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Barbie and the Body Image Thing

Barbie "I hope I didn’t get your daughter a scandalous gift,” my sweet friend mentioned at my daughter’s 3-year-old birthday party last summer.  

I thought, scandalous?  What on earth could be a scandalous 3-year-old gift?  My mind started to race and I couldn’t even conjure up ideas on what it could be.  

My puzzled face prompted her to explain further, “we got her...” and then her voice got a little more hushed, “a Barbie.”  

She went on to explain it was a dancer Barbie and I made a joke that as long as it wasn’t “Pole Dancer Barbie” there was nothing about Barbie I found scandalous.  She laughed and told me it was a Ballerina Barbie and she immediately looked relieved. 

“Oh good!  You never know with the body image thing these days how parents feel about Barbies.”

The issue came up again when my daughter went to a new friend’s house for a drop off play date one day.   When I called the mom to check what time I should pick her up, I asked what the girls were up to.   She then sort of sheepishly said that her girls have Barbies and she hoped it was okay with me as they had been playing with their Barbies.  Then the “body image thing” came up again, and I realized there seemed to be a potential concern out there amongst mommies of girls.   

But what is the issue really?  People think a young girl will look at Barbie’s over exaggerated feminine shape and feel bad about their own bodies?  An unattainable ideal? A sexist message?

But, you know what I say?  I think it is positively ridiculous!  I grew up with Barbies and playing Barbie with my sister stands out as one of my fondest childhood memories. 

We had an old white suitcase filled with the dolls and their wardrobes.  The side pockets perfect for storing endless miniature heels.  Barbie was just so much fun!   My sister and I loved to dress them up, plan out episodes and pretend play for hours. 

We would drive them to the beach (our kitchen bay window) in the Barbie Corvette and lay them on beach towel washcloths.  I remember a particular Christmas one year when my dad had to spend the entire day assembling the Barbie RV.   

They would go camping, to work and go on picnics with the mini Fanta or RC cola cans.

Our Barbies were career women, moms, rock stars, athletes.  Anything we wanted them to be.  

I remember one unfortunate time when my sister played hairdresser with Barbie and cut her hair for real. Or, it might have been Skipper, I can’t remember.  But it was not a good look.  I won’t mention the curling iron incident.   But I can still smell the burning plastic.

To me, the hours of imaginary play along with the message that Barbie could be anything she wanted in itself is a very positive lesson for young girls.

Never was there a time consciously or subconsciously where I looked wistfully at Barbie  and longed for her freakishly long legs, thimble-sized waist or permanently arched feet. She’s a DOLL! 

This is just my opinion, but I think it is our job as parents to build the foundation for a positive self-image at home.  If we are teaching our girls to appreciate their healthy bodies and to know there is much more to them than their shape, I don’t think they will be looking to Barbie for validation.

Give Barbie a break! 

And, growing up in Orange County, there will be a lot more plastic influences around long after Barbie is tucked away in her suitcase!  

Original Post to Orange County Moms Blog.  Jennifer’s girls will both grow up playing with Barbies, but they will be kept a safe distance away from all curling irons. You can read more from Jennifer on her personal blog featuring fun finds, outing ideas & giveaways at Tiny Oranges.  

{Photo by Ana Garcia}


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