Barbie Dolls – Don’t Be Hatin

barbie pile

I’m going to open up a can of worms and admit something that might not be very popular. I let my daughter play with Barbie dolls.

I’ve read repeatedly that Barbie dolls contribute to the negative self image of girls because of the doll’s unrealistic physical appearance. There have been studies that suggest that exposing girls to these dolls can contribute to eating disorders later in life. While I think they’re part of the problem, how girls learn to feel about themselves is a lot more complicated than what dolls they play with.

I don’t blame Barbie for my negative self image. I blame The Young and the Restless, General Hospital and Days of Our Lives. I blame Charo on the Love Boat. I blame Dallas, Falcon Crest and Dynasty. I blame all of the images I was exposed to as a child that weren’t age appropriate and that desensitized me to early sexualization. Those shows are the reason I took a knife and sliced the mouths of my Barbie and Ken dolls so that I could squeeze their cheeks, thus allowing them to French kiss. It wasn’t Barbie’s skewed proportions that made me want to look and act like a grown up. And it wasn’t her skinny plastic body that told me my butt was too big and my boobs were too small.

The inappropriate sexualization of children is everywhere and it’s such a part of everyday life that many of us don’t even notice it anymore. Girls in first grade are dressing like their older teenage sisters. Teenage girls are dressing like a page from a Victoria’s Secret catalog. Whether or not you think Barbie is a good role model, it’s hard to deny that adult sexuality is being sold to our children. I pretended my Barbie was a scorned lover. My daughter pretends that hers is a doctor.

I can’t control everything my daughter is exposed to but I can control what she sees at home. I made a rule for myself that I would never talk negatively about my body in front of my kids, especially my daughter. She will never know how I feel about my boobs, my belly or my thighs. I will proudly prance around the pool in my bathing suit without embarrassment or shame. She’ll never hear me call myself fat, ugly or (God help me) old.

My good friend Rutabaga tells it like this:

“I think the idea that girls identify with Barbie as the ‘perfect’ woman is what most anti-Barbie people are concerned with…but to blame one doll when there is so much more that influences children is like saying that every child processes information the same exact way and we must shield them from anything harmful because it will resonate within their brain. Which is just not true – we don’t exist in a vacuum where each thing that we experience stands on its own.   A mom calling herself ‘fat’ and always talking about what she ate and how ‘bloated’ she is etc is going to have a huge impact; maybe coupled with the Barbie – a child might make that connection.  Sure, I’d like to see a more realistic Barbie with stretch marks and a little belly, but to deny my kid the chance to play and use imagination is not a better alternative.“

And don’t even get me started on the messages we send little boys. My father-in-law sent me an article on how schools’ zero-tolerance policies on guns not only lack in common sense, but are sending the message to boys that their imaginative play is shameful and unwelcome.

My stepmom refused to let my little brothers play with guns. One day they chewed their peanut butter and jelly sandwiches into the shape of guns and she realized that she was fighting a losing battle. My son is the sweetest 4-year-old you’ll ever meet. He hugs complete strangers and sends everyone off with a hearty, “Have fun storming the castle!” He also saves the world from bad guys with his sword and lightsaber. Sometimes he’s Peter Pan and sometimes he’s Captain Hook. Is he at risk for getting kicked out of preschool because his idea of imaginative play is shooting the bad guys?

The way my kids feel about themselves starts at home. If they see something on TV that confuses them, we talk about it. They don’t hear my husband and I call people fat or ugly. We monitor the games they play and what they watch on TV. I know it’ll get harder as they get older because we’ll have less control over their influences but we’ll continue to do our best to lay a strong foundation.

So, for now, we’ll play with our Barbies and weapons, although not at the same time – that’s a whole other can of worms.

P.S. Can of worms #3 – If you really want a good reason to boycott Barbie dolls, do a little research on the foreign companies Mattel uses to manufacture their toys. Forced labor, excessive overtime, unlivable wages and poor living conditions are directly linked to many of the toys we buy our children. 

208 Comments on “Barbie Dolls – Don’t Be Hatin

  1. There is an admitted disconnect between the male and female brain as it applies to such things. I want to acknowledge that I understand that before I swim in these treacherous waters. Here is an example: the other day my wife made corn bread and our other female friend mad chili. They took turns trying to convince every one that it probably isn’t very good. It occurred to me that if it was two of the men that made the food it would have gone more like this: stay away from that chili I made… I mean, I make good chili, but this is even good for me!
    Chili?? The other man would say… did you try the cornbread I made, it is amazing
    I understand that a lot of the female lack of self confidence and body image stuff comes in comparing to idealized images and Barbies. The only people that are actually looking are men (and other women, but let’s be honest, ya’ll are mean). Husbands, boyfriends, sons and fathers see amazingness in real women. And beauty and hotness. Big butts and little boobs are good. I like the way an NFL cheerleader looks, but I like the way my wife looks, too. A lot.
    http://jwolffblog.wordpress.com/

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    • I totally get what you’re saying. I’m not even sure how our society has twisted the idea of what a woman is supposed to look like because every man I know says they like us however we are. Confidence is sexy. It doesn’t matter our age or weight. Thanks for your comment!

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  2. Fantastic post. My niece loves dolls, rockets and Lego. She happily plays trains and trucks with her cousins and they play with her bears and dolls. Self image does start at home. I remember my mother going to fix herself up so she looked nice when my Dad got home – I don’t mean glammed but tidy (tho with 4 kids there were a few disaster days too of course). Unrealistic images are everywhere and I’ve been horrified by things I’ve seen young girls wearing. If self image starts at home, so does the conversation. Do I think models look like magazine covers when they are at home in their pj’s? Of course not. Self worth is about so much more than beauty but our kids won’t understand that if they don’t see, hear and talk about it at home.

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  3. You might enjoy my post, “Barbie Is a Feminist.” I don’t think Barbie is to blame for low self-esteem and poor body image either. My girlfriends and I all realized that she was just a doll, and we were more likely to compare our bodies to images on T.V. and in the magazines, as well as to each other. In my article, I defend Barbie and explain how she made me feel like I could achieve anything whether it was a fabulous career or a Malibu dream house. Barbie had several impressive careers–she was an astronaut, a doctor, and even president. I don’t think there’s a doll out there who has accomplished more!

    http://missamycakes.com/2013/08/27/barbie-is-a-feminist/

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  4. Good read. I think kids should just be allowed to be kids. Personally, my belief is that they should chose their own toys and self identity should be developed overtime through conversation, exposure to cultural experiences, and relationships with a little coaching. Your article was a good reminder to parents- to pay attention to the items they expose their kids to…with focus on orgin, attire, and benefits of use…positive or negative.

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  5. Boo.Yha. Hell to the yeah. People love to blame everything on everyone and everything else. I can safely say that any issues I have ever had with self-image never started with Barbie…and I played a lot of Barbie growing up. I kind of love that you made it possible for you Barbies to French kiss, because my Barbies totally had sex. And it wasn’t Barbie that inspired that. It was the soap operas my mom would watch every afternoon while ironing. At the same time, even though those soap operas exposed me to things I should not have been ready for, I still turned out okay. I didn’t grow up to be a prostitute, or even promiscuous. Because my parents taught me that I didn’t have to do everything I saw other people doing. You said it well. It all starts at home. I wish more people with your line of thinking were the ones always speaking the loudest.

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    • Thank you so much! In this age, teaching kids that they don’t have to do everything they see other people doing is hard because kids SEE so much more than we did. I still remember black and white TV. Try explaining that to a kid nowdays. I think I’ll consider myself a success if my kids play more than they watch a screen. 🙂

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  6. Reblogged this on Heidi On The Go and commented:
    I definitely can understand this perspective (especially being a larger woman myself and feeling like I constantly have unreal expectations set on me). I played with Barbies when I was younger and enjoyed every moment of creativity and imagination! #realbeautyiswhenyouarecontentwithyou

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  7. Excellent! Like you, Barbie dolls didn’t make me critical of my body. But Archie Comic books did. Remember Betty and Veronica? As a kid and then pre-teen, I would scrutinize their bodies and then look at mine. Why weren’t my books that perky? Or big? Why were mine flat? Why did my thighs look different from theirs in jeans? The fact that Betty and Veronica were DRAWN never entered my mind. But comparing myself to them did. (Oh – and I let my daughter play with Barbie dolls too.)

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    • Archie, huh? I think if we pick up on the message that women should look a certain way, we’ll become critical of ourselves. The biggest challenge is grooming our children to be self-accepting. Thanks for your comment!

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  8. I agree. I allow my 4 year old daughter to play with Barbie dolls and quite honestly, if anyone is going to give her weight or self-esteem issues, it’ll probably be me!

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  9. I’ve been playing with Barbie dolls all my life as a kid and I didn’t turn out to be overly obsessive over my body or having any negative behavioural problems that Barbies claim to have on children. It’s the media.

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  10. Well said. I think parents and other adults in childrens lives make the biggest impressions on them. As adults we can teach children healthy ways to view the world; to form their own opinions and be able to move freely in the world as they grow up, without us worrying about how each piece of media or other persons views may hurt them. I really like your p.s. too!

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  11. You know until now I’ve never heard of the I hate Barbie thing… Weird…
    It just doesn’t make since to me, Especially since the reasons why I had those same problems in school about being pretty had nothing to do with Barbie. Do adults think young people are stupid and cant tell the difference between a doll and real people? Honestly who comes up with these ridicules things…

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    • Bashing a girl for being too pretty is just as bad as bashing her for not being pretty enough. Real feminists embrace women in all their forms. Thanks for your thoughts!

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  12. I could totally relate to this post. I have three boys and am constantly worrying equal parts about shaming their use of guns and what the shaming is doing to them. I’ve decided that a rule I can live with is no pointing guns at each other- or asking them about their play and reinforcing that pretending is fine but to be thoughtful about their actions… It’s a compromise I can live with for now- and they seem to understand. This was a really thoughtful post- thank you! Can’t wait to read more from you! Peace, Mama!

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  13. To be honest I never got the Barbie hate either. When I had a Barbie I didn’t really want to look like it, but I was creative and imaginative, and I designed it clothes and cut out patterns and learnt to sew. And as my daughter is now older, she too does the same thing…she’s actually less interested in Barbie and dolls in general, since she prefers technology, but if it means creating awesome designs and crafting something she did by herself whilst learning a new skill.

    Kids are influenced by so much, so are adults, and its not simply one thing or the other, but a combination of things, and too much of anything is never good.

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  14. Kudos to you!!
    It’s a lot more than just Barbie that contributes to any pathology.
    Errr, I say, back it up a bit and lets take a peek outside of the toy box. How does Daddy treat Mommy? What values are endorsed and promoted in the home verbally or non-verbally?
    If problems of the mind and mood were as simple as “To Play or Not To Play … with Barbie,” society would be a much more user-friendly place.

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    • Oh, if it could only be so simple. The role of non-verbal cues is a good point. A parent saying one thing and then rolling their eyes for example. Thanks for your thoughts Linda-Marie!

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  15. My granddaughter comes over to our house often. We have a box of Barbies and even at eleven she still takes them out and talks to them and plays dance with them. It is so innocent and pure. Sexism does not stick out it’s head. Maybe later but right now it is okay. We can find sexism in almost everything. Phallic symbols abound in our mind and in some cases they may be true. But sometimes a rose is just a flower to be admired and looked at for it’s beauty.

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    • It’s a well thought out post but I simply don’t buy the idea that girls want to look like Barbie. Girls act it out what they’re exposed to. The problem is not the doll. The problem is girls being fed the idea that their sexuality is valued over everything else. That message doesn’t come from the doll. It comes from the what they’re exposed to in our society. If a girl buys into the idea that her attactiveness is most important, she’s going to manifest that in every part of her life, even if she’s never played with a Barbie. I’m also not sure it’s fair to say that Barbie’s proportions are unrealistic but then compare those proportaions to human Playboy and Maxim models. Thanks for sharing you post!

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  16. I agree 100%, being young I often have these same opinions if not even stronger. But again, because I’m young, I have a lot of trouble vocalizing these opinions.

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  17. I don’t think I ever looked at my Barbie dolls and thought I wanted to look just like them. I just liked them because… why? Because they had awesome hair and I could dress them up? Maybe.
    I think the important thing to remember about Barbies is just to buy different race Barbies for their kids. Children need to have dolls of their own race, for self-identification, but also of other races, in my opinion.

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  18. Thank you. I’m glad that there are still parents that know how to monitor the content their children received. I find that to be a highly important way of parenting that doesn’t seem to exist anymore.

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  19. I love Barbie. My daughter is going to learn self respect and self love from me and the women around her. The same people that are going to teach her that you cannot base how your body should look, by looking at a plastic doll.I think people are far too busy, looking for something else to blame, or for somewhere to point their finger. If our kids are messed up WE are to blame!

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  20. I never understood the whole boycott/hate barbie idea. Granted as a guy I’ve never really seen much of an effect, but I’m not sure how many of my friends who grew up playing with barbie dolls ever voiced their desire to look or be like one. I believe that everything is exaggerated these days and everyone is always looking for the next thing to blame for our society that seems to be falling apart. I agree with you that parents do have a lot of control over how kids will think and view things while growing up. It’s up to the parents to show their children what’s good or bad. Ultimately, it’s the parents the kids spend the most time with and gain the most influence from. Granted the TV shows of today have gotten much more vulgar and whatnot over the years but I don’t find myself waving around guns or round house kicking people after watching chuck norris. Let them play with what they want, but be sure to guide them in the right direction when they seek guidance or when you see them straying off in some odd direction. Great Post!

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    • I agree that as a society, we’re always looking for something outside of our families and personal sphere of influence to blame. The anti-barbie thing may also be related to women not wanting girls to follow girly-girl stereotypes. The problem with that is that some girls want to be girly-girls and we shouldn’t devalue that. Thanks for the great comment!

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      • I hate to say it, but I also think some of the anti-Barbie thing comes from just backbiting. I still remember the comments from a young woman I knew on a mailing list once about how she 1) insisted that she loved her fat stomach yet also 2) hated women with flat stomachs and 3) loved to chop up Barbie dolls with her BF at the time. It reminds me a lot of women who rip on pretty actresses at the Oscars and whatnot. So I think a lot of it is just women attacking some representation of a woman who has the figure they wish they had. It was really disturbing when she would link to webpages when the web just got started showing people chopping the dolls up and lighting them on fire, and watching other women on the list cheer at them. It reminded me of all those chopped-up pretty women in horror movies. Sure, she said it was about politics, feminism, and not following gender stereotypes, but in the end, it was just some kind of weird jealousy of a piece of plastic for being thin and blonde.

        For me, I didn’t much play with them, but I do recall dolls that grew very long hair that I loved. Today, I’ve got a MS in physics, love the space program, compose classical piano music, and also happen to have hair almost down to my knees. There’s definitely no law that says you can’t like dolls and rockets at the same time! Sorry for the ramble. I guess it’s just a hot topic.

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        • You rock! You can absolutely love dolls and rockets at the same time. I think you’re right about the backbiting. What inspired me to write this post was a thread of comments left on a blog that I follow. The post wasn’t about Barbies at all but one of the comments said something like, “That’s as stupid as letting your daughter play with Barbies. Only morons would do that.” Other people added to the thread mirroring that same line of thinking and it struck me as a form of women-hating. Not just women with thin bodies but women who are overtly feminine. I want to encourage my daughter to be whatever she wants to be, whether it’s a stay-at-home mom or a rocket scientist, devoid of make-up or done up to the nines. I value everything about her. Thanks for your comment!

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  21. My granddaughter loves Barbie and all the time she is playing with them indoors then I am happy. Children grow up too quick I think, let them play x

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  22. I completely agree with you. I think your opinions and self esteem starts with watching your parents/guardians and the other people around you. In my house it’s normal to pop through the house to retrieve your top from the dryer in your bra and trousers, but I know many friends that find this unimaginable or get freaked out. My parents encouraged us to be confident in ourselves and have always been willing to answer any of our curiosities (within reason of course) As the oldest of three, I have a very close relationship with both my parents as they always tried their best to be open and honest. I have insecurities like everyone and I had my share of bullying through school, but I can honestly say that I am comfortable with myself and my body. I don’t think Barbie had anything to do with any of that, all she did was play out a wee girls imagination in her shopping boutique. I did have a friend who wasn’t allowed to play with Barbies or watch Sabrina the Teenage Witch, but was allowed to watch WWE wrestling. I guess every parent is different! 🙂

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    • I love hearing about people who have close relationships with their parents! I didn’t when I was a kid but I do now. Thank for your thoughts!

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  23. Karen, i got your back! you keep writing what’s on your heart and sharin’ your truths! You are an awesome mama – mindful, aware, kind, and deeply compassionate and honest. There are sooooooo many ways we overly sexualize children and it makes me sick. So each parent has to find his/her ways to nourish a healthy sense of self in our kiddos. You go, girl. What really makes a difference in a child’s sense of self?? How mom and dad talk to her/him, how he/she is regarded, how deeply they are given presence from their parents (among a whole host of “measurables”, too!!!!) love to you, Lisa

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  24. “I can’t control everything my daughter is exposed to but I can control what she sees at home. I made a rule for myself that I would never talk negatively about my body in front of my kids, especially my daughter. She will never know how I feel about my boobs, my belly or my thighs. I will proudly prance around the pool in my bathing suit without embarrassment or shame. She’ll never hear me call myself fat, ugly or (God help me) old.” – AMEN! I feel very much the same way. I have my own body image issues as a result of poor choices I have made about diet and exercise, but I’ll be darned if I’ll ever let my girls know/see/feel that I have any negative feelings about myself. I will make changes on my own and become more healthy. I only want them to have positive feelings about image as we work towards being more healthy as a family.

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    • Beautiful! We forget how much our kids look up to us and think we’re beautiful regardless of how we feel about ourselves. Our confidence builds their confidence. 🙂

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  25. Awesome post! I played with Barbies until I was 12 (I’m now 22) and never felt like I was led astray about what was an appropriate body type or “correct” way to be shaped. When I have kids someday I’ll definitely buy them Barbies (especially if I have boys!)

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  26. I loved this post. Growing up I was a major tomboy and hated Barbies. My eldest daughter is the biggest girly girl ever and it took me a while to suck it up and get over it. I’ve learned to let her be and have even *gasp* bought them for her.

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    • Sometimes they just come out of the chute that way! When my daughter was 1, she picked up my purse off the table and started prancing around with it on her shoulder. She knew exactly what to do just by watching me. My son’s first word was truck. They are the way they are. Thanks!

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  27. I just wanted to throw something else in the mix here:

    “I made a rule for myself that I would never talk negatively about my body in front of my kids, especially my daughter. She will never know how I feel about my boobs, my belly or my thighs. I will proudly prance around the pool in my bathing suit without embarrassment or shame. She’ll never hear me call myself fat, ugly or (God help me) old.”

    It’s just as important for your daughter to never hear you talking negatively about other women’s bodies. That includes, “I hate that skinny bitch, real men like curves, she’s built like a boy,” etc. etc. etc. every bit as much as, “Her ass is too big to wear that, I don’t know what she was thinking, no one that big should wear that print.” That stuff counts as well.

    If any woman thinks she can give her daughter a positive body image and still indulge in the age-old feminine pastime of ripping down other women, she’s kidding herself.

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    • You’re absolutely right, although I think maybe you missed where she said “They don’t hear my husband and I call people fat or ugly.” But it’s a message worth repeating – children internalise their parents’ judgments of other people as much as their judgments of themselves.

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      • Thanks, May. My husband and I try to kind in how we talk about other people. We try to be kind in general. We’re certainly mess up sometimes but we do our best! I was greatly influenced by what my parents thought of others and I’ve had to relearn a lot.

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      • I did read that, but I do think it’s important to note that “I hate you because you’re fat” and “I hate you because you’re skinny” both count.

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        • That’s a good point. I’m trying to work on that myself – not even thinking criticism of how people look, especially if I’m just thinking the insult because their behaviour annoyed me. It’s so culturally ingrained.

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    • I agree completely! Kids are like sponges and they pick up on things that you don’t even realize they’re paying attention to. Thanks for making a great point!

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  28. For me, it was never Barbies that affected my self-image. It was reading, and re-reading the same passage in Sweet Valley High books about the twins being a perfect size six. I can still recount it verbatim. Barbies let me build worlds for them out of sheets, and design clothes for them. I’m now an Intern Architect, and I made houses for my dolls out of lego, and bedding. They inspired creative thinking, and not once did I compare my body with theirs. Only the sweet valley high twins…

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    • I’ve never heard of that series but I was definitely influenced more by books than by toys. That’s awesome that your creative play as a kid led to your career! My son is a total Lego freak and it wouldn’t surprise me if he became an architect or engineer. 🙂

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  29. I played Barbies WITH my daughter. But we didn’t do typical Barbie banter….we “gasp” tended to destroy and dismantle our dolls…making their perfections, imperfect. We buzzed their long tresses, we dressed them down in rag-a-muffin handmade shawls and safety-pin dresses. They weren’t princesses w/tiaras and ballgowns, they were frazzled moms w/beat-up pink Cadillacs after we graffitied all over the car. We were Pro-Barbie w/an attitude.

    Imagination is what it’s all about. I don’t believe a doll can shape a child’s destiny or predict their future. It’s a doll…nothing more, nothing less.

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  30. No one can blame Barbie. Children are sensitive to the environment they grow up in, so I agree with you, it is parents and peers about them that set the guidelines, curb their enthusiasm instead of encouraging it and teach or fail to teach them to learn to live, help and be an active, supportive influence in the world about them.

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  31. I think it’s all about balance and choice. I’ve tried my best not to hem my children into gender stereotypes, and what do you know, I have a girl who LOVESLOVESLOVES pink and Barbie and dresses and handbags and a boy who’s into guns and wants to play computer games and build things and race cars. But I’m giving them both the option of dressing up in princess dresses and playing with the doll’s house or toy soldiers, and they both get into it, at times. So yes, we’re more complex than just which toy we play with. Even as children… *especially* as children.

    Great piece! Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed 🙂

    PS. it breaks my heart that there are so many human rights abuses going on in the places that make our toys. One company I’ve found that doesn’t seem to is Plan Toys–quite expensive, but lovely toys, and good to know your money is going to a company which is committed to environmental and social sustainability.

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    • You’re the first person who’s commented about the human rights abuses! To me, that’s the best reason to boycott certain toys and really the core issue. I’ll check out Plan Toys.

      I secretly hoped that my daughter would be a tomboy because she has an older brother but she gravitated toward the pink and frilly from the get go. Then I realized that I wanted her to be a tomboy because girls still aren’t valued in our society the way boys are. We’ll just have to change that. Thanks for your comment!

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  32. Having 1 Barbie doll is ok. That’s it.

    By the way, we had 1 doll…to share among 5 girls. My parents were poor and bought only a few toys. (Have a brother also.) The girls, now adult women over 45, are womanly…without flaunting their bodies. Not even when we were younger. And we’re not religious.

    It’s just not made important to us. That includes the Barbie dolls. As long as adults don’t encourage it nor make much of it and focus children on other stuff that doesn’t sexualize dolls, children, etc. If you believe in Barbies, then pass them along to other children.

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    • The fewer toys kids have, the more they have to rely on their imagination. That’s a good thing. My kids have way too many toys and it’s a constant battle to weed through them. Thanks for your thoughts!

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  33. I agree! I don’t blame Barbie at all for my negative self-body image issues. For one thing, I’m not blonde so I just figured perky boobs and long legs that pop off at the hip are a blonde thing. I never wanted to look like Barbie – her boobs are too pointy for me and her feet look like they need a massage every night. I had a lot of fun with Barbie – and her buddy Ken. He didn’t give me any unrealistic views of potential mates either. Thanks for this!

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  34. I am not a parent, but I was thrilled to the gills to read that you’re taking responsibility for the way your children feel about themselves! It seems like so many parents these days are willing to use every excuse in the book when something may go ‘wrong’ with their kids (like blaming Barbie). While I have never read any of these studies that suggest a correlation between Barbie and body image issues, I kind of wonder about the validity of them. Every girl I grew up with had Barbies and I’m pretty sure we all turned out okay 🙂
    Thanks for supporting Barbie and congratulations on being Freshly Pressed!

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  35. Wanting to look like barbie? I am not sure it was what was on my daughter’s minds when they played with barbies for hours on end. In fact I am pretty sure it was not and neither was it on mine when I was their age and so much wanted to have a barbie doll which I never got because my mother would not allow it.
    There are negative influences everywhere and how our children’s body image and self esteem develop depends largely on their peers and the media. As children grow up parents see their influence on them dwindling. I think Barbie is the least of our problems.

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    • I agree. Before I had kids, I thought that you could focus on them when they were little and then relax when they got older but that’s the farthest from the truth. If anything, you have to pay more attention to what is influencing them as they get older. Thanks for your thoughts!

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  36. Pingback: Liebster Award Time! | Sober Courage

  37. I can tolerate Barbie and Ken, they are toys. What behooves me are the Cialis and Viagra commercials. But then it’s because of the irony of it all. Men get a pill and we women are suppose to give them a pep rally.
    Forgive me. It’s late, I’m tired and that pill thing grates on my nerves every time I see the ads.
    That god for chocolate.

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  38. I heart Rutabaga. And I completely agree with your entire thesis. I’m also the worst commentor in the world, but I wanted to say that, at least. 😀

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  39. Sadly, so-called role models like Miley Cyrus are sending the wrong message to young girls who need to learn they are not defined by their face or body but instead by their inner selves. If you agree, you might like our new blog, female freedom, which has more commentary on today’s pop singers and their negative impact on their young female audiences.

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  40. I grew up playing with Polly pockets, Barbies, Legos and Tamiya cars etc… We didn’t have iPads 🙂 The Internet has more negative influences and we can’t stop that anyway…

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  41. Barbie was boring. After cutting off her hair and redesigning her face with permanent markers, I moved on to more emotionally satisfying toys like the entire forest in my backyard and all the forts bendy branches could build, all the waterfalls arranged river rocks could create, and all the amazing characters my imagination could design. And FYI: the females in my stories did NOT look like creepy, plastic Stepford drones with alien-like scooped faces and waists the size of their necks. Because Ew.

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    • I remember being a kid and my mom telling me, “Go outside and play and don’t come back in unless you’ve lost a limb.” It annoyed me back then but my husband and I have created a child’s paradise in our yard so that we can tell our kids the same thing. Nothing is a substitute for imagination! I cut the hair off my Barbies and drew a few tattoos as well. 🙂

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  42. I grew up with Barbie and never expected to be 6 foot tall with measurements 48 18 34. I bought them for my daughter who is 21 and has a great self image.
    I can relate more to Barbie now than ever after my mastectomy reconstruction. My bionic boobs still aren’t anywhere close to a 48, but I am rockin’ her nippless look. Maybe they don’t look so alien to me since I grew up with her! 🙂

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  43. Hi Karen! I have already left a comment about this awesome post, way up there somewhere! lol! But I just wanted to stop by and congratulate you on being Freshly Pressed! Woot woot!

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  44. I’ve never really believed it was all about Barbie either. She’s a good scapegoat though I suppose. The messages girls get start very early. My older daughter had friends in first grade who wouldn’t play with her as much in second grade because the girls formed a clique called the fashionistas. Girls who didn’t dress a certain way weren’t part of the group. Second grade.

    I also happen to have a sister who is tall, naturally very blond and beautiful — and as wonderful, kind and funny a person as you’ll ever meet. I have watched as other women give her the dirtiest looks for nothing other than being in the same vicinity. It’s terrible how we treat each other.

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    • You’re right, it is terrible how we treat each other. I know that all kids test out being mean to each other but it’s how the adults handle it that makes the difference between kids being traumatized or learning how to deal with conflict. Kids pay attention to everything. They see grown ups forming cliques and being mean to each other and it reinforces the behavior. Thanks for your comment!

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  45. You are definitely right from a psychological and sociological perspective. Many different factors go into how children perceive the world and themselves. Blaming one factor will not help anything. We have to look at all the factors and then figure it out.

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  46. This is phenomenal, so well written which is impressive given the content of the idea. It seems you can’t talk about parenting within our society without someone getting offended, but it seems those are the people who have the most to look at when it comes to the parenting choices they are making. It’s a shame we can’t more openly share ideas to better ourselves within this culture, without having to anticipate a barrage of hatred in response. In light of that though, your bravery is what is most special here, aside from your conscientious parenting. Phenomenal post, thanks for sharing it ;0)

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    • So far, everyone has been very respectful in their comments but if I had written about breast feeding, that probably wouldn’t be so! Thanks so much for you kind words.

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      • Hah! No, I meant more so the country at wide than the blogosphere specifically. Things seem pretty liberally open-minded on here compared to the rest.

        You’re very welcome, great article.

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  47. People love to blame the entire problem on one thing when it is so much more comprehensive than that. Barbie is part of the problem, but not the whole thing. I played with Barbies as a kid and that is not the reason I am messed up.

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  48. I love Barbie. She totally rocks! I only had a Midge doll a zillion years ago when I was a girl. My teen daughter has kept all of her 30 Barbie dolls (and friends). I agree with you 100%. Toys are for FUN not political mumbo jumbo. Great post and keep on blogging!!!!!

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    • Thank you Juliette! I gave all my Barbies away but I wish I would’ve kept a few of them. Of course, I cut the hair off most of them becaus I wanted to be a hairdresser.

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  49. I think that it is good to let children use their imaginations and now that many children’s toys are more multicultural (doll wise that is) is great because as a kid, my folks could never find black, Asian, or Brown Barbie’s. Lately I’ve noticed that a lot of younger kids, especially boys, who are exposed to violent video games are the ones who are acting out while playing with toy swords and guns. The boys that I volunteer with, who aren’t exposed to such things are like your son, very sweet kids who still like to pretend to fight the bad guy. I mean, they are bad guys! You have to fight them! On the other hand, I’ve also noticed that the people who over shelter their children are usually the ones who’s children end up in trouble later in life. From what I’ve seen the children who’s parents limit what they are exposed to, which is how I was raised, and how you seem to be raising your kids, are doing much better than those who are overly sheltered or not sheltered at all. Another thing that I dislike about this whole toy thing, is that they don’t like gender specific toys in schools or daycares anymore. I played with both boy and girl toys my entire life (yes I still play with stuff animals…don’t judge me) and did anyone ever question me about it? Yah maybe, but did it stop me from playing Super Agent Family? No! Barbie would be the mom, Polly Pocket was her daughter, a giant stuffed Santa was the father, and their son was a MacDonald’s toy. They were a typical family of super, secret agents who fought villains and survived many, many trips to the jungle (my backyard). I am a perfectly normal young adult…I guess I can’t say teenager exactly anymore, because I’m at the point between adult and teen now…but you get my drift, playing with toy guns, and making explosion noises didn’t stop me from being a kid who liked to nurse baby ducklings back to health, or brush my dolls hair. Because my parents controlled what it was I was exposed to on television (computers weren’t a big thing until I was 9) I was pretty good. I mean why don’t people complain about the stuff their daughters are watching on Disney? Now that stuff gets me pretty riled up. I can’t stand shows where they have “popular kids” and “dorks” and “dumb jocks” and “science nerds.” Those are the things I’d never expose my kids too. They made a lot of my friends today, insecure when they entered high school. You’d be surprised how much impact that these types of shows can have on your children. My parents got rid of cable back when I was in 8th grade. I’m in grade 12 now. Do I miss television? Nope. Why, because I realized after a couple months that the stuff they were showing me on television were just to program me to think that I had to act like the kids on Disney to fit in with other kids. It’s ridiculous how a kids show can resemble what my older cousins used to watch on MTV when they were my age. I’m disgusted by the stuff on television right now for children…your kids are way better off playing with toys that having the T.V babysit them. Trust me. Getting rid of the cable changed me for the better. I decided to become a writer, and started to think for myself a lot more.

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    • It’s interesting what you’re saying about shows that have nerds, jocks, popular kids, etc. My kids are 3 and 4 so they don’t watch those kinds of shows yet but it gives me something to think about. I can see how those stereotypes can be damaging if the subject matter isn’t handled intelligently. Thanks for your thoughts!

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    • Great response! My son is 10 – and I didn’t allow guns for the early years and he wanted them so badly; my husband asked me to reconsider using valid arguments (we are both not gun people at all) and so I did and then my son was kind of ‘meh’ about them. But he loves all the disney ‘tween shows – and most of them have an always-eating-goofy-fat-kid, a stupid-rich and/or stupid-blond girl, a smart boy etc.. is is so stereo typical and far more influential right now than a lightsaber in my opinion. So to lay the blame in one place and ridicule parents that let their kids play with Barbie is kind of just a knee-kick reaction without any other thought about the rest of that child’s world. Etc etc etc

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    • I think you make a valid argument about TV shows being a problem. I also played with a wide variety of toys as a child, including Barbies and Disney Princesses and never had any of the serious self-esteem issues that many people blame these toys on. I also grew up without cable TV and which films I was allowed to watch was limited by my parents. Though as a child I would beg them to change this, now that I’m in college I appreciate it more. I never really thought of that as a contributing factor to my self image until you pointed that out.

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      • I remember when my dad and stepmom rented Quest For Fire. I caught a glimpse of what looked like humping monkeys before they kicked me out of the room. Part of me was annoyed but a bigger part of me felt protected. It’s great that you appreciate it now that you’re older! As a parent, that makes me smile. 🙂

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  50. Karen, This is such an articulate and thoughtful post. I adore the rest of your blog, too, and started following you a few days ago. You are such a writer, honey! I agree with you 110%. It’s now to the point of cliche to blame Barbie for engendering negative body image in young girls when in reality it’s all of our largely debased culture; it’s the magazine and television ads, the music videos, and general loosening of morality that we are now witnessing in greater and greater abundance in popular culture.

    My daughter never wanted Barbie dolls, which honestly, made me totally relieved, because at the time, 20+ years ago, I did blame Barbie for the negative body image of girls and women. But, even then, as a culture, we were well on our way to a never-before-seen depravity in advertisements and media. I’m not, by any standards, a prude, but I do worry about this stuff. I’m a realist. This early sexualization of kids is harming our relationship with the body; it’s harming our psyches.

    But, parenting is the key. Offering our kids actual structure, boundaries, and open communication, the things that so few busy parents seem to do these days, is a possible answer to this negative cultural trend. Parenting kids, with presence and heart, would go a very long way toward healing this or at least buffering it. You get this. I love that your kids have you and we have you by way of your awesome blog. This post is awesome. Hugs from your new friend, BigLizzy. P.S. Aren’t Rarasaur and Rutabaga the best?! I love these wonderful women and now I love you, too.

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    • You make me smile and I love you too! We are surrounded by incredible women and I’m so grateful for it.

      I agree that parental responsibility is the key. You wrote something in one of your posts about how we’re all raised by people who are by no means experts. That’s true for and about me and while I expect to make many mistakes in this parenting gig, I will always follow my instincts. My instincts tell me that kids grow up too fast and our society encourages it. We’re valuing the wrong things. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

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  51. Hey Karen! Yes, great post, I don’t kow who those people are who blame Barbie for everything. I suppose you can blame anything on everything right? My son played with an old baby doll which my daughter outgrew and traded in for a Barbie! LOL! Anyway, he fed her and dressed her and pushed her around in a play shopping cart. What’s that mean? Nothing. Exactly that. Kids don’t have these skewed views until someone points out the “wrong” or why they should not play with something. We don’t place those judgements on toys! They are toys dag it! Seriously, Barbie is harmless, there is so many real dangers out there we should worry about! But, Barbie. I am sure she will be around for another 50 years!

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    • That’s adorable! My son wanted his own doll when his sister was a baby. He chose a Caillou doll and still sleeps with it sometimes. Kids will mimic what they see. If they’re exposed to negative messages, they’ll act them out with their toys. That doesn’t make the toy the problem!

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  52. HOLY MACKEREL KAREN!!! I’ve never seen so many comments! Way to go! I read this the day you wrote it, then forgot to come back and comment. And I’m really glad it worked out that way, because when I read it, I thought, “Will anyone actually have a dissenting opinion on this subject?” And, here’s the proof… people approve of Barbie. To be honest, I have never met anyone who seriously took that stance, and I would frankly go running in the opposite direction if I ever did. I played with Barbies, my daughter played with Barbies, and all my nieces of various ages have played/are playing with Barbie. What I really respect and admire, Karen, is the thought you put into this decision… that alone tells me what a great parent you are!

    Congrats on all the traffic of this post, it is well deserved!

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    • The comments are due to Rutabaga reblogging the post! But I do think the subject strikes a nerve because it seems so illogical to blame a toy for women’s body issues when the problem is so complicated. Thank you for your kind words Josie!

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  53. I had a Barbie doll when I was 8, and still have it today. Sure, I had bulimia in my teens but that related, I am sure, distinctly to my father’s treatment of me.

    I let my son play with guns and I will not ever forget how furious I felt inside, but unable to vocalise back, when a mother called out across the playground, “Luke! Luke – don’t play with Daniel. He has a gun.” It was ridiculous, ridiculous. Put it this way, he doesn’t play with guns today: he’s grown up.

    Good for you!

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  54. Wonderfully written, Karen, and while I don’t have young children of my own (I don’t think dogs and their squeaky toys are exactly what you meant), I don’t see why I wouldn’t let my daughter, or son for that matter, play with Barbie if that’s what she picked out and desired. Curious, did you proactively buy Barbie dolls and encourage the play? Or was Barbie asked for or wanted before?

    I never was a big doll player, though I had a few Barbies. I was always detaching their body parts and reattaching them on other dolls. I grew up to be neither a surgeon, scientist or serial killer.

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    • I didn’t buy her the Barbie dolls (they were gifts or hand-me-downs) but I didn’t encourage her to play with anything in particular. She plays with her brother’s Legos too but definitely gravitates toward girlie toys. I detached my dolls too! My older brother took my Barbies once and drew the faces of Kiss on them with a ballpoint pen. Alas, he didn’t become a rock star.

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  55. My girls play with Barbies too. For awhile I boycotted Bratz, but the truth is neither of my kids are big on fashion dolls anyway.

    Kids have access to a lot more than we did. I’ve tried to shelter my oldest by not giving her a smartphone and putting restrictions on her internet usage, but I think kids her age still see too much online. All her friends have smart phones, and I can’t control what she looks at when she’s with them. The biggest shock to me was how much sexual content is on youtube.

    As our kids get older, the challenges will no doubt grow. Barbie will seem an innocent patsy, no matter what we have her doing with Ken. (that part of your post gave me the biggest laugh!)

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    • They are exposed to so much more (and earlier) than we were. Back in the day it was a big deal that I was the only one of my friends who had a phone in her room! I remember being shocked that a friend of mine had a TV in her room. It’s a different world.

      The funny thing about my Barbie and Ken dolls kissing is that I had no idea why their mouths had to be open. 🙂

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  56. Oh my gosh, thank you for this! I 100% agree! My daughters favorite toys are Barbies and I love the imaginative play she does with them – way healthier than sitting in front of video games. And, the guns. If you locked my son up and never exposed him to weapons, he would still find a way to make one! Great post!

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    • Thanks Chenoa! Truck was one of my son’s first words. It cracks me up when my daughter calls her dolls sweetie because that’s what I call her. 🙂

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  57. Wow – lots of passionate responses here…and considering the breadth and points made in your original post, Karen, there is certainly a reason for that – get parents talking about parenting (zesty appeal #1), throw in self image for girls (zingy bellringer #2) and then parlaying that into societal anti-norms (gong #3) and you have yourself one wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am topic party!

    Barbies – can’t relate, of course. I was one of two boys, and I have two boys. From what I see with other boys their age, they’re hardwired with the cars, trains and action figures, etc. No matter how fancy people get with their gift buying for the boys, they just want little cars to push around and trains to choo choo, really. That’s it. I think back to how it was for me and those in my time, and there wasn’t all this frothy lather about body image, etc. Not to say that there aren’t issues around that (d’uh, there are), but play is just that…play. Imaginations snuffed out in lieu of parental pacification to the new norms of society and the latest study on children and psychopathy or mental wellness. Jeez…just let them play with their little toys. We don’t keep guns or like objects, but the discussion of those things will crop up. I was a nerd and loved Dungeons and Dragons kind of things – wizards and swords and that kind of thing. Did I really think I was a wizard casting a spell on an ogre? When I was a boy, yeah. But really, no. I knew I was holding a stick and wearing a towel around me, but in my mind it was grand stuff. Why take that away from my boys?

    Toys aren’t going to teach them anything other than to have fun. My wife and I will be the ones who show them and guide them, to the best of our ability, in everything else. Let them have their barbies and Hot Wheels tracks.

    Great stuff, Karen.

    Paul

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  58. I think what your child plays with is not as important as paying attention to how they are playing and getting in there and playing with them. Too many parents remove play from kids lives or forget that the best thing you can do for your child is get on the floor and play with them be it barbies or Ironman or dinosaurs whatever they want. Play and imagination develop the foundation of learning and love of reading as how can you become part of the book if you don’t know how to imagine. Two adult daughters and I still remember my youngest daughter’s 9th birthday and she was afraid the other girls would laugh at her barbies and barbie house. She covered it up and someone uncovered it and we had a room full of girls playing what they should be at 9 barbies…. and having a blast. But don’t tell anyone that is what we did because someone told them 9 years old was too old to play with toys. I on the other hand played barbies til almost 12 as it was accepted to play with toys til a much older age back then way back then. I acted out my fears with my barbies and found out most of my friends had the same fears, worries and concerns. I can honestly say barbies body was never even thought about during play and I don’t recall anyone saying they wanted to look just like barbie…. I really think time with children should be the focus… Don’t be afraid to get on the floor and play with them and you may find out what they are afraid of or worried about. Not to mention 15 minutes of play time with them could prevent attention getting behavior for hours……

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    • You’re right, Robin. Interacting and paying attention to their play is important. Honestly, I don’t think my parents ever played with me. That’s not being critical of them but it just wasn’t considered to be important back then. We were told to go outside and not come back in until dinner, which made us very creative. I’m different with my kids because I like watching them develop.

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  59. I don’t know. Letting your daughter play with Barbies? That might mess up her self-image, in the same way that letting my son play with dinosaurs messed up his self-image (I’m not part dinosaur – I’m just clumsy?), or letting my daughter play with Polly Pockets messed up her self-image (OMG I’m, like, really really really huge, like 25 times bigger than Polly). And when they watched kid movies and shows, they were distressed because they couldn’t fly, and they couldn’t wipe their hand prints off the screen with a wave of a handy-dandy notebook.

    It’s so tragic.

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  60. I am here thanks to Rutabaga, and boy and I glad she reblogged this! I could not agree with you more. I’m only about a year and a half into my life as a parent to a girl, but it has always seemed to me that demonizing Barbie specifically is an easy way of avoiding the overall societal problems that push girls into self loathing. There are a lot of moving parts at work here: girls being told that they have no worth outside their appearance, women being told that they’re shrewish if they stand up against employers who pay them less than their male counterparts, parents purchasing tube tops for their nine-year-olds. Barbie and what it symbolizes (I had to go back and change the pronoun “she” to “it” because Barbie isn’t a person; it’s a piece of plastic) only becomes dangerous when our girls aren’t playing with it within an empowered context.

    Great post.

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    • I couldn’t agree more. A doll is just a doll until we give it meaning. When I watch my daughter play with her dolls and mimic the way I talk and what I say, it makes me more conscious of how I talk to her and around her. I have to be her role model so that when she’s bombarded with mixed signals about her worth, she’ll hopefull remember who she really is.

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  61. I loved my barbie dolls and there was never any thoughts that I should look like that. In a family with 3 daughters body image and the like were NEVER mentioned, yet I’m sure all three of us have our own issues. I believe, and this is only from listening and reading, that it is all about the parents, mums mainly, who project their own thoughts and feelings about these things to their daughters. Kids just don’t think like this. Kids take a lot of notice of their parents, and pink girly things does not make you less of a feminist. Really?! Isn’t it all about choices.
    We never encouraged guns for our boys, but found they would always find a way to have make believe guns. The only guns we have are nerf guns, even though they are now older and love the shooting games on Xbox. We trust them, and have talked to them about these things.
    I’m not very eloquent with this, I hope you get what I mean. 🙂

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    • I’m with you – I don’t encourage my son to play with guns but he’s drawn to anything that resembles a weapon. He’s fascinated with good and evil and all that entails. My daughter is equally fascinated with playing with her dollhouse. They came out of the chute that way!

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      • It is really hard, especially these days with social media, but as parents, even with boys only, we have to be careful what we say and do in front of them. What they play with is almost not important, so long as their imagination is in play.

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  62. I’ll admit that Barbie dolls were a cherished part of my childhood. I played with her (them) for hours and hours with my sister. I thing that disallowing time with Barbie would have altered my entire childhood. It’s much more complicated, as you said. It’s not as simple as a doll. I feel healthier for having that imaginative play, which could have been with any doll I suppose. The fact that she was Barbie wasn’t that big of a deal, except I did have her pool set!

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  63. My sisters and I played with Barbies as kids and all turned out fine. Of course, we also watched very restricted TV, read a lot, and played with LEGOs. It’s about balance…one badly proportioned toy isn’t going to cause an eating disorder, but as you mentioned, the repeated theme from parents or society will. Rutabaga made the perfect point – perspective. Among other things, who are we to judge the toys that other people’s kids play with?

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  64. We have serious problems in education and yet kids are being expelled from KINDERGARTEN for doing what little kids do all the time – pretending to shoot (not that I like that but it’s not what makes kids killers else most kids would have turned into little killers) – we take one idea and go to the extreme to band-aid the problem rather than find a balanced solution. You cannot control every action of a child – else you suppress them and they just become little robots doing what everyone tells them they should without a thought for them selves. We are here to guide children not control their every move/thought/utterance.

    This conversation started a few weeks ago when Karen wondered if she as being a ‘bad’ feminist for letting her daughter have pink things and be ‘girly’ because that’s what her 3 year old wants right now – my response is a real feminist doesn’t try to control who their child is and lets them grow and develop as they are inclined. I still stand by that… I’m not saying we shouldn’t be present to monitor what our children and be wary of things that are not age-appropriate, but being overly restrictive causes other issues that are just as damaging.

    I recently saw a picture of a child kissing her dog and a parent commented that it was ‘germy’ for the child and that those people letting their child kiss the dog were ‘bad parents’ – that’s crazy…. BAD PARENTS don’t supervise their young children near water, BAD PARENTS abuse their children, BAD PARENTS shake babies and curse them out, BAD PARENTS expose their children to needless harm and danger… kissing or not kissing a dog is just a difference of opinion about germs. We need perspective not so much judgement about difference of opinion.

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