What do we do with Barbie?
by Megan Dunham
Posted on Thursday, August 11, 2011, at 1:33 pm
Shortly (or so it seemed) after we had one daughter, the next thing we knew we had four of them. Four girls means four times the opportunities to bring Barbie, the plastic dream queen, into our home with all her luggage . . . or should I say baggage?
Our oldest daughter received her first official Barbie doll when she was 5 years old. She hadn't asked for it, nor did she seem particularly attached to it, at least not any more than she was to the other plastic paraphernalia she acquired that year. This made Barbie an easy sneak-out-the-back-door item.
Why did we do it? I wouldn't say I had totally developed a complete rationale against all-things-Barbie, but I did have a sense that Barbie stood for a lot of cultural misrepresentations with which I didn't necessarily want to bombard my girls. So out she went.
Soon we had another 5-year-old on the scene. This one actually requested a Barbie for her birthday. This was right around the time I found a new line of soft-bodied cloth dolls with proportional anatomy that were about the same height as Barbie. We bought two.
My second-oldest didn't mind. Granted, these dolls were harder to dress than traditional Barbies but were still fun to play with and-get this-they looked like young girls, not magazine pin-ups.
Fast-forward five more years. We still have a toy bin filled with old-fashioned Barbie clothes and we still have the two soft body dolls. We also have one actual Barbie doll, another unasked-for gift. I think she is Princess Barbie, and she has managed to pay her rent and secure a spot in the bin.
We have some ground rules for Barbie: She has to remain clothed while living in our house. And Ken is not invited over . . . ever.
Last week, Terry Mattingly wrote an interesting article for GetReligion.org about "God, Barbies, and girlie girls." He didn't just stop with Barbie but follows her down the path of her natural progression. He wrote:
"Will you buy your daughter a Barbie doll? Other questions follow in the wake of this one, linked to clothes, self-esteem, cellphones, makeup, reality TV shows and the entire commercialized princess culture."
These are great questions to ask. I've had conversations with more than one mom who, after battling over the bikini question with her teenage daughters for years, finally gave in. It wasn't the battle they wanted to fight anymore.
I'm inclined to think that if the bikini question is a battle at 17, some key conversations on modesty and the heart were missed while the girls were 7.
Mattingly pointed out that the problem with Barbie is not uniquely religious. He quotes writer Naomi Schaefer Riley, who said:
"Mothers are divided on this whole issue and some can get very upset just talking about it. Yet others are not upset. You'll see all kinds of women, religious and non-religious, who are taking their 6-year-old daughters to get manicures and to get their hair done, trying to look pretty just like the girls on TV and in all the magazines.
"Then there are women who are the total opposite of all that. They may be evangelical Christians or they may be feminists, but they see this as an attack on what they believe."
Riley went on to say that though this commercialized, highly sexualized culture has a dominating presence in our society, the real question for us now is whether or not we as parents are willing to dare challenge it.
Philippians 4:8 provides us with a nice grid for running the ways of our culture through:
"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."
I'm not saying Barbie can't fit through that grid, but our daughters need to see discernment modeled for them. Even over toys. Even at the age of 5.