It seems that we are constantly hearing shudders and disapproving tuts from parents and guardians alike, regarding the Barbie dolls their young girls play with. I am sure that I am not the only one who has heard statements such as “Barbie makes little girls think that they have to look a certain way”, and “Barbie doesn’t represent a normal woman” being thrown around in the last number of years. But, are these disapproving remarks actually truthful? Or, is this just an irrational concern?
When I was younger, I played with barbies. I liked to make them prance around the place, often in a somewhat ‘unladylike fashion’, contrary to their flawless, pretty appearance. In fact, I spent very little time as a young girl concerning myself with what Barbie wore. I can’t remember ever maintaining the dainty little shoes which came with her – they always became lost in some way or other. Similarly, I spent little time brushing her hair. I’d roughly scrape through her plastic dyed hair with a human sized brush, and scrape it back with one of my scrunchies. My Barbies spent most of their time frolicking around the place like they were drunk out of their minds… no shoes, carelessly dressed, often going around with missing items of clothing, etc. I gave my Barbies certain personalities. I remember when I was small, I was not one of these young girls to play into ‘the princess Barbie’; I always found the sporty and sociable Barbie to be far more appealing. I know that other girls are different, and they spend all of their time sitting in their pristine rooms, brushing Barbie’s hair, dressing her, and of course, maintaining every last one of her colourful dainty shoes.
Barbie was not the only toy we played with when we were young. There were plenty – Baby Born, toy cars, teddies, board games, remote control cars, or even ‘make-it-yourself’ sets (which were referred to as ‘makey-do sets’ in my house). I cannot speak for the general nation of children, but in our house there was rarely gender distinguishing when it came to toys. My siblings and I shared our toys. I didn’t adapt an unrealistic body image from Barbie, just like I didn’t aspire to be a cowboy from playing with a Woody doll.
For the most part, I feel I can speak from experience, and say that toys do not put any pressure on children to become a certain person. Similar concerns have been expressed regarding video games such as ‘Grand Theft Auto’. My simple response to this concern is that maniacs, murderers and rapists have been around for centuries. I fail to see how a violent video game is going to encourage children to act violently. Also, the game is only suitable for over 18 year olds — so maybe your child shouldn’t be playing it anyway if you do not want these concerns to become reality.
I can safely say that for me, a toy was always just a toy when I was young. I was never under the impression that girls who looked like Barbie existed. Perhaps ‘blonde bombshells’ did, but nonetheless they were human beings with non-animated faces and hair that wasn’t plastic. I also knew that Woody from Toy Story didn’t exist, and that race cars required a driver to move, not a hand.
Toys are there for children to create, to imagine, to have fun and to even express themselves. So, my simple answer to the title of this blog is ‘no’, I don’t feel that Barbie distorts the body image of young girls. Barbie is just a glorified piece of plastic, with round plastic boobs and plastic white-blonde hair. Barbie was made out of plastic – just like Baby Born was, and just like remote control cars were. I was never under the illusion that I would someday become a Barbie replica – and I never felt any of my other friends would either. I was surrounded by real-life women, who were not made out of plastic and did not have permanent makeup tattooed onto their faces. I always aspired to be like these women – I never aspired to look like Barbie, or act like her (considering her personality was somewhat bland.)
If anything, we need to concern ourselves with real-life women. I do recall aspiring to be like Rachel Stevens from S Club 7, or Emma Bunton from The Spice Girls. Rachel Stevens was awarded the title of ‘Sexiest Woman Alive’ during my childhood; and Emma Bunton often wore very little clothes and behaved very promiscuously in music videos (although she was most probably playing the character of ‘Baby Spice’)
Are these really positive role models for young girls? Both examples were sexualised in the media. Barbie was also sexualised; but as I have stated, the difference is that Barbie is plastic. Perhaps we need to be concerning ourselves more with the unsuitable role models for young girls?
But for now, I don’t feel Barbie is putting on any pressure. And, if you think she is, just don’t buy her for your children. It seems pretty simple to me!
Thanks for reading 🙂