Fine then, I’ll confess.
I wouldn’t let my oldest daughter have a Barbie until she was 9 years old.
Every time she got one for a birthday, or holiday, I would swiftly remove the offender for ‘safe keeping,’ and find her a different toy that didn’t fuel my fears about future body image issues, or lay plain to her the reality of sexism, pay disparity and inequality she would surely have to face someday.
Seriously, what’s with the feet shaped like stiletto heels and the proportions literally no woman could have and still be able to walk?! I wanted my Free to Be You and Me daughter to love herself as she was made, to see real women as role models with humanly possible bodies that were beautiful as they were. I wanted her to love herself just because, not in comparison to an impossible standard that has become the icon– and caricature- of what we ‘should be’ as women.
Then one day, as I attempted to commiserate with my long-time closest of friends, also a feminist and raising a strong, smart girl of the same age, she said “If you think your daughter is going to learn about being a woman from Barbie, and not from YOU, you are sorely mistaken.”
Right she was, and we both knew it. 3 hours later, our next door neighbor and adopted niece, Cassie, marched a gigantic plastic bin full of everything Barbie over to my daughter, who was completely beside herself with joy. For the next 72 hours, she ate with her new Barbies, set up a sleeping bag next to them and looked away from them only long enough to reconfigure the Dream House.
Over a decade later, enter our second and youngest daughter and my how things have changed in Barbie’s world!
‘Larry’ got a new Barbie Dream House for Hanukkah this year, and holy moly, that thing is huge and complicated. It’s as big as my first apartment, but much nicer, and has two elevators- one for ‘fashions’ only.
Reluctantly, when no one else would play Barbies with Larry and the Dream House – and trust me, she exhausted every alternative, including ALL of her brothers AND the dogs- Larry asked me to play with her.
About 3 minutes in, Larry said, “Barbie is having a big party tonight and you’re not invited, mom.”
I tried not to show my relief. I had Larry later in life, so my hormonal constitution has long since checked the box on playing Barbies.
“Barbie isn’t really all that comfortable around you.” Larry said.
“She thinks you are a bad influence.”
ME? I’m a bad influence on a doll with an uncanny ability to grow copious amounts of hair on her head only and whose feet commit her to a life of tiptoeing around things- like whole turkey thighs, and cheesecake a la mode?
The truth is, I’m like Barbie’s new age critical feminist mother–in-law who means well but says all the wrong things like:
“Let’s get Barbie a sandwich with double cheese and extra mayo on the way to her Malibu beach house which she bought with the earnings from that hot little start up that just went public!”
“Barbie can’t go out with Ken now because she has to finish studying for her neurochemistry exam where she is exploring the mathematical probability of attachment related sleep deprivation in rhesus monkeys.”
or, my personal favorite-
“Barbie texted Ken and told him she’ll see him next week- she’s going on a tour of the wine country with her women friends because they know that when they get older, they’ll be really happy they invested in the richness of their relationships with each other now.”
Then I put way too many clothes on Barbie saying that she needs to ‘cover her parts more.’
“She needs a sweater because she’s stopping at the library to grab a few more books on quantum physics on her way to that super fun antiques restoration class she’s taking.”
Larry is not amused, and sighs with relief that I won’t be attending this evening’s fete.
Yes, I am a bad influence on Barbie, and I am definitely playing out my own need for what I want Larry to hear, not hers. And, what’s so bad about that? I let her watch those ridiculous Disney shows that covertly play out stereotypical gender roles, so I figure this cancels that out. And the rest of our lives pretty much revolve around her needs, so gimme this one, folks.
Because in these moments, Larry may not be having so much fun playing Barbies, but I am!