Postcards From Mommywood: In Defense of Barbie
The heck with political correctness. My daughter’s going to play with her.
As any parent knows who has ventured with the kids into the neighborhood toy store, Target, or Toys “R” Us, toys in all their forms hold a particular fascination that can never quite be anticipated. One day, daddy’s little girl might be drawn to all things princess-like, the next she’s wrestling her brother for the biggest truck in the store. Junior might love dinosaurs but, on occasion, he’s also been known to take his cousin’s pink stroller out for a spin. You never know what your kid is going to latch on to, and there’s rarely any particular logic behind it – it just is what it is.
Kids look at toys differently than adults do, as well they should. For them, toys are a source of entertainment, learning (or so we tell ourselves), and fun. It’s been my experience, though, that a fair number of parents feel that there are a lot more to certain toys than meets the eye, and they carefully weigh the political correctness of a toy before bringing it into their households.
I get that toy guns are definitely a no-no, but Barbie? You’ve lost me there.
The iconic fashion doll famously turned fifty last year (funny—she doesn’t look a day over 21) and she’s been everywhere ever since. At New York’s Fashion Week in February 2009, there was even a fashion show staged in her honor at which some of the hippest names in the business paid homage to her. Mattel asked Barbie fans to vote online for two new careers for the doll and they did by the thousands. This year, the Computer Engineer and News Anchor Barbies will debut. I can’t wait.
I spent much of my childhood setting up elaborate Barbie villages in the back yard and passed many, many hours by playing with them. I still have most of my beloved dolls—Malibu Barbie and Ken among them, in a closet along with a selection of the “adult” fashionista dolls like the Vera Wang, Burberry, and Carolina Herrera Barbies– that I’ve been saving in the hope of seeing my own daughter concocting her own stories with them one day. Imagine my delight when I learned that the hotel in China at which we stayed when adopting her had a playroom sponsored by Mattel, and it was customary for them to give each adoptive mother a “Going Home Barbie–a Caucasian doll holding an Asian baby–just prior to her departure. Barbie, me, and my daughter were all fated to be together!
Now that she’s turned five—even though she’s much more attached to her stuffed animals—she’s just starting to show some interest in Barbie. She also likes Disney dolls. Her favorite is Ariel and for her birthday, one of her friends gave her Belle (from Beauty and The Beast). She frequently carts them around with her to visits to the supermarket and occasionally they come with us to school, but return with me after I’ve dropped her off.
One morning, not long ago, I was holding Belle, who was wearing her princess costume minus shoes (which were lost within seconds after my daughter opened the box), when a mom I know started up a conversation as we made our way to the parking lot. I innocently mentioned Barbie.
“You let your daughter play with Barbie?” she asked, barely concealing her disdain.
“Yes. She’s just started really getting into them,” I said, pretending not to notice.
“I don’t allow them in the house. They’re terrible role models for girls,” she said.