This is my first FF post in a long while. I’d almost begun to think I was done with FF. Then the xmas season hit, and everywhere I look I see adverts for girl toys, especially dolls, and especially Barbie. So I thought I’d write about that.
When I was small, my parents gave me many toys. I had trucks and dinky cars for dumping dirt and racing, I had engineering toys to build cool things, I had paint sets and crayons and markers for making works of art, I had board games, I had GI Joe for parachuting from trees, I had bikes and Star Wars figures and stuffed animals and books. But I loved none as much as Barbie.
She was so glamourous, so beautiful. She had so many pretty clothes. She had hair I could braid and pin up and even cut. She had a face with makeup already drawn on (even though I often wanted her to have more, and one lucky Barbie got turned into Marilyn Monroe with a haircut and a black marker). She had feet that only fit into high heel shoes. She had a great car, and a dream house, and a little sister, and a couple of dogs, and horses, and a camper, and any kind of job she wanted. She had a stady boyfriend, too. Barbie had it all.
I stopped playing with Barbie when I was about 11 or 12. I sort of missed her for a while. But ultimately I was glad she was out of my life – Barbie had been a bad influence on me. I didn’t like sharing my many Barbie dolls, even though I had several. I always wanted more Barbies, and I would examine their faces at the store to see which one I thought was most beautiful – we all knew that not all Barbies were perfectly alike. I began to get more destructive with Barbie, pulling off their heads and switching their bodies for ones with straight arms or bent arms as the occasion called, and cutting their hair shorter and shorter, and putting more and more heavy makeup on them with markers, and burning their hair by putting them by the heater – the sizzling smell was yucky, so I didn’t do that too often. Eventually, Barbie and Ken didn’t get along anymore, and Barbie was getting kidnapped a lot, and would end up tied upside down and hanging from the railing. I had come to love-hate Barbie.
Barbie advocates say that she is a tabula rasa - an empty and blank slate onto which the imagination of the child can inscribe any set of circumstances. Barbie is only limited by the child’s imagination, and the makers of Barbie have created a whole world of possibilities for Barbie to participate in – and little girls to dream of being themselves one day. Barbie can do anything.
Well, not so. Barbie is not a tabula rasa - she is the epitome of femininity. She is very rarely brunette – and although Barbie now comes in all kinds of ethnicities and races, this was not the case years ago, and those aren’t really Barbie, are they, those dolls are named something else. So only blonde white dolls can be Barbie.
Of course, we all know how unrealistic Barbie is for young girls. She seems to have a lot of money for buying lots of things, yet she can’t hold a steady job and flits from career to career just as quickly as changing an outfit. She never has a day where she looks tired – she’s always perky and pert with that stupid smile plastered all over her face, and the makeup that is permanently painted on. She never gets any older – her hair never turns grey, her face never wrinkles, her breasts never sag. She never could get pregnant (at least not when I had her). She never gains weight. And we all know about the “if Barbie was a real woman, she’d be 7 1/2 feet tall and have a 26 inch waist and a 150 inch chest” or whatever. She never eats. Her arms are permanently bent or straight, and her legs bend apart in only one way. She is always athletic, never disabled. And her genitals are just how the world wants them – clean and tidy and tiny. Very odd.
Barbie is quite simply not real. Nor could she ever be real. Yet she is held up as a paragon of femininity, an unachievable ideal for young girls to mimic. She is a princess, a dentist, a lawyer, a movie star. She is demure and always smiling, always pleasing to the eye, ready for anything. She is heterosexual. She is patriarchy’s ideal tabula rasa, an always-already perfect female form onto which anything can be inscribed. All you have to do is buy her.
And what’s worse, she teaches little girls to be the same as her.
There are lots of great dolls out there for kids to play with. I recently heard about Amamanta dolls – antomically correct, multicultural, multi-sexual, multi-aged dolls that come in family sets or as singles. There are also Teach-A-Bodies dolls, which come as large as life-size. Families can be heterosexual or gay, and mother dolls can give birth and breastfeed. These dolls can be used as sex education guides, and are used in conjunction with police investigations for child victims of sexual abuse and as aids to child therapy. While no dolls are going to perfectly encapsulate every kind of family or person, these dolls are a much better option than Barbie, in my book.
So this holiday, I say, boycott Barbie. She’s no good for your children’s self-esteem, and she is a symbol of patriarchal capitalism in the extreme. Don’t teach your children Barbie’s lessons.