Monday, March 09, 2009

50 years later...

Young girls are STILL playing Barbie. That's what you call it when you're a girl and you and your friends decide to play with your Barbie dolls. You don't say, "Let's play with our dolls." You say, "Let's play Barbies."

At least, that's what we used to say. My sisters and I each had a Barbie doll and so did our friends. One of our friends, Peggy, also had just about every Barbie doll accessory you could think of as well so playing Barbies on her front porch was always the most fun. She had cars, houses, and other dolls that would help us create that day's scenario. I have absolutely no recollection of exactly how we used to play with them or what could have occupied us forever, except that we were constantly changing their clothing. Which we never called clothing by the way. Barbie wore outfits.

(And by the way, women still do. I wrote about that years ago - the idea that only women, not men, use the word outfits. I can't explain it. It just is.)

These days, girls can have the Barbie Jeep, the Barbie RV, and the Barbie Pet Shop. My son's girlfriend told me she had Barbie Vet when she was growing up, and Barbie "Mom," with her very own set of quadruplets.

So the headline these days is that Barbie is turning 50. Just half a century after she was introduced at the Toy Fair in NYC in March, 1959, she is still going strong with her tiny waist, long legs and perky look. My question is this: how did this
happen?

Wouldn't you think that the women's movement - which hit it's stride just as Barbie was entering adolescence would have brought and end to Barbie and her breasts? Wouldn't you think that now two generations later, parents would have long ago turned their backs on Barbie, disdaining her for all the wrong-headed priorities she seemed to represent to girls the world over? Wouldn't you think girls would be over her by now?

Well, a few people think so. In fact, a lawmaker in West Virgina wants to outlaw Barbie for all those reasons. According to USA Today, Democratic Delegate Jeff Eldridge wants to ban the sale of Barbie and other dolls like her for the benefit of all girls in West Virginia because it places "too much importance on physical beauty, at the expense of their intellectual and emotional development."

Like others have before him, Eldridge also denigrates Barbies unnatural body image and faults her for "promoting materialism."

That's noble and high-minded of him. But we've heard these kinds of protests about Barbie and the glittery road to perdition she leads us down for decades now. Surely, there is some truth to it; surely she has led millions of women into a vapid existence of fashion, beauty and few if any accomplishments; in the opposite direction from a classroom and professional lives, right?

But how can I put this? How's this: Oh, for Gods's sake - give it rest! I have yet to read one study, one report, one snippet of investigation that tells me this: Barbie has caused an entire generation of girls to become dumb. To become materialistic, empty-headed bimbos. To become less than what they could be.

I know anecdotal evidence is nothing but that but let's revisit my Barbie play group for a minute, shall we? Out of the eight girls who played Barbies together, six of us went on to college and earned degrees. Among us, there is an attorney, an engineer, a social worker, a publishing professional, a librarian, and a teacher (by degree) who works in an office. The other two have worked in offices over the years as they've raised their families, one as single parent for many of those years.

So here's looking at you, Barbie. Happy 50th. Not one of us have your bone structure, your breasts, your waist or your long sleek mane. Not one of us can wear the heels you wear with a smile. But envy, jealousy or inferiority were never what we felt when we played Barbies. You were always our friend and you helped us pass countless fun afternoons with our friends.

Sometimes a Barbie is just a Barbie. Let's all relax and count on another 50 years of unenlightened fun by girls the world over.

4 comments:

ChicBanjo said...

Well said! I played Barbies a lot when I was young and I also ended up with a college degree and a professional position. Who would have thought?

And while I think the Barbie prototype may give girls and unrealistic idea of body image (along with waif thin models and air brushed advertisements), I am vehemently opposed to banning anything simply because we don't agree with what it stands for or the message it imparts. Plenty of girls who play Barbie will end up well-adjusted, well-educated and with a good body image. Those things will come about as a result of active parenting and good, healthy role models, not from playing (or not playing) with a toy.

Let Barbie be who she is; and let girls be who they will become.

renee said...

Thank you for your note!

Sometimes I wish I had half the energy of people who feel the need to expound on things as inconsequential as Barbie dolls.

And for everyone who fears the influence of a Barbie on young girls, I have news for you: if she's growing up with unresolved body issues and questionable self-esteem, her problems aren't rooted in the toy box.

Thanks again for your comment!

coffee said...

After 50 years Barbie is still in great shape; how does she do it?

renee said...

Thank you Coffee - unfortunately, I have no answers for you.

I like her unlined face. The freakish body is the freakish body but the perfectly smooth skin - that's what I want.