I had a confronting experience this week. You see when we were at my parents place last Christmas, Birdy got hold of one of my old Barbie dolls and deviously smuggled it home by hiding it under the seat of our car. I didn’t realize it was there until we were back in Sydney. At first she just liked decapitating it on a regular basis, and I would find a sad headless and naked one-legged Barbie in pieces on the floor of her bedroom, which was rather disturbing, but lately she’s taken to playing with it in a more conventional fashion. The only problem was, this poor old Barbie didn’t have any proper clothes, just a glittering pink leotard that was left over from a long lost ball gown outfit. So I thought, well, if she’s going to play with it anyway, I should probably make it more respectable. So this week I set off on a mission to get Barbie some decent clothes.
However, I soon discovered that they don’t sell decent clothes for Barbie dolls. They’re all indecent. It’s probably more a reflection of current fashion than anything, but all the Barbie outfits were incredibly skanky, with plunging necklines, bare midriffs and ten-inch heels. I picked up packed after packet of Barbie clothes and each time I had to say, “We’re not getting that.” The only normal outfits they had were uniforms for a flight attendant and a nurse. Everything else looked like it belonged to a pop star or a pole dancer. In the end, Birdy chose the nurse’s uniform, which I thought was very sensible of her, but when we got it home and put it on the Barbie Doll, I was wondering where the rest of it was. If a real nurse wore that dress she’d be out of a job in no time!
I don’t know if Barbie dolls have changed from when I was a kid, but I was certainly shocked by how unrealistic the body proportions are, with their tiny waists, big heads and huge eyes. I definitely think the heels are higher, the face is far more made-up and the fashions are more revealing. I don’t think playing with Barbie dolls did me any real harm, but my generation wasn’t living in a media saturated environment like kids are now. We weren’t exposed to billboards, the internet or magazines for eight year olds – in fact we were exposed to very little advertising fullstop. One of the reasons Melinda Tankard Reist and others are speaking up about the impact of sexualized images on children is that when you see one or two inappropriate things they can very easily slip under the radar, but when you put together all the messages that children are exposed to, you realize just how much pressure they’re under to grow up too soon. And playing with very adult, sexy dolls like Barbie dolls or Bratz dolls might be innocent enough, but it ads another layer to that very adult world that children are exposed to.
Did you play with Barbie dolls as a child? Do you let your kids play with them? How have they changed over the years? Do you think they’re harmless fun or do they send a negative message to kids about how young girls should look and behave? Perhaps you’ve found a positive way of dealing with some of these issues…