (who did play with Barbies – though she always liked My Little Pony better) looked at me oddly and responded, “mom – you see people all of the time and know what real people look like. Why would you think a person should look like a doll!!?!?! Anybody can look at a Barbie and know she is a freak of nature!!!!”

    I suppose that says it all. I will say that we didn’t hesitate to point out when she was playing that no real person looks like that and if she did, she would need to be hospitalized and wouldn’t be able to walk. But, she did go through a period when she enjoyed playing with them & seems to have survived a pretty confident OK little girl.

    I have a box of them in the closet if you would like a handy down instead of buying them at Target. At least you can do something good for the environment and recycle. Let me know –

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