When my mother asked me what Katie might like to have for Christmas this year, I gave her a list of ideas: books, furniture for her dollhouse, her very first Barbie.
I loved my Barbies as a little girl. I treasured each and every one of them … Barbie, Malibu Barbie, Skipper, and Ken. I even had a Cher Barbie (it was the late 70s, okay?). I had the powder pink vinyl closet that held all of her outfits and shoes. I’d have done anything for Barbie’s Dream House. I took Barbie very seriously.
I’ve always looked forward to the day when Katie would take an interest in Barbies just as I had, and I planned to buy her a Barbie as soon as she asked for one. I was thrilled when she opened all of her gifts from my mother and amongst them was her first Barbie.
I’ve never believed that Barbie alone causes body image problems in little girls. Yes, she does present unrealistic standards. I won’t deny that. Her proportions are skewed at best.
But, I’ve always felt that Barbie isn’t powerful enough to warp a child’s body image on her own and I found the arguments against Barbie rather absurd.
Then, I removed Barbie from her packaging, one long, giraffe-like leg at a time.
Katie was brimming with excitement and, brush in hand, couldn’t wait to brush Barbie’s long golden hair.
As I removed the bits of plastic holding her in place, I couldn’t help but notice the length of her dress (super short), the backless top of the dress, the black knee-high stripper boots, the heavy eye makeup.
I immediately felt a twinge in my stomach.
I was uncomfortable.
Barbie was … well … perfect. As I helped Katie to undress her, I caught myself wishing that I had Barbie’s body.
I’m a rational adult and I thought it.
I panicked a bit and planned to put Barbie away for a while until I could figure out how to ensure that Katie would never think the same thing, especially not in these early years as she’s figuring out who she is and what being a girl means.
So, I sat and watched her play. And I waited.
As she struggled to dress Barbie in her other outfit, a sweet and appropriate nightgown, with a perplexed look on her face, she looked up at me and asked:
Mommy? Why doesn’t Barbie have nipples? How does she feed her baby?
And I was so proud.
She saw Barbie’s body for what it is…strong and purposeful.
We talk a lot about healthy bodies. Katie knows that when she picks a snack, the first thing that we do is measure out a serving size. She knows why we eat a variety of foods and she’s understands the importance of “eating the rainbow.”
We’ve talked about the food pyramid. She knows how to identify hidden sugars and make nutritious choices.
We tell her that she is smart, funny, kind, and generous. We’ve talked at length about being beautiful on the inside.
We’ve told her that she’s important to our family and we’ve listed the reasons. Her physical appearance is not on that list.
I don’t speak negatively about my own body in front of her.
I’ve helped her to build a solid foundation for a lifetime of healthy eating.
A doll can’t undermine a solid sense of self.
I’m going to let her keep the Barbie.
But I’m thinking the stripper boots might just disappear.