A few weeks ago I saw lot of people talking about the new range of ‘real’ Barbie dolls.
The range includes dolls of different heights, skin tones and waistlines, all in a bid to bring Barbie up to date, making her ‘body positive’ and representative.
A lot of people, not just parents are very anti old-school Barbie. They argue she put pressure on young girls to look a certain way. They didn’t reflect real women and made girls feel insecure. As a woman who had a few Barbies and other dolls in my childhood, my instinctive response to them would have been ‘get a grip’. The Barbie doll is exactly that, a doll. She is a toy. Her job isn’t to represent anyone or build anyone’s self esteem. Her job is to be played with. And if a child’s self worth is impacted by a piece of plastic, it says more about the parenting than the doll itself.
I had black Barbies and white Barbies and loved them all equally. Yes I got excited about the one with darker skin, but that was because I got her before my friends and she had the most amazing glow in the dark ball gown. She still didn’t look like me or many black women I knew because her hair flowed all the way down her back (I knew that couldn’t be real!) and her features were unrealistic, but I didn’t care. My Barbies weren’t just princesses in ball gowns, they were doctors, explorers, teachers, business women. Nothing offensive there, right?! Wasn’t she created in an area when women were glamourous, with boobs and hips, so she was reflecting the era.
Fast forward 25+ years and with a few years of mixing in parenting circles and I kind of get it. Barbie was just one element of a world which puts pressure on young people to look and behave a certain way. She is targetted at young girls, tweens, who are naturally self conscious. If a global brand puts on a pedastal a tall blonde, slim, big-boobed, playboyesque lady, and just colours in her darker-skinned counterparts without attempting to make her realistic, it does send a message that this appearance is ‘better’.
Whilst she might have had multiple careers, she didn’t actually encourage women to smart. I never had talking Barbie (I’m guessing that was a conscious decision by Mumsomnia senior), but I’ve seen videos of her saying ‘maths is tough’ and such like. Even the recent engineer Barbie had to ask her male colleagues for help! Yes, plenty of us will agree that maths is tough and engineering is mind blowing, but where’s the ‘try hard’ and ‘do your best’ message? Where are the other women to call on for help?
It’s great that Barbie is finally more realstic, but this is just one tiny element of a more complex issue. The adverts, magazines, popstars and the way we as adults react to them can all influence how our children view the world and their place in it.
I’m secretly glad I don’t have daughters to tackle this complex world with, but even my sons are susceptible. The pressure is on me to make sure they don’t see women as inferior and appreciate everyone’s appearance, no matter how different, and also celebrate who they are and who they become. The challenge really is on for modern parents. Now more than ever we must remind our children that their appearance, intelligence aren’t things to be ashamed of. With enough hard work, creativity, and unity, they can be who they want to be. Don’t let a 10inch piece of plastic dictate your self confidence.
Remember, Barbie really is just a doll.