For a mother, that lure of giving that perfect gift to a delighted and giddy child on Christmas morning is pretty strong.
My daughter is obsessed with ocean life. This began several months back, when a student teacher at her preschool brought in a giant floor puzzle with an image of the layers of the ocean on it. We’ve checked out every ocean book the library offers, two times over. We’ve watched “Free Willy 4″ more times than I can count. Imaginative play usually involves Amelia training her baby brother, whom she has turned into a dolphin or seal. Our bedtime stories involve belugas and narwhals and orcas and grey whales and various attacking sharks.
She’s been coveting this Sea World Barbie. She squeals every time we see it in the store. She picks up the box and hugs it. I try to ask her questions like, “Do you think the doll is fun? Are you more excited for the dolphin and orca?” to try to get a picture of what she is really so wild about. She does not own any other Barbies, nor does most of her play seem like if she had a Barbie, it would fit in. I’ve had people tell me the very imaginative ways their girls play with Barbie. I’m sure they do. But my daughter has very imaginative play without the aid of a sexualized toy. Sexualization is sexualization, whether it has blue eye shadow or not.
Several weeks back I was Christmas shopping and saw this Sea World Barbie for $10. That’s half the price of the dolphin trainer doll on the Sea World website, and the doll there seems to have the same body proportions as Barbie. I do not like Barbie, but I had never purchased one as a parent, so I thought maybe I should try it and see things from that side of the fence. I bought it. And I immediately regretted it.
I rationalized that I would talk to my husband about it, and get his take. I could always return it, and Amelia would never know. I was certain she would love this on Christmas morning, but I had this pit in my stomach every time I thought about giving her the first Barbie. It goes against everything I believe in, and work for.
Mattel, the company that makes Barbie, estimates that 90% of 3-10 year old girls own at least one Barbie, with the majority owning eight. We fall into that other 10%, because I read the research and studies and articles all day long. I teach other parents about media literacy and sexualization and the pinkification of girlhood. I know the science behind all of this, and base my business around it.
Still, I cannot in good conscience give my daughter a toy that is sexualized. That promotes beauty and sexiness as a woman’s ultimates assets. That only has one body size. That has ridiculously sexed up outfits for careers that aren’t very imaginative. That has impossible body and physical portions that disrespect my daughter’s natural beauty and healthy body.
I know there are tons of people who will say “Get over yourself, Lady”, “Barbie is no big deal”, and my fave “I played with Baribe and I turned out fine”. But research is telling us over and over and over again that early sexualization IS a big deal. A really really big deal. Sexualized childhood is something I do not accept for my children.
I just can’t do it. I can’t be responsible for giving her those messages. She’ll get them from other sources as she gets older, and it will be my job then to help her question those messages and navigate around them to stay the course of high self-esteem and positive body image.
I have a lot of parents ask me or email me and say, “How do I do this? How do I keep this stuff away from my daughter?”. Many times I have the answers. Other times I am just the mom of an almost five year old girl, and I can’t answer because I haven’t been there yet.
I think a lot of good parenting comes down to common sense. And when my mama instincts, when my gut, tells me “Don’t do it”, I don’t do it. Sea World Barbie will be returned to the store.
For the record, my husband said a firm no to Barbie. Although this Barbie is certainly relatively tame, most others are not. He did, however, spend all of last Friday night digging through boxes in our basement. Saturday morning he presented Amelia with a four inch Princess Leia toy from his childhood. That’s one princess I can live with.
Sometimes being a good parent isn’t about what you do, it is about what you don’t do. I don’t give my children toys that make my heart hurt. And I think we’ll all have smiles on our faces come Christmas morning.
Yesterday our friend Dr. Robyn Silverman wrote this great post: “Happy Holidays! I Hate Everything On My Child’s Wish List” with a helpful list of consideration points should you find yourself in a dilema similar to mine.