With her feet permanently shaped for the highest of heels and her not-so-realistic dimensions, Barbie has stirred up a boat load of controversy over the years. But I’ve gotta say, the girl’s not so bad.
My older sister and I didn’t just play with Barbies–we were pretty obsessed with them. I had all the members of her awesome ’80s rock band (and listened to their tape until it wore out!), wore Barbie lip gloss, colored in Barbie coloring books, and even skinned my knees in Barbie roller skates. And you know what I turned out to be? A healthy feminist who doesn’t hate her body.
Of course Barbie doesn’t look anything like a real woman, but why is that such a big deal? My Little Ponies don’t exactly look like ponies, Care Bears bear zero resemblance to actual grizzlies, and even other “people” dolls, like Strawberry Shortcake, have totally bizarre proportions that would be impossible to attain in real life.
The reason why I think all of that is totally fine is that when you’re a kid, play time is about using your imagination. Children don’t take things as seriously as you or I do, and definitely not as seriously as some of my Women’s Studies professors did! They know that their dolls and stuffed animals look different than their “real world” counterparts (they’re not stupid, after all!), and that’s what makes it fun.
I love that little girls can invite bears, bunnies, and yes Barbies, to tea parties in their bedrooms. It would be a really sad world if creativity and imagination were stolen from children–if they were forced to only have dolls that looked “real” and did “real” things, like studying late into the night or getting cavities filled at the dentist (ouch!).
Plus, in some ways, Barbie is a fantastic role model. During her lifetime, she’s held 125 careers, including a doctor, an astronaut (you’ve got to be smart to go into space!), and a U.S. Army Officer. This girl has goals and she goes for them! Also? Barbie, unlike some other dolls, teaches girls about friendship and being cool to each other. I can’t recall a single Barbie doll or accessory that ever encouraged girls to be bitchy or look down on other people.
Yes, eating disorders are a huge problem. I have friends who’ve suffered through them, and I’ve seen just how devastating they can be–but let’s not blame a nearly 12-inch, not-so-realistic doll here (Strawberry Shortcake’s giant head and teeny body are even more unrealistic, if you ask me!).
Parents, teachers, and mentors have more influence over how a girl views her body than a plastic toy does. When we constantly tell little girls they’re pretty or comment on how they look–which happens all the time!–it teaches them to focus on their appearance first, because they think that’s what people care about most.
So instead of burning Barbie, let’s take a little responsibility here and start telling girls how smart, funny, and strong they are–and then let them go back to playing Barbie on Mars like they wanted to in the first place.
What do you think about Barbie? Did you play with Barbie dolls when you were little? Tell us everything in comments!