The agony and defeat of Barbie

9 May

Tonight, I did something I swore I would never do.

(And no, those of you with your minds in the gutter, it doesn’t involve that.)

I bought Rosalyn a Barbie.

Granted, it’s a fairy barbie, with wings, but it’s still very white, very slim and very un womanly.

She loves it.

Anyone who has known me for any period of time knows that I loathe Barbie dolls. I really do. Maybe it’s because my mother never let me have any. (Because I’d chew their feet off, some sort of oral stress relief thing, not because of any feminist leanings that I know of) Maybe it’s because they’re so girly I don’t know what to do. Maybe it’s because I don’t feel they present even a vaguely adequate example of what a woman should look like. Maybe I just hate the plastic.

But I’m also not someone who is going to stand in the way of what my daughters gravitate to. Rosalyn reached for that Barbie in the store tonight as she’s reached for Spiderman, dinky cars or little people in the past. She desired it-not to please me, or her sister, but because she wanted it.

Isn’t that our ultimate goal, to help our daughters decide, for themselves, what they want? Look at many of us-raised to please, raised to ask what others want before us, raised to put the needs and wants of others before us every single time. I want to break this pattern, and I imagine many of you want to as well. It’s rare that we stop and say No, generally because we limit the choices to appropriate ones anyway, leaving it up to them to decide what they’re interested in. That’s how I know Vivian would like some anatomy toys, and maybe a Microscope when she’s a bit older. That’s how I know that Rosalyn loves bubbles and suddenly, Barbies.

Yes, what Barbie stands for bothers me. But she didn’t pick skanky Barbie or “Fashion Model” Barbie. She picked a doll with pink hair she can comb and a pink skirt just like hers. She picked childhood. She picked butterfly wings and dreams. And that matters to me too.

I’m uncomfortable with it in my house, I am. But sitting watching Ros have a conversation with “Bahbie” as she brushed her hair-I’m very comfortable with that.

Barbie pain-do you have it too?

19 Responses to “The agony and defeat of Barbie”

  1. Mad Hatter May 9, 2008 at 8:49 pm #

    We caved at Christmas. The only thing Miss M asked for was Ballerina Barbie. For a month she was unwavering in her resolve and, in the end, Santa came through. Miss M plays with it here and there and still loves it but ultimately it’s just another one of her toys and I think that’s good. We didn’t drive her to fetishize it.

  2. sweetsalty kate May 9, 2008 at 9:44 pm #

    I think you counter the compromises in your parenting with your personality, sense of humour, way of explaining the world. Or at least I’d like to think so. 🙂

  3. radical mama May 9, 2008 at 10:46 pm #

    I don’t have too many issues with Barbie. I don’t know why that is considering my politics. Maybe because I grew up with them and don’t feel like it influenced me in any regarding body image etc. My Barbie was always a veterinarian. 🙂

    I hear what you are saying about letting our kids make their own decisions, but on the other hand, they are so influenced by media that sometimes their decisions aren’t really their own. And if they are going to be told to do something by someone, I ‘d rather it be me and not Disney.

    For the most part, my kids play with whatever they want but I do draw the lines at some things. Bratz dolls for one. We bought A her early birthday present tonight: a new bike. I instantly fell in love with this vintage-style powder blue bike. I looked closer and of course, it had Bratz stickers all over it. John and I were both grinding our teeth at how cool the boys bikes were but the girls bikes all had these stickers that said “Fashion rocks” and “Slumber Party.” That’s the influence that I actively fight to the point of disallowing things. I am not anti-feminine either, but the hyper-feminine “every girl is a princess” bullshit makes me want to vomit.

  4. Mogo May 9, 2008 at 11:03 pm #

    well we have them both trained… no wait, maybe conditioned would be a better word… to say “yucky Bratz dolls” whenever they see that shit. so no worries there 😛

    and dear, if you were really THAT anti-Barbie, you wouldn’t have bought them that Barbie-Nutcracker video…

  5. Steph May 9, 2008 at 11:47 pm #

    Hmm. I don’t know where I stand on the Barbie thing. Lenna hasn’t ever shown much interest. Tricia’s too young.

    I had ’em as a kid, and I don’t think Barbie negatively impacted me…or at least she had no more influence than the constant stream of skinny, white girls in the media, I guess.

    Boy, that was helpful. @@ at myself.

  6. Eden May 10, 2008 at 12:30 am #

    I love Barbies & wish Zoe liked them more. Holden plays with them some b/c he needs people in the cars or the houses.

    Barbies are just shaped the way they are so a child’s hand can hold them. People have always read way too much into fashion dolls.

  7. Mogo May 10, 2008 at 12:49 am #

    I used to cut the hair off of my sister’s Barbies, or give them mohawks. they can be fun for that kind of thing.

  8. marcelarhodus May 10, 2008 at 1:05 am #

    ” Mogo Says:
    May 9, 2008 at 11:03 pm
    well we have them both trained… no wait, maybe conditioned would be a better word… to say “yucky Bratz dolls” whenever they see that shit. so no worries there ”

    That is exactly what happens with Morgan, I sort of have it “conditioned” to know that Barbie/Bratz are off limits…The ones we’ve seen she immediately points out that it’s not ok to show her tummy (I think it was a beach Barbie or some skanky dressed Bratz).
    We are full of groovy girls, both regular size and minis. They are quite wholesome and dressed kind of fun. She loves them.

    I’m against Barbie/Bratz not cause Barbie affected negatively my growing up, but because in this day and age I think they promote growing up too fast.
    I’ve seen the one you bought for Ros though and you’re right that is not the same as fashion Barbie or the others. I would buy that one, but she’s happy with the groovy ones…

    mostly she still plays with little people, and she’s playing with the Planet Heroes ones I got for them back when you mentioned them here (Mackenzie loves them, granted, he still wants to eat them, but try prying them out of his hand).

    I’d say the cardinal rule of parenting is flexibility, and that includes flexibility with what we’ve said we’ll never do/say. I think we must continually re-evaluate our positions and go from there.

    you have a girly girl alright 🙂

  9. thordora May 10, 2008 at 6:55 am #

    She’s SOOOOOOO girly it’s not even funny-in some ways she very much my child yet in others, like this, not me at all.

    We’re lucky-they don’t watch much television involving commercials or unreasonable expectations-I’m fairly facist about that. Rosalyn doesn’t like TV much other than Backyardigans. It’s like the My Little Pony thing-that affection came out of nowhere.

    RM-we tend to buy the “boy” things for the girls for that very reason-most of the “girl” stuff isn’t just pretty and sparkly-it’s covered in crap, whereas the “boy” stuff is functional and fun. SO we present both options and encourage the boy ones-Vivian will be getting a bike soon as well, and we’re going to let her choose, and I’m pretty sure Spiderman will win over Princess, at least with her.

    You’re right about making sure THEY’RE doing the choosing-Vivian is VERY susceptible to that, so we have frequent discussions about media influencing her. The only cool thing we’ve got from commercials are Test Tube Aliens and Planet Heroes (which are damn cool, and I’m glad yours like them Marcela!)

    It’s so hard balancing all of this-I know in my heart that it likely won’t matter, and my attitudes and behaviours matter MUCH more than a doll, but I still worry. FItting in their hand is a damn good point though-Ros has no issues carrying it around..

    And Groovy Girls! I meant to buy them some in Nashville and didn’t. I’ll have to look around. I think Rosalyn mostly likes the soft hair though… 🙂

    And in my defense Mogo, I got that video because the Nutcracker is a traditional Christmas story, which they never have the ballet version if around here.

  10. Marcy May 10, 2008 at 10:00 am #

    This is very interesting. I think the main thing is that you think about it and don’t buy things mindlessly. I especially appreciate the reminder to allow our kids their voice — however, helping them understand the influences around them (including us, I suppose).

  11. Jennifer May 10, 2008 at 10:59 am #

    The eldest hasn’t yet discovered them. However she is obsessed with all things princess which makes me want to stab myself in the eye. Specifically about marrying her “prince”, being rescued and obsessed with being beautiful.

  12. Kathy May 10, 2008 at 5:01 pm #

    I don’t really have any issues with Barbie, but I’m not a mother. If I had a little girl, I’d probably feel differently. (Bratz dolls are another story.)

    I played Barbies, and I turned out okay. I did go for the “sportier” Barbies (the ones that roller skated or rode horses — about as sporty as Barbie got in the late-seventies, early-eighties), and I didn’t have to worry about her being too reliant on Ken, as my Ken was gay and having an affair with GI Joe. (I’m so not making that up.)

  13. Hannah May 10, 2008 at 5:42 pm #

    I loved Barbie, and I really don’t think it affected me too negatively. I had a small but much-loved collection and my sister and I built a series of crappy dollhouses out of cardboard boxes for the girls to live in. We also made them clothes and cut their hair.

    Some Barbies are fine, I think… Bratz I would have a problem with (thank goodness for my boys!) My dilemma is toy “guns” – a couple of the boys at Isaac’s daycare are very much into war games and laser guns (yes, at three years old) and we’ve had a couple of discussions about water guns at the store. I’m still working through that one in my head… but I’d rather have Barbie than pretend guns any day.

  14. mercurial scribe May 11, 2008 at 5:05 am #

    I think I have more a Bratz-phobia than a Barbie one. Barbie can be a doctor, a fairy or a zoologist. Bratz what Barbie used to be… all fashion and attitude.

    I do think it’s precious Ros chose the fairy one. I mean, she has pink hair and wings! Who can get mad at that?

  15. thordora May 11, 2008 at 9:28 am #

    EXACTLY. And today she’s running around saying “I’m Bahbie!”-it’s adorable.

  16. Jenn May 12, 2008 at 7:48 am #

    My niece is absolutely in love with barbie. To my dismay. I tried so hard when she was younger to avoid the barbie situation because frankly I feel the same way about them, they are unreasonable representations of feminanity. But she goes right for them, she insists on having all the movies and dolls and even mimics the barbies in the movies. When she is watching them she attempts to sing and dance like them. I cringe every time, but she is very independant and she is unweivering on her love for them. So what is an auntie to do? I try explaining to her that barbie is just a doll she is fake. I even went so far as to tell her that if Barbie was a real person she would not be able to stand up. She asked me why and I told her that Barbies feet are too small to hold her up and explained that people come in all shapes and sizes and everyone is beautiful, Barbie is not shaped right and she wouldnt be so pretty in a heap on the floor now would she?

  17. mudmama May 12, 2008 at 9:40 am #

    Nature Girl asked for a Barbie this year and I got it for her. She knows my feelings and she still likes them. Honestly I think she just wanted to see I respected HER opinion – cause she NEVER plays with it (Polly Pocket on the other hand is a favorite adventurer for both Nature Girl and Wild Thing.

    In the past others had gotten her Barbies and well she took them outside and they ended up outside under earth, under sand, in the gadren and forgotten in a week’s time – including a fairy one. They resurface in the spring thaw like little cadavers in Flander’s fields.

    Barbie, not a hill I’ll die on – Bratz dolls are another thing all together!

  18. bromac May 12, 2008 at 1:49 pm #

    I hate barbie, but I love your logic. It makes perfect sense.

    I think I would cave to Barbie, but I draw the line at the Bratz whores.

  19. Eden May 12, 2008 at 10:13 pm #

    You can get Groovy Girls on Amazon. We get them at Target and at Growing Tree Toys (, which is in State College.

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