Am I really a Barbie girl?

If I’ve learned one thing from being a mom, it’s never to say never. I will admit it: before I had children I was the kind of smug little so-and-so who enjoyed passing judgment on complete strangers. “When I have kids, I will never let them do/eat/watch such and such.” “My children will never act like that.” “I will never bribe them/yell at them/let them get away with (insert offensive behavior here).”

Yeah, right. I soon found out that that living with small children requires flexibility, an open mind and the ability to forgive yourself and others–sometimes on a daily basis. I’ve also learned the truth behind the old adage, “don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.” My most recent case in point? Barbie videos.

Several months ago, WMAG did a product review of some Barbie clothing where I expressed my discomfort with the Barbie franchise. To me, Barbie represented (and still sort of does represent) the kind of superficial girly ideal that gets rammed down our daughters’ throats before they’ve even emerged from the womb. One of the hardest things about preparing for the birth of our little girl was being unable to find anything in primary colors that didn’t have a truck or sports equipment on it. If I wanted something that didn’t scream “BOY!!!!” then I had to wade through oceans of pink frilly crap, much of it emblazoned with words like “princess” or “cutie pie” or even “daddy’s little shopaholic.” Um… yuck. Barbie appeared to be one of the worst offenders because not only was everything associated with her the color of bubble gum, but the dolls themselves were just so cheap and trampy looking. I noticed at that time that Mattel had put out a few Barbie videos but swore I would avoid them like the plague.

Fast forward three years. I’m in Blockbuster with my pre-schooler looking for DVDs she can watch in the car on our way to a holiday gathering. She grabs the Barbie and the Twelve Dancing Princesses DVD and won’t let go of it. It has ballerinas on the cover, therefore she is sold. And I am too tired to argue. She watches the movie to and from Cleveland, and when we get home from the trip she wants to watch it again. I decide she can see it one last time before we return it, and I sit down to watch, too.

Guess what? I love it. The story is well done, the music is Mendelssohn, and the dances were choreographed by Peter Martins of the New York City Ballet. Most important, Barbie and her sisters are wholesome-looking and -behaving. No cleavage, no gum popping and no jokes about shopping. When Little One decided this was her new favorite video, I found I could watch it several times and not want to kill myself.

Since then, we’ve explored several of the other Barbie movies. She loves the Barbie Nutcracker and Swan Lake, though I think they’re rather weak. Rapunzel is better, but best of all is Barbie in The Princess and the Pauper. Inspired by Mark Twain’s novel, it is an utterly charming musical. I’m pretty critical and cynical, and I can find little not to love in this film. The female characters are strong and create their own destinies, the Prince Charming characters truly are charming, the parental figures are treated with respect, and the music is gorgeous. Barbie Island Princess has some beautiful tunes, too, if you can get past the abundance of annoying animal characters.

By this point, anybody who knows me has got to be laughing. I never saw myself as a Barbie girl but I have to respect the care that went into many of these films, as well as the fact that they strike a nice balance between girlishness and strong female characters. I don’t know how I’d feel if my child were black or hispanic or Asian – there’s no denying that Barbie is lily white, and I imagine that could cause issues among families who aren’t. I also don’t know whether it’s bad for my daughter to enjoy a character as unattainably beautiful as Barbie. I guess it doesn’t bug me because, for better or worse, Barbie looks just like you’d expect a princess to look. At least she’s not wearing a shell bra like Ariel.

Which brings me to the Barbie dolls. I still have a problem with those. Little One got a ballerina Barbie for Christmas that is so hyper-sexualized she looks like she just stepped out of the Moulin Rouge. I’ve checked out the dolls modeled after the video characters, and they disappoint as well. Too much makeup, revealing costumes, faces that don’t even look like they do in the films. (Why does Barbie look like a fresh-faced 18-year old on film and like an aging beauty pageant contestant in the stores?) My daughter shows no interest in the dolls because they are so disconnected from what she sees on the videos. So for now, it’s “yes” to Barbie and the Magic of Pegasus, “no” to the dolls and their accompanying swag.

The point of this post is not to help Mattel sell Barbie videos (though if you’re looking for a nice piece of family entertainment, you can’t go wrong with The Princess and the Pauper). I guess I’m just feeling humbled. As Little One grows, I’m sure I’ll find other things to enjoy about which I once said, “never!”

11 thoughts on “Am I really a Barbie girl?

  1. BlondeMomBlog (Jamie) says:

    My girls are 5 and 2, about to turn 3 and 6, and LOVE the Barbie movies. In fact, my 5-year-old keeps reminding me that Barbie Mariposa is about to be released. Honestly by now I’ve come to realize that the Barbie flicks, while definitely not Pixar animation quality, have wonderful story lines, strong female characters, and beautiful music.

    You mentioned that black or Asian or Hispanic girls might feel left out by Barbie. What about Dora? My girls are also crazy about her and we’re not Hispanic.

    Like you, though, I never thought I’d be a Barbie girl. But I have two diehard fans and I’ll admit when faced with the Hannah Montana and High School Musical phase just around the corner and the alternate Bratz that Barbie? She rocks! 😉

  2. Niyara - Asian Rocxs says:

    I love barbie and I dont think she presents anything negative for girls. as an adult you can see her as a sterotype and bimbo but thinking back to childhood… every girl should have barbie

  3. Chief Family Officer says:

    I loved what you said about having to be flexible and forgiving as a parent – it’s taught me more about letting go of my perfectionism than I ever would have thought possible.

  4. We have the Barbie The Princess and the Pauper book. And someone gave us the Barbie Swan Lake movie. My daughter only has watched it once so far and I haven’t paid much attention to it.

    I never gave much thought to Barbie and what she may represent or how her image may be unattainable. I wasn’t a Barbie freak, but I do have good memories of playing with my Barbie mansion as a child. I could play with it for hours and let my imagination go. She was just another toy that I liked to play with, along with my Transformers and Star Wars toys. She’s harmless.

  5. just4ofus says:

    How your daughter comes to see herself and how she feels about herself will come from you, and when she gets older her peers.(which hopefully will be influenced by you guys as parents). Barbie is just a toy that you child plays with (usually imitating your home behaviors in the Barbie home).
    So don’t worry about what image that you think Barbie represents and worry about what you teach her and how you act. That’s where it all come from.

  6. I wondered if those Barbie movies were any good. Sounds like there’s a few to consider for Cassie in there.

    As I’ve said before, I’ve always been a fan of Barbie even though I know they’re not in any way realistic portrayals of women’s bodies or feminist ideas. I played with them tons, and my mom was an educated, non-Barbie-like feminist who raised me to be one, too. We also watched All My Children together. What does that tell you?

  7. Maybe we should all write to Mattel and tell them that we are pwith their videos and if they would like us to purchase the dolls they need to make them more wholesome and reflect the movie characters 🙂

    I agree – I enjoyed the videos myself but the only dolls that will enter this house will have to be bought by Grandma 😉

  8. This is why I like having a boy! If I can keep guns and numchucks away from him we will be good to go!

  9. I have three girls (10, 6 and 4). I DON’T like Barbie dolls. But, even if you don’t buy them… they came to your house.
    So, when my 10-years-old, fell in love with Madeleine dolls, I was really happy. I love everything about the dolls. They are little girls, no women. They dress like little girls, etc.
    Sadly, last year I tried to buy another ones for my 6-year-old… the doll is NOT the same!!
    It is a shame!!

  10. A Mother's Nature says:

    I am so glad I found your blog! I recently got into a heated discussion with my brother-in-law regarding TO BARBIE or NOT TO BARBIE.
    I vote no. I do want to subject my child (16 months now) to all the things that a Barbie is. You are absolutely right when you pointed out that our children get so much image ideas (mostly negative) through the media, why worsen that?
    My family was saying it is inevitable, but I believe that as parents, we should be in control.
    I vote for more wholesome images for dolls and when the time comes I plan to fully look for that for my child.

    Thanks again for your post. I am bookmarking your blog to my page.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Thank you so much for this post. I have stated adimately to all my famlily that Barbie and Brats are not welcome in our home. I've also mentioned it to my friends in passing but everyone thinks I'm a freak. No one else has even considered the implications that the Barbie brand has on girls. I litterly feel ill when I walk by the pink infested isle of the Barbie stuff. This time I failed to ask school parents not to send Barbie or Brats, never needed to before, and my 5 year old daughter received 2 dolls!! At first she responded in a very obedient fashion and said, Oh, we don't do Barbie in our family or Brats! They are mean. What I realized in that moment is that she has no experience or understanding of her own regarding Barbie because what little exposure she has had has been accompanied by my clear and conistent opposition. So now I'm seeking some perspecive. I refuse to give in to main stream pressure but I don't want to be rigid for the sake of making a point to the world and keeping my pride in tact. I've concluded that I believe that the Barbie brand is projecting superficial values such as looks and material possessions and a distorted image of women for little girls. Some people say it's just a toy and they learn their self esteem from parents but they are very much impacted by the media and main stream culture and if I as a parent allow her to be exposed and emmersed in that stuff then that is a way that I am modeling my own values and beliefs. If mom says Barbie is OK then she must be even though mom doesn't look or act like that or have all of those things. We have not seen any of the movies. There are so many other quality things to do and see besides Barbie videos that it has not been an issue, and neither have the dolls until now.

    I think the effects can be subtle over time. I want to be realistic and flexible and honest and true to myself. I don't see a great benefit from exposing her to Barbie. There are other options. I also don't want to be flexible for the sake of making it easy for me so I don't have to explain to my daugther why I don't allow Barbie in our family again and again. The main thing I want to teach her is that it's OK to stand up for what you think is right for you no matter what everybody else is doing. I don't want her to follow the crowd. I want her to think for herself. But mimicking what I say about Barbie is not thinking for herself. So I'm called to do some more soul searching and clarification about my own beliefs and values and what I need to stand up for. My explanation to her will be as I stated above that I believe the people who make Barbie are not concerned about little girls and Barbie represents superficial values that we don't support in our family like you need to look a certain way to be pretty or you need a bunch of pink stuff to be happy or important. I love you deeply and I want you to learn important things like being kind, honest, generous, brave, adventurous, responsible and loving. That may be a bit much for a 5 year old but that's the premice of where I'm coming from. She trusts me and I want to foster that by being true to myself and standing by my beliefs. I feel that this time it's an opportunity to model integrity, it's not about the toy or the doll. I appreciate your honesty and I love your mentions of humility. I hope I have maintained that even though I'm sticking to my decision to say no thank you to Barbie for now.

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