Year after year Barbie™ comes under attack for demoralizing a new generation of girls…or, at least their mothers. This ridiculous plastic doll, in her ridiculous pink box, flanked by a hundred other copy-cat “fashion dolls” provokes artists and feminists and trolls and plastic surgery addicts. I am a feminist. I am a mother of daughters. But I was also a little girl, once. And I LOVED my Barbie dolls. So how the hell am I supposed to feel about this nine inch harlot and all of her friends taking over the play room?
The hyper-protective feminist mother in me wants to hold a Barbie-Q, toss the things in a bonfire and buy the shapeless wooden eco-dolls with organic cotton muu-muus. Because THAT will ensure my girls grow up into well-rounded, confident women-people. Right?
The Madness has five Barbies. She used to have more – she used to have my old barbies – but their skin was weird and I got worried about BPA and what-the-hell-ever else and threw those away (you’re welcome, environment). New Barbie does not fit in old Barbie’s clothes.
I thought old Barbie must have had some seriously spectacular tits. I thought, hey, at least Mattel has made SOME effort to normalize Barbie’s proportions. Nope. Let’s just say my husband does not like to play Barbies because New Barbie makes him feel like a perv.
But the Madness doesn’t care about that. That’s adult baggage. And here’s the thing about Barbie’s proportions. Nobody under the age of “Modern Feminism 101” gives a crap about her LITERAL proportions. Girls who think they need to look exactly like a plastic doll in order to be beautiful need therapy. And possibly better parents. And definitely a hobby.
Maybe my judgment on this issue is clouded. I was always worried about not being smart enough – not being pretty enough never crossed my mind. And I don’t remember thinking I had to grow up to look like Barbie, though I did expect to have most of her shoes (after all, my mom did). On that front, I always thought my mom did look like Barbie. My mom is 5’4″ and rocked a bad perm and a cigarette for most of my youth.
It’s possible I’m not very observant.
Or maybe women are more than a collection of measurements. Even plastic women. And maybe focusing on the exact proportions of a doll is just the slightest bit completely f’ing absurd. Madz can have a tea party with a stuffed dog, a plane and a brick. Do not underestimate a kid’s imagination. They don’t need realism.
But here’s the important thing: When I put aside my distaste for the perfect plastic arch of Barbie’s back and the bound nature of her feet; when I finally agree to go upstairs and just play with her with my daughter, I get a window into my kid’s world and the way that she sees mine.
That’s the great thing about Barbie – she’s a grown-ass woman. I mean, she currently has the body of an underage, malnourished porn star, but in my kid’s MIND, she’s a grown-ass woman. She has a job. She has several jobs. She also appears to be bisexual, but that may just be because we have 5 Barbies and only one Ken. Girl power. She goes to work. She shops. She cooks. Currently, she’s actually pretty boring. Like me. My kid needs better role models.
While we play, we talk. Mostly the kid talks (and talks and talks) and I listen. I try to sneak in life lessons and question the dominant paradigm, and Barbie changes her clothes. A lot. And I try not to claw out my eyes. The way Madz plays with these dolls shows me so much about what she expects out of life, and what she expects out of me, and why I really need to watch what I say out loud because that shit is seriously coming back to haunt me.
My fear was that this plastic doll was going to give my daughter a twisted expectation of physical beauty. Listening to my kid, I discovered this amazing thing: Right now, the Madness thinks Barbie is beautiful the same way that she thinks sunsets are beautiful, or the enormous lady at the bus stop in the gardenia printed muu-muu and a church hat is beautiful. She sees beauty everywhere – in places I’ve stopped looking – and that beauty doesn’t take away from hers. Or mine. Or yours. Not yet, anyways.
It turns out, two totally different things can be beautiful at the same time. Mind blowing. These are the things we learn from five-year-olds. I only wish she could hold onto that knowledge past elementary school.
First graders having body image issues isn’t Barbie’s fault. Barbie is a product. She changes to reflect the expectations of the day. Maybe we don’t like Barbie because we don’t like what she reflects right now. So CHANGE right now. Change your own limited idea of beauty. Change the way you look at yourself, and other women, and your daughters. It’s not impossible. It’s not easy, but it’s not impossible. We’re more than just trained monkeys, right? How can we expect the world to change if we can’t change ourselves, in it?
So no, I’m not afraid of Barbie anymore. I’m afraid of first graders and bad teachers and drunk drivers and whatever happened to Miley Cyrus. I’m afraid of the weird guy at the park, and so many guns, and the chemicals in my food/water/make-up.
But I’m not afraid of Barbie. She’s just a doll.
(Now Bratz dolls. Holy shit – those things are a freaking nightmare. Don’t even get me started on that mess.)