My friend Audra and I used to like to play Barbies at her house. One time her mother walked in on us playing and we both had our “Ken’s” on top of two of the “Barbies” (my favorite one was actually named Samantha, by me) and they were “kissing”. She came into the room and told us to maybe have the “girls” go shopping together instead or something like that. She broke up our plastic doll make-out party.
I also “played Barbies” with my cousin a lot at my Grandma’s house when we would go there to visit. I would be so excited if Sandra was there too so that we could dress and undress our dolls together and sometimes we even fought – over what, I do not even remember, but we did. Probably over a set of tiny, plastic shoes. Who knows.
I had several Barbies, probably about a dozen or so. Some were old hand-me-downs, as were some of the clothes I had for them. I did get a few new Barbies for Christmas a couple of years running and I especially liked this particular one that came with an ink pad, that when applied to her lips, she actually “kissed” things. You know, like Ken. 🙂
So, fast forward 30(something) years and my mother decided to “donate” my old Barbies to me a while back. Once I got them to our house I simply chucked the box into K’s closet and thought nothing of them. At the time, she was too young to play with them and frankly, is not really one to play with dolls very much at all.
For K’s third Christmas her grandfather sent her a set of Disney Princess dolls, which are basically the “Barbie” version of the princesses and she has barely looked at them (sorry Granddad). Honestly, dolls are not really her thing. She will occasionally push a baby doll around in a doll stroller or “feed” a doll from her play restaurant but even my old Cabbage Patch dolls are of little interest to her.
However, the other day we were playing in her room and she came out of her closet with the box full of my old Barbies, tacky 80’s clothes and all. She handed me one of the plastic ladies and an outfit, “Mom, she’s naked, she needs to get dressed! Put this on her!” I couldn’t help but laugh a little to myself as I received this “old” doll of mine, that I spent hours dressing and undressing during the days of my own childhood. And the outfit K gave me to put on this doll was especially amusing.
But then, as K played on and I struggled to finagle this tiny little outfit on to this piece of plastic, I started to really look at “her”.
I tried to remember what I used to think of Barbie’s body when I was little. All I could recall was that I just thought she was a doll and because they all looked the same that was how Barbie dolls were supposed to look. Did I think actual women were supposed to look that way too? Not that I remember. I knew my mother did not look like her. Or any of my aunts. Or any of my mom’s friends or really any lady I had ever met or known in real life. She did kind of look like the ladies on the Miss U.S.A. pageant, however, especially when in her Barbie bikini. But any “real” women I knew? Nope, she did not personify them at all.
Of course, as a child, I did not think about what this really meant. Not at age eight or even ten or twelve.
So I started to wonder what kind of example I was giving to my daughter. Would SHE think that women were supposed to look like this in real life or would she just carry on like I did and somehow know that this is just a doll and not real life at all?
I think part of the reason I did not have a skewed perception is because my mom never made a big deal about it and she NEVER talked down her own body or her looks or compared herself to others. At least not around me. Maybe she did it in her head sometimes (like I do now) but she never vocalized any disdain for her own body and she rarely if ever commented on other woman being too heavy or too thin. In other words, she was an excellent example for me in regards to body image.
I truly hope I can be this for K like my mother was (and is) for me. So, I will let her continue to play with the Barbie dolls but I will also make sure she knows that healthy women come in all shapes and sizes and that NO ONE naturally looks like Barbie because she is JUST A DOLL.
And thank goodness no one dresses like her from the 80’s either… 😉
(at least I really hope not)