Owning a Barbie doll isn’t child’s play.
This morning, I was sitting on the bus to work watching the world go by in a daydream when a very pretty little girl with long blonde ringlets got on with her mother.
I pretended to be flicking through my phone, but was totally distracted watching the little girl busy herself riffling through the tiny backpack on her lap. Out came a pencil case, a pen with a feather on the end, then a small notebook with glittered stickers on the front. It was all captivatingly cute.
When she’d finished a few doodles – a house, a bee and a girl with very long legs – her mother ripped off a piece of orange and offered it to her.
“No thanks,” said the girl, shaking her head and ruffling her ringlets.
“But you love oranges,” said her mother, trying again.
“I don’t want to get fat,” the little girl replied.
Her wide-eyed, horrified mother glanced over to see if I’d heard. I threw her a sympathetic small smile and carried on staring at my phone. It was mortifying. Sometimes when a child drops the f-word you stifle a giggle, but there was nothing amusing about this f-bomb.
What I wanted to do, was pluck the bar of chocolate from my bag and share it with them both in a moment of female bonding. I refrained, but it struck me as incredibly sad that this beautiful little being had even a vague concept of body image.
Glancing again at the cute one’s mini backpack I saw Barbie’s beaming face and spied a spindly plastic leg poking out of the side pocket. In an instant it all made sense. Of course, these could be totally unconnected, maybe I jumped (with not very long legs) to cynical conclusions.
I’m no parent, but if I had a child, I would not be buying her (or him) a Barbie. For the record, I wouldn’t be buying her (or him) the other waif-thin scantily clad dolls with big hair and high heels that horrify me in shops either. I certainly wouldn’t want a child to be thinking about being fat before they’d even started school. Nor what lipstick looks best with jet-black racoon eyes. There will be enough body comparisons looking at magazines, TV ads and billboards with unrealistic leggy creatures to contend with soon enough.
The parade of photoshopped, unattainable images that strut before us all in everyday life is never-ending when it begins, do we really need to put a plastic, questionably proportioned doll in a tiny hand?
I’d never really given much thought to how careful you have to be around little ones with little ears until I was babysitting for my friend Nat. She came down the stairs in a stunning floor-length number ready for her function and I exclaimed. “Wow, look so thin!” Cue, frown. Cue, me being shuffled into the kitchen for a hasty whispered debrief where it was explained that words like ‘fat’, ‘thin’ and ‘weight’ were not for this household. The ‘ah-ha’ moment came as she spoke.
What a minefield. Young minds are so impressionable; a blank canvas for the world to sketch on.
Last year, Barbie tried to reinvent herself with an #Unapologetic campaign to push back at haters, trying to make the point that Barbie had always had to apologise for her good looks. Funnily enough, Barbie didn’t turn her public perception around to become the poster-girl for female empowerment.
I totally understand that kids like dolls, but as Barbie has become such a statement, why would you go there? She’s the antithesis of feminism, a 50s doll that’s as irrelevant today as a Stepford Wife who submissively obeys her husband. She’s not aspirational and there’s even a syndrome named after her; someone afflicted with ‘Barbie syndrome’ strives for an unrealistic body type.
As I got off the bus, I squeezed past the little girl and admired her mother. What a huge job lays ahead for her. I wouldn’t be buying a child a Barbie, but it’s ultimately the attitude of a mother that’s really going to shape a small mind’s perception. How will that tiny person grow up to see themselves? That’s the whopping million dollar question.
Images via sodahead.com and huffingtonpost.com.