The Barbie Confessions

Recently I spent a lovely afternoon with a friend in the burbs. While I don’t envy her zip code on the other side of the Holland Tunnel, I certainly covet her playroom–a whole sunny space devoted just to toys and books and dress-up clothes and more toys and more books and a way cool rocking horse.

Don’t even get me started on their backyard.

Thalia of course had the time of her life, thanks in particular to her attentive playroom tour guide, my friend’s oldest daughter. Thalia loved the big girl attention from the 4 1/2 year old who delighted in handing Thalia favorite books, offering up her own stuffed animals for play, or styling her in the appropriate cowgirl hat while demonstrating how to ride Western.

I was so engaged in snapping photos of Thalia on her first rocking horse ride that I nearly missed the question:

“Thalia, want to play Barbies?”

I gasped. Audibly. Rudely.

“Uh…” I stammered. “Uh…” As if she had asked “Thalia, want to play Meth Lab? ” Or, “Thalia want to play Taliban?”

In her 21 months Thalia’s been exposed to trucks and animals, blocks and tricycles, crayons, musical instruments, battery-operated drums that call to you in the night, and the occasional licensed character. Lest you think I’m some snotty hipster mom who only lets my daughter play with rag dolls hand-stitched by global artisans out of organic soy fiber, I’ve got no beef with mass market toys as a whole. In fact, I love Elmo. Love him. His 20 minutes of airtime each morning essentially guarantees 20 minutes of adult activities in the next room. There’s even the one-minute warning, the little song at the end of each episode that should be renamed, Time To Find Your Underwear, Moms and Dads. Yeah, Elmo is just fine by me.

But Barbie? She’s a foreigner in our world of play. Or was.

It’s just a doll, I tried to rationalize as I watched my friend’s daughter sweetly offer up her favorite Barbie to my daughter. A curvy, golden blond, rhinoplastied doll, who, if brought to life, would be the chick complaining loudly from the dressing room next to yours, this size 2 is soooo biiiiig–but still, a doll. Is there really any harm in exposing my daughter to a doll? Especially when I’m sitting right with her, ready to blurt out “A princess is not a valid career choice! Just so you know!” should the need arise.

So why my angst?

This topic has already been discussed to death by people far more up on the issues than I. (Most recently Peggy Orenstein’s great NY Times piece, What’s Wrong With Cinderella, springs to mind.) I don’t know that I have a whole lot to add from an academic standpoint.

From a personal standpoint, I know that dolls are good. That fantasies and creativity and imagination are good and that dolls help facilitate all these things. Do you know I recently found out there is a learning vacuum out there? A learning vacuum! I think that all things being equal, I’d rather Thalia conduct tea parties with a battalion of Barbies than push around dust bunnies while she hums the multiplication tables. I want her to explore all aspects of her femininity, try on mommy’s jewelry, and play Barbie Marries Ken just the same as she plays Grocery Shopping or Ruthless Network Executive. It’s healthy and it’s developmentally appropriate and it’s fine.

I suppose what I don’t want is her looking at her own thighs when she’s 7 and telling me they’re fat (however unlikely if she continues on this path of eating like, one Cheerio a day). I don’t want her feeling bad about her curly notblond hair. I don’t want her thinking that achievement should take a backseat to accessorizing, or that the attention of the Kens and the GI Joes of the world take precedent over all else.

She’s not even two; I just thought I’d have more time before starting the dialogue.

All this ran through my head in the four seconds it took for Thalia to take the Barbie from her new friend’s hands, examine her, then set her down on the floor.

At which point she headed right back to the bookshelf.

That’s my girl.

If you live around New York or are just visiting, check out Time Out NY Kids which has tons of family-friendly activities listed along with great parenting advice and articles. It also happens to be where my posts are syndicated every Monday. Toooooootal coincidence.


46 thoughts on “The Barbie Confessions”

  1. My aunt hates Barbies, for the same reasons as you feel uncomfortable with them, and so I always make sure to bring them out when she’s around, just to tweak her. I’m sweet like that.You know, I grew up playing with Barbies and I didn’t learn to hate my body from them. They didn’t nefariously siphon my brains out of my ears. They were just dolls. And I knew that they weren’t real and didn’t represent anything to strive for or dislike myself for not achieving. They were simply part of imaginative play, which from my vantage point, children (not yours, just children in general) are in dire need of these days. What made me hate my body? My mother constantly talking smack about her own.

  2. I was the mom who swore my daughter would never head down the “self destructive” Barbie path… But then, against all of my will, she fell in love with them and I couldn’t deny her the creative outlet that the institution of Barbie had become… Even so, I would sprout super human powers and be likely to save humanity tomorrow- if she were to simply decide she has no further interest. Your story made me smile, (and a tad bit jealous… although there is a drastic age difference between our girls.) all of my mumbling to say Congrats! 🙂

  3. It’s my relatives who have infiltrated our toybox with barbie. But my daughter doesn’t do anything but try to cut their hair.She prefers to play with her pretty pink doll house with a pink sports car.Heh.

  4. As a mom of boys maybe I have no business spouting off about Barbie, but I loved Barbie. She made me feel like I could have an endless wardrobe, awesome house, and cool car. She never made me feel inadequate or unattractive. Other girls did that when I got older. Sometimes women are women’s worst enemies.

  5. My girls have Barbies, but don’t play much with the. The dolls that have gotten big play are Groovy Girls (stuffed) and Polly Pockets (little pieces) as well as the lovely expensive Bitty Baby from American Girl.I want to get my girls the Only Hearts Club dolls that are shaped like real teens, but I haven’t done it yet.

  6. We’ve got Barbies up the wazoo and they are thrown carelessly in a pile, most of them naked. You know what I think is WAY worse to girls than Barbie’s size zero figure? Mothers who complain about their weight, say they are fat, and eat terribly in front of their kids. Don’t you think? My kids have seen me naked countless time; they know Barbie isn’t ‘real’. Now that I have a boy, though, you may hear me gasp when the ‘gun’ issue rears its ugly head.

  7. Didn’t have to worry about Barbie…given that I had sons. And not that there’s anything wrong with dolls for boys. In fact, my oldest two used to play occasionally with their younger female cousins when we visited on vacation. But I see your point.

  8. This is why I dreaded having a girl. God, I live in fear of the day that one of her school friends introduces her to Bratz. Of course, she is two right now and has no school friends, but one day. *lol*

  9. My baby girl is only 5 months old and I’m already concerned about this. Your post had me worried for a while there. Your Thalia’s a smart cookie!

  10. I have issues with Barbie too but mainly because as a black woman I find that they do nothing but promote self-hate of skin color and “nappy hair”. The black barbies all have overly processed hair and other traditionally white features. My daughter, a biracial child, needs to learn to lover herself as a whole. She does not need toys, dolls, or games that make her favor one side over another.Great post!

  11. uh-oh. i was raised free to be you and me. you better get her a couple of barbies AND a ken, or she’s going to grow up and write < HREF="" REL="nofollow"> resentful and accusatory things about you<>.

  12. <>“While I don’t envy her zip code on the other side of the Holland Tunnel…”<>Good to see you have your priorities straight 😛 .

  13. I recall endless hours playing with my collection of Barbies and my one Skipper doll. Not once did I ever draw the conclusion that I was supposed to have blond hair, a small waist, big boobs and arms that don’t straighten. I did have imaginative play about friendships and relationships. My oldest daughter has no interest in dolls while my youngest wants to feed them and put them to sleep. It’s actually really sweet to watch.My oldest does love to eat princess fruit gummy candies. While chewing on an Ariel she said, “Ha, you’re dead.” That can’t be good.

  14. Ditto Johnathan – 07093 had a pretty fabulous view. No playroom or backyard though.And we make our Barbies drink beer and talk in a British accent. Sometimes they get haircuts (until mommy finds the scissors in a child’s room and freaks out).

  15. I felt the same way and Barney and pointedly refused to expose my daughter to him. This was difficult because the purple monster errr…dinosaur was on after Sesame Street and I almost dropped the ball a few times. I still remember my horrified “NOOOOOOOOO” as I leapt toward the television, as if slow motion, to avoid exposure.But then my MIL unknowingly let her watch it and my life was over.

  16. My daughter is obsessed with the Disney princesses, but couldn’t give a hoot about Barbie. I can relate to the whole dilemma though. I have huge body-image issues (what woman above size 8 doesn’t?) and I worry about her learning to love herself in a society where imagine seems to be everything.But once again, your little writings bring smiles to an otherwise boring life. Thanks!

  17. Great post, and thanks for the link to the Peggy Orenstein piece. It helped me figure out something I was thinking about this weekend when I looked at the Life magazine insert in the paper on Thursday. It showed pictures of kids’ rooms with toys laid out all over the floor, and the girls’ toys shown were completely and overwhelmingly pink. I thought back to my late-70’s childhood and was sure I hadn’t had that much pink and neither had my friends, and Orenstein’s article discussing how this really began in the mid-80’s and intensified about six years ago was very illuminating.P.S. The Post crossword this weekend had a clue, “Sister of Thalia.” However, since the answer was Erato, I don’t think it was the puzzlemaker trying to give you a naming tip.

  18. We did not allow Barbies in the house till my girls were 6 for the same reason. Then we did a Barbie birthday and had a good long talk about Barbie. My kids were interested in her for about a year and then it was over, and something FAR worst came out.. BRATZ, we don’t allow those in the house. We have a rule that if you can’t wear it, neither can your dolls and none of thier clothes fit that rule. We do have some of the Barbie version, but my girls were and are still way more into Polly Pockets. I have 9 and 10 year olds.

  19. Yeah. Barbie didn’t make me hate my body. That was all my Mom.My daughter has yet to play with Barbies (she’s 3), but I see doll play and princess fantasies on the horizon. It makes me cringe, but I’ll feel like I’m depriving her if I don’t at least let her try.

  20. Well, now your daughter is going to think she should be red and fuzzy like Elmo 🙂I agree with the above posters – I don’t think a doll is going to create negative feelings about body image with your daughter – that’s going to come from the people she knows (you, her friends, etc….), and hopefully not at all.

  21. The burbs definitely have their advantages, but they have huge drawbacks as well. Don’t let yourself be sucked in by playroom envy. I loved Barbies growing up. And I think I have a fairly well-developed and healthy sense of self apart from my appearance. However, if I had girls, I’m not sure I would be thrilled about them either. My neice plays with Bratz, and I find them quite objectionable.

  22. My best friend’s daughter just turned <>five<> and is already telling her mother that she’s too fat.I don’t think you’re wrong to have had that reaction.Sometimes I am so glad I have only boys. (Sometimes not, but that’s another story.)

  23. I don’t see anything wrong with letting them play with Barbies. As long as they’re tempered with a healthy dose of commentary. Both my girls played with them, but I pointed out frequently how freakishly unrealistic they were. They were able to make up their own minds about them, and now hate them (and Bratz and their ilk) with a zeal.I think like anything forbidden, they’ll just gravitate towards them, anyways, and sometimes with added determination. Like witholding sugar from your kid only to discover his secret stash of fifty Blow Pops hidden away in his underwear drawer.

  24. Yup! I had this with my first daughter a couple of decades ago and I was convinced that by the time the next generation came along, it would be an entirely different story.Unfortunately it is the same old story with my younger daughter.Let hope that by the time both of them [yours and mine] are of breeding age, it will be a thing of the past.BEst wishes

  25. I used to not like Barbie. But then came Bratz. In comparison — Barbie is downright awesome!I refuse to buy Bratz for my nieces but I did buy a Barbie once. She was a boriqua princess dressed in purple and just happened to look exactly like her (and purple is her favorite color).

  26. This weekend, I met a little girl named, “Amaya”And, I thought of you.Obviously, I have been spending FAR too much time reading blogs online when I should be doing something much more productive.Good luck on the name game!~M

  27. I was disheartened when my daughter immediately took to the barbies at her friend’s house. I’ll have to hone her feminist creds another way, I think.

  28. With just one girl out of my brood, I never worried much about Barbie, but boy, those dang Bratz dolls make the local hookers look like saints. And of course, Boom is in lurve with them, ending in countless whine fests from her over how unfair I am. I’m not worried about her having body issues, I think Barbie is a scape goat for Moms not watching themselves and what they say about their own bodies in front of their daughters. I overheard one Mom tell her daughter that “she gave her those stretch marks and hopefully she gets them too”I AM worried though that my daughter will be dressing like a hooker before her 10th birthday due to the “oh so fabulous” stylings of the Bratz dolls closets.

  29. This is what terrifies me most about possibly having a girl someday. It’s hard enough to project positive body image without barbie’s boobs staring at you..well played Thalia!

  30. As long asd she isn’t playing with the Barbie with the pooper scooper, that’s alright by me.Carrie

  31. Barbie. Where do I start. I don’t know how many PunditGirl owns, but almost all of them have been gifts — blonde and in some wedding or princess gown. We’ve bought her one or two that “look like her” — Asian, dark hair. The only time they ever come out of their Container Store box is if we have a playdate and another girl wants to do some fashion show. That made me VERY happy. Then we encountered the devil-that-is-Disney — can you say Hillary Duff? Buckle up!

  32. Thalia and Cordy would get along very well. Cordy has never had any interest in Barbie dolls, or any other dolls, really. She likes her stuffed animals, and she likes My Little Pony, but that’s about as girly as she gets. Of course, mommy never had Barbies, either – the only girly toys I had were My Little Pony dolls, too.

  33. All right, Thalia!You know, I didn’t think it would be an issue this early either. But then someone gave my son this book of Disney fairy tales & one night he demanded that I read him Snow White. I got about 1/2 a page in & then made up my own story. And there was no rescuing of the Princess by the Prince. And no dreaming of the day her Prince would come. Hell, no!

  34. Man, I loved my Barbies. I still have some of them, although they look a bit haggard in their old age. I don’t blame Barbie for my self-image issues– Other adults took care of that. I was one of those really skinny kids. People would actually say, “Honey, you should eat something.” And, “you aren’t anorexic, are you?” To My Face. I believe much more that mothers and others shape our behavior more than a mere doll can. But I find it hard to find anything redeeming in Bratz dolls…

  35. Thank you for reminding me why, even though we are very different in some of our viewpoints, your blog is one of my most favorites. This post is wonderful! Mind if I link?

  36. “Want to play Meth Lab, baby?” LOL!I had Barbies as a kid, but they weren’t nearly as cool as my stuffed animals.

  37. Thank you for the link to < HREF="" REL="nofollow">Timeout NYKids<>. I’m (embarrassingly) new to your blog, and I will be visiting often. Your writing is magnificent! 🙂

  38. For anyone with a subscription — if you want to be really horrified, read the AP story on there today about Disney offering “Disney Princess” gowns to brides who get married at the theme parks. This quote sent chills down my spine:“But Disney’s Mooney points out that a woman’s first impression of love often comes from an animated character and it’s hard to completely erase that from her mind. ‘If you think about who the first person who teaches you about love, romance and Prince Charming is, it probably happened between the ages of 2-5 and included Disney.’ “This is NOT what I want for my 2.5 year old!! I plan to do everything in my power to keep her from internalizing this warped idea of love — that women are supposed to sit around passively, waiting for some “prince.”

  39. I fought the Barbie fight and one daughter hated them, one daughter loved them. I do have to say that I think she is warped enough (with me as a mother) to not let “Barbie” take over her brain.The other day she and her friends play GAY BARBIES using mostly Ken dolls as our pugs hate the barbies. I think its the big hair. The Barbie pic is quite disturbing BTW

  40. My mom couldn’t stand Barbie but people gave them to me anyway. Mom didn’t say a word but I ended up hating them, too. I cut all their hair off so they’d look like GI Joe.

  41. The best part about playing Barbies was setting up the house and using ordinary things to make interesting furniture and art in Barbie’s ugly 70’s house. Once we were done setting up, we’d play for about 5 minutes and then leave the cool house up until bedtime so as not to have all our fabulous interior design be in vain.

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