I was at the park with a couple of mums when the Barbie shaming started.
I made the mistake of announcing I had bought my soon-to-be six-year-old the latest Barbie mermaid with a flashing tail for her birthday. I was pretty excited because FLASHING TAIL. I knew my daughter would love it.
Well, you would think I had bought her some hot pants and a boob tube by the way one of the mums reacted.
‘We’re going to stay away from Barbie for as long as we can,’ she remarked.
I looked at her blankly as I thought to myself, ‘Why? Why are you staying away from a simple doll?’
She explained that she didn’t want to damage her daughter’s body image with Barbie and preferred some of the other dolls on the market like Monster High. You know Monster High dolls? The ones that look like they are going to murder you in your sleep? Yeah, those.
I’m never one to start a debate and strongly believe in the ‘each to their own’ sentiment, so the conversation finished awkwardly as my excitement for the flashing tail quickly dissipated.
The conversation got me thinking though. Am I damaging my daughters exposing them to these dolls? Between my two girls they own around 20 Barbies or similarly designed Disney Princess dolls. Is Barbie sending them subliminal messages that they will be less than perfect when they’re older if they don’t have massive boobs, a tiny waist and wear nine inch heels?
In all seriousness, I know we need to be more careful than ever when it comes to body image and our young girls. There are so many different factors can that can impact on a young girl’s body image, particularly media, advertising, social media and their peers. I know that we need to protect our young girls and raise them to have a healthy body image and to respect their bodies.
In doing that, do we need to keep them away from Barbie? Can Barbie really impact on a girl’s body image as negatively as some people believe she does?
I had a truckload of Barbies when I was younger and my sister and I played with them religiously. I never once thought that I wanted to look like Barbie, to be thin like her or have similar clothes. She was just a doll that I innocently played with.
When my girls play with Barbies I look at the positive effect these dolls have on them. Playing with Barbies promotes imaginative play. My girls happily create one wild adventure after another with their Barbies. They engage in healthy role play, developing their communication skills, vocabulary and storytelling ability.
The way they play with their Barbies is no different to how they play with their Octonauts, and most likely no different to how they would play with Monster High dolls if they had them. For my two girls, playing with Barbies involves letting their imaginations run wild. It doesn’t focus on Barbie’s appearance. Not once have they questioned her figure or the way she looks. They have no idea that Barbie’s shape is unrealistic and unobtainable for the large majority of women. By the time they are old enough to realise this, they will likely have lost interest in playing with dolls.
The variety of Barbies these days is astounding. When I was a kid you could choose between a Barbie in a ball gown or bikini. That’s it. Now you can buy career Barbies, superhero Barbies, rock star Barbies. There is virtually a Barbie for every aspiration.
There is also a great series of Barbie movies that encourage young girls to dream big and be strong, smart and courageous, while reinforcing the notion that you can do anything you set your mind to.
As far as I’m concerned, Barbie is a positive role model for my girls. Next time the conversation is raised with the mum from the park, I’ll be sure to tell her so.
Do you think Barbie impacts negatively on your child or do you see them as just a doll?
More on raising strong girls:
- Gender-fying Kids: Finding Balance When Raising Girls
- How to Raise a Daughter with Leadership Skills
- The Best Girl Power Movies to Watch with Your Daughter