If you have a daughter, you are well educated on the subject of Barbie world (if you don’t have a daughter, read on: this is not just about Barbies): countless variations of Barbie itself, as well as Barbie furniture, pets, accessories. And let’s not forget books and movies. As a mother of three girls, I have certainly been in the know (I touched upon this topic in this post).
For being such a delicate creature, Barbie has stirred up a lot of controversy in the world of parenting. Some parents indulge their daughters in all “just-in” Barbie-related goodies, while others ban the doll from their house. The great divide is typically caused by a) Barbie’s appearance, i.e. unrealistic proportions ostensibly sending a wrong message to girls about their body image, and b) Barbie’s “personality” that goes beyond the skinny physique: the doll is often perceived as full of “attitude”; she is obsessed with shopping, fashion, and her looks (proverbial “dumb blonde” syndrome?).
You’d think the new, “realistically proportioned”Barbie, a.k.a. Lammily, finally presents a healthier alternative. However I did not get excited about it, and here is why:
First, I don’t believe the traditional Barbie’s proportions have any negative effect on girls’ self esteem (if they do, it is a red flag pointing to some deeper issues). I give girls enough credit to make a judgement call on this: toys don’t look like exact replicas of humans (based on the sample size of two, but I bet my girls are not much different from their peers. My 16-month old responded non-verbally. Apparently, Barbies make an excellent teether toy).
Second, I find the symbolism behind it (dangerously) misleading: it capitalizes on “average and realistic” body image, which can easily become an excuse and a cover up for sedentary behavior in kids and unhealthy eating habits. The new Anti-Barbie wears sport clothes, but so far I haven’t seen any emphasis on “healthy and fit”, but rather on “normal and real” angle. The difference is subtle but it is important.
And lastly, in the “personality” department, the “averagely-built” Barbie can easily suffer from the same attitude problems as her skinny counter-part. Let’s face it: dolls don’t come off the shelf with a built-in behavior, they take on “personalities” of their owners. If my daughter’s pink unicorn starts channeling a “diva” attitude, finding a more realistically proportioned unicorn (less pink? longer horn?) will not improve my daughter’s behavior. I will definitely need to recalibrate my parenting skills with regard to her values and attitude.
Reading the story behind Lammily’s creation, I couldn’t shrug off the feeling that this is just a clever marketing move promoting a new product. Marketing is a powerful thing! (I realize this is a little bit
apples to oranges “Barbies to Bananas”, but the fact is, consumer behavior is easy to manipulate). Would you be surprised to know that her creator Lamm studied Marketing at the University of Pittsburgh?
What are your thoughts on this?