Before I go any further, let me say that I think it’s great that there are new dolls for little kids to play with, featuring different body types and skin tones. When my younger daughter was small, she tended to gravitate toward the “Hispanic” dolls, because they had dark hair and sort-of light skin, like she did. Baby girl was thrilled when I finally found her a doll with fair skin, brown hair, blue eyes, and freckles. It’s cool for kids to have dolls they can relate to, no doubt.
From what I’ve seen on social media, though, people are talking far more about the new “curvy” Barbie than they are about the others, and along with that come the inevitable snarky complaints about Old Barbie.
I’ve written about Barbie before, when there was a trend of parents refusing to let their daughters play with the dolls because apparently, they promote unrealistic ideas of beauty and are a bad influence on malleable little girls. Never mind that no child has yet died of shock upon discovering that real ponies don’t have sparkly pink manes and tattooed bottoms, and I have never heard of a little one growing up to have low self-esteem because they didn’t live on a street with giant yellow birds and trash can-dwelling monsters as neighbors. Kids know what toys are. I loved Barbie when I was a kid, and by the time I was old enough to worry about how big my boobs might eventually be, I was old enough to realize that I came from a long line of petite women. I looked at my mother and grandmother and I never once imagined that I would somehow grow up to be the snarky, gloomy, pink-haired counterpart of Dolly Parton, just because I had a doll with large breasts. Barbie was no different than Strawberry Shortcake or that weird baby doll I had that would walk into walls, teeter around, and walk back to me like some kind of tiny plastic drunkard.
But he were are with the new curvy Barbie, and all of a sudden Barbie isn’t bad because she’s too curvy (that word changes definition depending on who’s using it, it would appear); now she’s bad because she’s too skinny. She’s still “unrealistic.” The new Barbie shows a normal body type, right?
Let me tell you, today I more closely resemble NAMBLA Fantasy Ken* from the waist up than Malibu Barbie, but after my third child was born, I was under a hundred pounds, wearing a size 0 jeans (yes that is a real size, no I never starved myself to get there), and sporting a generous D cup. If you don’t think that’s some serious reality there, I’d be happy to let you have all the bruises I got from knocking those suckers (haha) into walls and door frames and such. That was a very real body type, and while for me it went away quickly, some women are just made like that.
And so while it may seem silly to be having this kind of conversation over a plastic doll, I think it’s important to keep things in perspective: what you say to your daughters is what matters. Talk to them about beauty and diversity and brains and challenges and strengths. Teach them to love who they are and to strive to keep their bodies and minds as healthy as they can. Buy them the big-boobie doll and the average-size doll and please please buy them the ones with the colored hair, because I love it when little kids see me out and shriek that I look just like their favorite doll. Buy them the brown ones and the white ones and the ones with wheelchairs and the ones that pee when you force water down them with a plastic squeezy bottle. Buy them cars and trucks and blocks and footballs and bubbles, lots and lots of bubbles, and more art supplies than you can really afford, and books and bicycles and sparkly shoes and cowboy hats and dinosaurs that roar when you press their scaly bellies. Get down on the floor and play with them. This Barbie is a doctor, this one is a teacher, this one is a mommy, this one is a magical fairy princess with an invisible unicorn sidekick, this one is the president.
You are the most important plaything that your child has. She looks to you to determine who she will be one day. Don’t teach her to be someone who believes that worth is determined by the mold you were poured into. Give poor Barbie a break and let’s help them all be friends. Those knockers are a tough burden to carry, after all.
*Please don’t take me to prison for typing that phrase.