This weekend my daughter snuck a Barbie doll that I use for Media Literacy Workshops for parents, teaching them the harms of gender stereotyping and sexualization. And she wouldn’t give it back. Ironic, I know.
I had taken Surfer Barbie and Wolverine out of the bag to snap a picture of them together to illustrate my point on how disproportionate their bodies are, coupled with stats on how boys’ and girls’ positive body image is tanking. After I got the photo I needed, I shoved Barbie under a pile of baby clothes headed for the tub in the basement, except her damn legs are so long they were sticking out from underneath the jammies and t-shirts. I was in a hurry to get the kids their lunch, so I didn’t give it much thought.
And that was my undoing. Apparently 5 year old girls have Barbie radar, because Amelia was on that doll like white on rice. She noticed it a few minutes later, ran to it, looked around to see if I was watching, then grabbed it and ran back to my desk while holding Barbie victoriously above her head as she expelled a giant “AHHH HA! Now I have Barbie!!”
I might have muttered something under my breath, then said to myself, “Self, just play it cool.”
“Mmkay, Smalls. Well, why don’t you go play while I finish this email and then make lunch.” That’s me, playing it so cool as Amelia races upstairs to go stash Barbie somewhere in her room.
While eating lunch, Amelia has pondered up a few questions, because up to her this point, her 5 years, 4 months, and 5 days of life have been Barbie/Bratz free. (for the sake of disclosure, we have a couple of Disney Princess books that were hand-me-downs)
“Hey Mom, why are Barbie’s feet high and pointy?” Amelia asks.
“Because she always wears high heels,” I say, extremely interested to see where this is going.
“Yeah, but she is supposed to be a surfer so how can she surf in heels?”
“I know, right? Doesn’t make much sense to me either. Maybe she leaves her heels on the beach.”
“And and AND a shark EATS her! Rawmahnaom rawrrrerrr!!” offers Benny, Amelia’s little brother. Ben and I fist bump.
“Ugh, Ben. And Mom? Why does she wear so much make up? Bindi doesn’t wear make up but she also surfs and she has the right kind of feet. Her make up would wash off…” Amelia trails off, I can tell she is sorting it out in her head, so I let it marinate for a few moments.
“Yes, I suppose it would. I don’t wear make up when I swim because it seems silly and it would wash off.”
“Mom, you wear make up so you don’t look so tired. Maybe that is why Barbie wears it,” suggests Amelia.
“Darling, Barbie does not have children. I don’t think she is as tired as Mommy is. I think she just always wears make up.”
“Mom, why are her legs longer than Bindi’s legs?” asks Amelia.
“Well, Barbie is supposed to be an adult and Bindi is a kid, so Barbie is taller. Barbie is like, twenty five and Bindi is only twelve. But if Barbie were a real life person, her body could not look like that. Her body wouldn’t function the way it needs to in order to be healthy,” I answer.
“Huh,” says Amelia.
“Huh,” says I.
And that was the end of it for the afternoon, until my husband came home from work. The dogs alerted Amelia that he had pulled into the garage, so she tore upstairs to grab Barbie, and then rushed to the door to meet her daddy.
“Ohmygawd DAD! Look! I got a Barbie and now I know what she feels like and she wears high heels but not when she swims but she does wear make up all the time and she isn’t tired like mom!”
“Holy sh…..should we tell Mom what you have?” asks my husband.
“Yeah, who cares? Mom said I could play with it.”
“Seriously?” questions my husband as he walks into the dining room. “You let her have a Barbie?”
“No, she stole Barbie. But getting it back from her will be a bigger deal than just letting her play with it for a couple of days. I guarantee you that plastic hunk will be forgotten somewhere by Monday morning.”
“The world IS coming to an end this weekend,” jokes my husband.
“Heh, maybe. But Surfer Barbie has a tasteful tankini on, which is better to me than a uber sexy, club-y outfit. And Amelia has already begun to question why she is so different from her Bindi Irwin doll, so let’s just let it be.”
“Fine, but I don’t want her to have any more Barbies. That’s just garbage for her head,” my husband says. Ahhh, I do love the man.
So that was that. Amelia never mentioned Barbie for the rest of the weekend. Barbie was stuffed in a box with the Bindi doll and all of Amelia’s headbands and jewelry and never resurfaced. I had to dig around for her this morning after the kiddos were at preschool.
I’m not glad Amelia swiped her from the counter, but I’m glad she immediately started to question why Barbie was different from the other toys she has been raised with. I’m glad Amelia’s foundation is rooted in healthy, non-sexualized, age appropriate lessons so that Barbie isn’t the norm. To Amelia, Barbie looked abnormal. Fine by me.
I don’t feel like I have failed my daughter. I try to be a great parent, but not a perfect one. Amelia won’t be getting any more Barbies. I don’t like Barbie any better than I did last week, but it was actually rather cool to see how it played out, as I knew this day would come at some point. And my daughter questioned what didn’t make sense to her. All I ask is that she never stops questioning.
We can’t have our kids live in a bubble. We can’t be perfect parents. We have every right to keep products and messages out of our homes that we know to be harmful to our kids and their development. The message I want to send is that even when something slips through the cracks, if you have raised your children with a healthy and balanced foundation, they will question the messages and experiences that do not make sense to them.
Never stop questioning.