I just turned 50 years old and was thrilled to hear on a radio show yesterday that Barbie will turn 50 this year as well. Somehow it gives me hope that she can turn 50 and still look so good and be so popular, but it has also made me think about how things like Barbie relate to parenting our children.
There has been great controversy over Barbie. She makes our daughters think they have to look like her, she presents an unrealistic view of women, she continues the stereotypes of women that men hold, and on and on. Who really knows if any of this is true. The research is certainly mixed on how toys affect gender.
Barbie was designed at a time when the dolls that we had to play with were either paper dolls or baby dolls. The woman who designed her for Mattel felt that girls needed dolls to play with that would let them think of themselves as something other than mommies. It is true that she has a figure that is impossible to achieve in real life (although she has been reshaped with some "plastic surgery" in recent years) and true that she has a lot of clothes and a lot of accessories.
I don't know how the rest of you feel, but I can only tell you about my own Barbie experience; and it was a good one. I loved my Barbies. For me they represented that idea that I could be a grown-up woman with a grown up life, that may or may not include babies. True, I often made my Barbies be mommies, but I also made my Barbie be the doctor and the lawyer and the teacher. To me, Barbie was less about a physical figure and more about possibilities. Did I want to look like Barbie? Probably. Some days I still do. Not because I feel like I have to, but because I liked the way she looked. Do I want all those clothes and shoes? Absolutely, but mainly the shoes part.
The world around us absolutely sends messages to our children about what they can and can't do, what they should and shouldn't do, and what behavior is acceptable and unacceptable. I don't think there is anyone out there who will argue that. But I do wonder sometimes if we put too much of our adult views on things. Do we really know that girls see Barbie as the ideal? Do any of us think that young girls see the Bratz dolls as ideals? Do boys really think they have to play with cars and guns or are they simply more interested in them?
My son had a My Buddy doll when he was a preschooler that he often used as a baseball bat or a golf club. My daughter's favorite thing to do with her many Matchbox cars was to put them in her little purse and carry them around. I worry sometimes that we have adult ideas about what toys represent and that we over-think the effects they have on our children.
I realize that some of you will strongly disagree with this column and I absolutely respect your opinions because I don't really feel like we know enough to be sure. You may be right and I may be wrong. All I know is that I spent many happy hours playing with Barbie and pretending that life can be lived happily ever after. I also played out my anxieties as Barbie dated Ken, broke up with Ken, lived on her own and often got back together with Ken. I planned out my own wedding and my own life as I played. I hoped and dreamed and still have those hopes and dreams.
My life definitely did not work out in a happily ever after way, but I realized yesterday when I was thinking about this that I still believe in happily ever after and that belief is strongly rooted in my hours with Barbie.
I still believe I can be beautiful and successful and have a happy relationship and I truly think Barbie had something to do with that. So here's to you, Barbie. We are both entering our 50s and something tells me it will be our best decade yet.