Barbie vs. The Moms
She may be an icon, but it's difficult to know whether she's best described, at this point in her life, as
1. a retro doll on a comeback tour
2. the great pink peril (an eco-feminist disaster)
3. a mega-brand doubling as a fashion industry stimulus package.
Maybe she's all that and more.
That got me wondering: has Barbie managed to make peace with the modern mom? Or is she still the iconic symbol of every feminist mom's worst nightmare come true. (Nancy White’s classic song “Daughters of Feminists” instantly comes to mind.)
Let's face it, Barbie didn’t do much to further her cause as a toy you'd want around your daughter, what with the math incident and the lingerie Barbie line. ¹ What were those people at Mattel thinking?
And yet, young girls have always been (and still are) drawn to Barbie.
Competitors with the most noble of intentions have found it almost impossible to steal away any of Barbie's customers, as I discovered for myself when I tried to do the feminist mom thing when my daughter was of Barbie age. I bought my daughter the Barbie alternative (a more realistically proportioned doll named Happy to Be Me that promised to enhance girls' self-esteem), only to have my daughter hand her back, pronto, complaining that Happy had a big butt.
I headed online to chat with some moms on Twitter (a great way to sample opinions on any topic, by the way). I wanted to know where things stood in the battle between Barbie and the Moms. Here's what I found out.
Barbies aren't as bad as Bratz. “As an aunt, I'd much rather my nieces play with Barbies than Bratz.” says @twhitneyshan. “I find Barbie a little more wholesome.” @cathyempey shares that view. “I am okay with my daughters playing with Barbies. [They are] way better than Bratz. I do not allow those dolls [Bratz] into our home.”
Your house, your Barbie rules. Depending on how you feel about Barbie, that may mean hanging a Barbie welcome sign on your front door; having a no way, no how policy where Barbie is concerned; or allowing a Barbie or two to inflitrate the premises (to stop Barbie from becoming forbidden fruit). “I'm not keen on my daughter (age 3 1/2) playing with Barbie,” says @traceyibrahim. “But I don't [prevent] her.
You don’t have to buy into the (cradle-to-grave) Barbie marketing hype. “The consumer part bothers me the most," says @radmama. Her solution? Make way for vintage and hand-me-down Barbies rather than buying new.
Remind yourself that Barbie is a plastic toy, not a cult leader. Our daughters have the power to make their own choices (with us providing them with guidance in becoming strong, happy, healthy girls who won't let an artificially-proportioned toy mess with their heads). And sometimes what they choose to do with Barbie makes Sid from Toy Story seem like a toy-manitarian. (“I only cut off my Barbie’s hair,” confesses @radmama. “My sister painted hers silver and wrapped her in wire.")
So don’t write off those “Daughters of Feminists” too soon, Moms and Dads. They may be marching to the beat of their own drummer -- and using their Barbies as drumsticks.
1. The official Barbie Collector site features some demure looking pictures of lingerie Barbie - with suitably demure copy (Barbie "looks darling in delicate pink. Intricate pale pink lace accents her heavenly bustier ensemble. Pink peek-a-boo peignoir floats over soft pink, feminine underpinnings. Sheer pink stockings and sling back high heels add flirtatious finishing touches" etc.) - and indicates that lingerie Barbie and other Barbies in the Fashion Model Collection are no longer available.
A commentator at the Blog Sisters blog reacted to the parental outcry at the launch of lingerie Barbie in November 2002 as follows: "I've long been a big UN-fan of Barbie in general, but this new model doesn't bother me so much: she's kind of just a blatant example of what, to me, Barbie is about anyway. The angry dad on the news was upset about the sexual suggestiveness of the toy, but apparently has no problem letting his daughter play with lots of blonde, unrealistically shaped dolls that promote sexism in a more insidious way."
Body Talk: The Straight Facts on Fitness, Nutrition, and Feeling Great About Yourself: A self-esteem book for preteens and teens that I wrote with my daughter, Julie. (Maple Tree Press, 2006).
* * *
I'm hoping you'll continue the conversation with me, adding your two
cents in the comments section below, taking the discussion to your own
blog, and/or catching up with me via Twitter (@anndouglas). >> This may be my space, but it's our conversation. <<