“Look Dan, I got a Barbie!” my niece Lucy called out, placing the doll in my hands for me to inspect. The first thing I noticed about her Barbie was that her hands had been quite badly chewed. The teeth marks had flattened and stretched the plastic to the point where it no longer looked like Barbie even had hands, instead it looked like her forearms were simply attached to two large, battered, skillets. I later found out it was my wife who had done the chewing, presumably when she was Lucy’s age, at least I hope.
“Mom doesn’t like her Barbie,” said her older brother Sam. “Mom says she looks hungry.”
“If your mom doesn’t like the Barbie, who got it for her?” “She brought it home from grandma and grandpa’s house, it was mom’s Barbie when she was little,” Sam told me.
“I’m hopefully going to get another one for my birthday,” Lucy hinted with a mixture of excitement for what was to come and pride for the doll she currently had clung to her chest.
It was Lucy’s fourth birthday; which I’ve come to realize is one of the biggest birthdays in a kid’s life, simply for the fact that when they turned three-years-old, they really don’t remember turning two. But at four, they clearly remember their third birthday and all of the presents, cake and attention that come along with it. They are pumped out of their little adolescent minds to turn four.
So this being the biggest birthday of her entire childhood, we wanted to get her something good, and the only thing good in Lucy’s mind was a tall bleach-blonde doll sporting double d’s and a smile.
Talking with Lucy’s parents about birthday presents, the topic of Barbie quickly came up again.
“I really don’t like her playing with Babies,” her mom said. “Not only does she look hungry, but her waist is tiny and her boobs are huge.”
I understand why she didn’t want Lucy to get a Barbie, after all, most of the doll’s we found had Barbie wearing clothes that made her look like she was a shoe-in for either the cover of the next Girl’s Gone Wild DVD, or a place on the cast of the next VH-1 celebrity dating show where she would spend the majority of her time in front of the camera trying to convince the audience that she was not only old enough to know who this celebrity was, but also that she was madly in love with him before she found out about the auditions on Craiglist that morning.
“He’s my soul mate,” she would say over and over into the camera. If she made it just far enough along in the dating selection, or caused enough drama to shame her entire family, she might even get her own spin off show.
There obviously isn’t some predetermined equation that proves any little girl who plays with Barbie Dolls will develop body issues and spend most of their adult lives trying to look exactly like Pamela Anderson. My sister Tricia played with Barbie dolls when we were growing up. She now goes by the name Trash, drums in a crusty-punk band and dates a woman with hairy armpits; so you just never know.
But I remember a similar discussion about women’s body image when a college friend of mine found out his girlfriend was pregnant and was having a baby girl.
“I’m not going to let her get all Britney Spears and think that’s the way women are supposed to look,” he said.
Mind you, this was before Britney got married to one of her background dancers, got pregnant, and then drove her car around with her baby in the air-bag position. This was long before she went on a yearlong bender, became bffs with Paris Hilton, got tattoos when she could barely stand, shaved her head at 4 a.m. and then ran off and got married to a member of the papa razzi. No, this was the “Oops I did it again” Britney, the most wholesome version of the woman we would ever come to know, and he was still worried.
In the following year, even Britney fell victim to trying to live up to the Britney Spears’ image, and, from what I gathered from the trashy magazines that line the check out lane of every grocery store in Amercia, it nearly drove the poor girl insane. I wonder in Britney ever played with Barbie dolls as a kid?
When it finally came down to buying Lucy a birthday present, we decided we could either buy her something she would be disappointed with, or get her a Barbie; we decided on the doll.
While looking for the right Barbie it was important to find one that Lucy would really like, so that meant the doll had to be a princess, preferably sporting pink. Luckily my wife found just the doll, a Barbie that was apparently involved in a story line with the Three Musketeers. According to the packaging, this particular Barbie was featured in an animated story, which was available on DVD for additional purchase.
While at the store, my wife called and informed me there was a sale. With the purchase of a Barbie, you could either get a free Ken doll from the same story line, or additional dresses for the doll. I voted for the Ken doll because the last time I saw Lucy playing with her dolls, Belle and Sleeping Beauty seemed perfectly content with their female dance partners, but it seemed Snow White was longing for some male companionship.
At home, while we were wrapping the presents, we noticed something about the packaging. Both Barbie and Ken had word bubbles coming up from their mouths like they were speaking, but what they were saying was completely different. Barbie’s word bubble said, “This is my first ball,” while Ken’s said, “I want to be an inventor.” At first we were amused by it, but then, like the drama a few years back where a talking Barbie said, “Math is hard,” we wondered if these stereotypes weren’t more harmful than Barbie’s body issues. Basically what they were saying was, Barbie is a party girl who is excited to go dancing; while Ken is a smart young man determined to make something of himself when he grows up. How old are Barbie and Ken supposed to be by the way?
But unlike the talking Barbie, this doll would only have one chance to get her message across, because once Lucy saw the pink-gowned princess beneath the plastic, that packing was toast. And another thing, Lucy can’t read yet.
In the end, Lucy was extremely excited to get the Barbie and Ken dolls. Her eye’s lit up for at least a half of a second, which was about the time it took for her to refocus her attention on the other unopened presents sitting next to her on the floor. The next present was a Polly Pocket beach set with all sort of different bikinis, swim fins, snorkels, flip flops and other beach gear for Polly to change into and out of. Although Polly is much smaller than Barbie, I couldn’t help but notice she was built in a similar fashion, and just like that, Barbie was pushed to the sidelines for a smaller version of herself with skimpier clothing. If Barbie is Britney Spears, then Polly is Millie Cyrus; she just doesn’t have the bad reputation- yet.