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?
Very well said. I personally have not given this topic (Barbie) a whole lot of thought. I was actually raised not being allowed to play with Barbies and then we have allowed both of our daughters to play with Barbies. I think that in reality yes marketing is a huge thing but bottom line we as parents need to know our children well enough to know where to set necessary limits whatever the marketers bring. Great topic to dive into!
mila bassett says
Thanks, Morgan! That’s how I see it too. Though Marketing is there influencing our choices every day, it is parents’ job to steer their kids whatever direction they see appropriate.
It is a marketing gimmick but I would prefer giving a Lammily doll to a young girl. The Barbie doll does incorporate ideas that coupled with magazines and film promote an idea of beauty and lifestyle that is unobtainable for most females. Fantasy is best in small doses. Twenty four hour bombardment of an unrealistic standard by multiple sources would effect how anyone perceived themselves when looking in the mirror.
mila bassett says
Melinda, I agree that mass media and marketing can be overwhelming, and can really affect how kids (and adults for that matter) see themselves. I am a believer in limiting that kind of exposure until a child is capable of making right choices for him/herself.
Pequeña Ester says
This is exactly what I think. Do we really want to promote the average proportions when the average is overweight or obesity?, Can we label a healthy person as “irreal” just because she has not the “typical” body?, Are parents allowing the dolls to raise their kids, and the society to determinate the child self-steem?
Well, the solution can not be to make dolls with wider waist, or a 25,5 BMI doll like Lammily.
Also, I think T.V. has much more influence in this standars of beauty than dolls, -I have never seem a girl atacking her image because she does not look like a Barbie, instead I see they compare themselfs with models and T.V. Idols.
mila bassett says
Thank you so much for your comment (and sorry it took me so long to respond). I couldn’t agree with you more on the influence of TV on the kids’ behavior and self-image. I noticed some TV shows rubbing off on my girls in a really jarring way. We talked about that kind of shows and identified them as “junk”. The kids were able to see that, and can now be more selective in what they are watching.