Thursday, February 04, 2016

'Why I Gave in to Barbie, Even Before Her Size Change'

We knew a man who worked for a major toy manufacturer. He hated Barbie. No matter how much research or work they put into their own versions of the 57-year old staple of the world toy market, Barbie always won.

Barbie hasn't been winning lately. Her whiteness and impossible measurements are blamed for aiding and abetting a culture that objectifies and idealizes white women, while discouraging them from using their minds or athleticism.

Many parents have been avoiding buying Barbies for years, meaning that lately, she hasn't been the market queen who bedeviled our friend.

That's why Mattel has recently unveiled, modestly more physically realistic versions of Barbie.

But Laura Goetsch writes that after she and her husband refused to give Barbies to their daughters, their opinion about the doll changed. It started with a gift given to one of their girls at a birthday party.
We threw her a butterfly-themed party, and one guest brought a present to match: a Barbie with extendable orange, pink, and black wings, like a monarch butterfly. This thoughtful neighbor, having recently arrived in the US, was likely unaware of our American angst over Barbie, and she clearly did not share it. She simply chose a toy that a little girl who was into butterflies would love. There was no question that we would embrace this thoughtful gift with gratitude and gladness.
The Barbie was embraced. But within a context of other messages, conversations, and examples for the the daughters.
I could have tried to quash my kids’ love of this svelte fashionista, but I chose not to. To express disdain for Barbie risks communicating to my daughters that their interests are frivolous, their delights are wrong. I won’t do this. At heart, is love of fashion and design not love of beauty? I believe that God himself planted this love of beauty, color, and texture in us.  
Playing house with dolls is a way to explore our own world. This is no less true when the doll’s proportions are unrealistic and her clothes a bit tight. If there had been another line of toys that I could have easily found secondhand with as many interesting accessories, I would have bought those. Instead, we have allowed our girls to relish the endless creative opportunities Barbie offers despite her downfalls.  
Like most American moms, I worry about my girls’ body images. I want them to view women as strong, wise, and gifted by God. In a society flooded with airbrushed pictures, no woman is immune from self-doubt and confusion. I wish that for the next 20 years I could hide all the commercials, billboards, and celebrity photos. I would love to create a world in which my kids only saw real women with realistic bodies.  
I’m grateful that the newly shaped Barbies help us take a step toward that world, but it’s only a tiny step and will likely make little impact on girls who learn early our cultural preference for skinny bodies. When I was wrestling a few years ago with whether to let my kids play with Barbie, I realized that to eliminate her would simply be to remove one trickle from a fire hose….at the cost of my kids’ favorite way to play and create. I decided that it was more important to foster their gifts and interests than to assuage my uneasy conscience (a conscience that on this issue was perhaps more informed by society's expectations of me as an educated Christian woman than by the Holy Spirit).
This is not to say that I am off the hook. My husband and I must still ask, how will we build up our daughters in truth and strength? How will we give them God’s vision for women? We’ll start off by ensuring that Barbie is not the only female figure they know and admire.  
We surround them with godly, brave, gifted women. We read biographies of Corrie Ten Boom and Harriet Tubman. We play soccer, practice math, and make art. We call them to love God with their hearts, souls, minds, and strength. We push them to love their neighbors as themselves. And yes, we discuss their Barbies’ absurd proportions. 
We talk of building sharp minds and strong bodies, soft hearts and deep souls. We cheer their ingenuity. We root them in a rich faith community. We play with Legos and with light sabers. We laugh and delight in what delights them. We tell the stories of Scripture. We trust that God is using their creative play with Barbie to develop their unique gifts.
In my years as a pastor and a parent, I've found that it's possible for parents to discuss anything with their kids, so long as you love and support them. Girls will even accept your criticisms of Barbie's impossible body, her obsession with beauty, and her dependence on a man for validation, if they know that you love them and when you teach them that God has gifted them to use their minds and that adhering to a false image of womanhood is both destructive and unnecessary. Read the whole thing, please.

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