You may have been wondering. Why do Laura and Rick, usually such clear-headed parents, allow their girls to play with Barbies? Don’t they know that Barbies and princesses foster body image issues? Can’t they see that these dolls teach destructive things about being a woman?
I am aware of these concerns. Yes, Barbie’s proportions trouble me, as does the way these toys suggest that beauty is exclusively defined as tall, thin, white, and blond. For these reasons, we kept Barbie and princesses out of our home for five years. We were able to bar their entrance no longer than that, though.
For our oldest daughter’s fifth birthday, we hosted a butterfly-themed party. We threw ourselves into this mariposal motif, and so did one of her guests who brought her a present that matched our theme:
The mother who chose this gift was a non-American with beginning English who was no doubt unaware of our American angst over Barbie. She simply went to the store and bought a toy that a little girl who was into butterflies would love. I was touched by her thoughtfulness. This dear neighbor had spent her time and money trying to give my daughter a meaningful gift. There was no question that we would embrace it with gratitude and gladness.
And so Barbie entered our home. You can imagine the desires she awakened in our daughters. The horse was out of the barn. The Barbie was out of the dream house. When you have three girls aged two to five, it is impossible to limit the family collection to a single Barbie once the collection has been started.
We picked up a few more Barbies at a second-hand store a few months later, making sure to pick non-white ones. I can (uneasily) tolerate what Barbie suggests about the ideal female figure, but I cannot abide what she implies about whiteness being the single definition of beauty.
Barbie and her extensive wardrobe, fleet, and real estate portfolio turned out to be an excellent platform for my girls’ imaginative play. For kids who love fashion, play acting, and world making, this set of toys is unrivaled. As I’ve documented, in our home Barbie is the gift that keeps on giving, one imaginative scenario after another.
While I could try to quash my kids’ love of this rail thin fashionista, I choose not to. To express disdain for Barbie is to risk communicating to my daughters that their interests are frivolous, their delights are wrong. I won’t do this. At heart, love of fashion is love of beauty, isn’t it? And playing house with dolls is a way to explore one’s own world. This is no less true when the doll’s proportions are unrealistic. If there was another line of toys that I could easily find second hand that offered as many interesting accessories to so intrigue my daughters, I would buy those. Since I have discovered no such alternative, we allow our girls to relish the endless creative opportunities Barbie offers despite her downfalls.
You may think that I have less reason to worry about my girls’ body images because as thin blondes, they actually resemble Disney princesses. While the world may interact with them more kindly because of this, I doubt that they will be any easier on themselves. In our media-saturated society flooded with airbrushed images, no woman is immune. No matter how thin or tall my girls are, they will face the self-doubt all women do in this culture. This worries me. I wish that for the next twenty years I could hide from their sight all commercials, billboards, pop-up ads, and celebrity photos. Like you, I dream of creating a world in which my kids only see real women with realistic bodies. Sadly, I do not have this power.
Here’s the thing, though–even if we rid our home of Barbie, all the other images would still get to my kids. We are swimming in this poison. The images are simply too pervasive to avoid. To eliminate Barbie would be to remove one trickle from a fire hose….at the cost of my kids’ favorite way to play and create.
So, what will we do to fight this poison? How will we build up our girls in truth and strength?
We will surround them with wise, brave, gifted women. We will read biographies of Harriet Tubman and Corrie Ten Boom. We will play soccer, practice math, and make art. We will discuss Barbie’s absurd proportions. We will talk of building sharp minds and strong bodies, soft hearts and deep souls. We will cheer their ingenuity. We will play with legos and with light sabers. We will read Scriptures that say they were handcrafted by a loving Father who counts them precious. We will laugh and delight in what delights them. And we will pray fierce prayers.
© 2016, Laura Goetsch and Thinking About Such Things