Why I Gave in to Barbie, Even Before Her Size Change
After 57 years, Barbie has a new shape. Several, actually.
In an effort to boost declining sales, Mattel unveiled curvy, petite, and tall Barbies late last month. These new dolls will be sold alongside traditional Barbies. While mothers around the country will appreciate this historic change, a few millimeters difference in size cannot reverse the cultural message about women's bodies that has already reached many young girls.
My three daughters have collected Barbie dolls for years. Given her reputation as impossibly skinny, usually white, and overly commercialized, Barbie’s presence among our kids’ toys has caused well-meaning friends to silently question our parenting: Don’t they know that Barbies foster body image issues? Can’t they see that they teach destructive ideas about being a woman?
Of course I can see it. Barbie’s traditional proportions make no sense, and her look implies that beauty is exclusively defined as thin, white, and silky blond. For five whole years, we intentionally kept Barbie out of our home. But after our oldest daughter’s fifth birthday, we could hold out no longer.
We threw her a butterfly-themed party, and one guest brought a present to match: a Barbie with extendable orange, pink, and black wings, like a monarch butterfly. This thoughtful neighbor, having recently arrived in the US, was likely unaware of our American angst over Barbie, and she clearly did not share it. She simply chose a toy that a little girl who was into butterflies would love. There was no question that we would embrace this thoughtful gift with gratitude and gladness.
And so it began. The Saddle ‘N Ride horse was out of the barn. Next came friends for butterfly Barbie; we bought a few more dolls at a secondhand store, making sure to select non-white ones. Along with them came the clothes and the accessories.
Barbie and her extensive wardrobe and real estate portfolio turned out to be an excellent platform for my girls’ imaginative play. For kids who love play acting and world-making, this set of toys helps them generate one creative scenario after another. My daughters have engineered a pulley-operated elevator for her house, designed her a wardrobe crafted from painters tape, and displayed her at their “bookstore” tenderly cradling Smurfette to illustrate Richard Stearns’s God’s Love for You. This Christmas I found the Joseph from our nativity scene camping with one of the shepherds outside Barbie’s RV.
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