Thursday, September 27, 2012

What's Wrong with Barbie?

by Julie

I was taken aback by a letter from a reader to an advice columnist in the paper recently.**  The mom of a soon-to-be five-year-old wrote in worried about her daughter's upcoming birthday party. She was seriously concerned that her daughter might receive :::gasp::: Barbie or other "fashion" dolls as gifts. What to do? Should she contact parents of attendees ahead of time and specify that such dolls would not be welcomed?

I remember when my kids were five and I can relate to how a parent's decision of what to allow and what not to allow should be honored. If this mom really thinks that Barbie dolls are evil and she prefers to keep them out of her house, so be it. I'm guessing that she's afraid that her little one will become fascinated by clothes and learn a false sense of beauty.

But...I think she's overreacting. I can't help but see drama in his household in future years. From the very beginning, I have always believed that it isn't necessarily a "thing" that is bad, it's how a person relates to it. When my kids encountered new experiences, I like to believe that I helped them understand it and determine whether it worked for them or not. Teachable moments, you know? I worry that this little five-year-old will miss out on skills that allow her to decide whether or not things work for her.

My thought is that if you imbue an object, a word, a person, with so much power that you avoid it at all costs, then you've lost a little bit of your own strength. Rather than run away from items, words, people, why not learn more about them and grow from the experience?

Getting deep here, and that was not my intent...seriously... I started out talking about plastic dolls, right?

For the record, I had Barbies. Still have some. My daughters, too. Barbies can have lives, and horses, and careers in a way that baby dolls don't. The Barbies in this house have lived stories that my kids made up. They have (hideous) clothing that my kids sewed themselves. They have homes and places of work made from cardboard boxes and plastic crates. The Barbies in this house helped grow my kids' imaginations the same way their books, building blocks, squirt guns, Hot Wheels, puzzles, and art supplies did. Honestly, unless a toy posed a physical danger (swallowing, poke an eye out), it was allowed.

Have you ever encountered a kids' party where certain gifts were prohibited? Do you think there are situations where a parent *should* tell others what's allowed and what's not? I mean, barring some allergic situation...

Just wondering...

**The advice column was ASK AMY, in the Chicago Tribune.  Amy's Facebook Like page is here: Amy Dickinson.


Aurian said...

Oh my, I am just a parttime stepmother to a 13 year old, so I never had to think about that! She still likes playing with barbies, and I never would think things through like you describe here!

The only thing I do censor, are her books, that is my are of expertise. She wanted to start reading the True Blood series, and I did not allow that! Stick with YA for a few years longer please!

Mardel said...

My daughter (twentysomething) has long had a problem with the Brat dolls. Thinks they are a little...slutty. When they first came out I kind of liked them because it seemed that they were the first dolls that actually resembled some of the races they were supposed to be representing. I admit the clothes were a little streety, and the body shape is all about the butt, but hey - some of us have big asses.

Anyway, she absolutely said, NO bratt dolls as gifts for my grandaughter. So we all buy barbies.

ironically, now granddaughter is really into those monster high dolls - and they are looking a lot like the old brat dolls, except that they are green, gray, blue, etc - being monsters. And those are okay to buy. In fact, my granddaughter has this plan to buy me one for Christmas - for my doll collection, :)Not sure how she's going to accomplish this - being only five and not working yet. lol, but that's her plan.

anyway - though I didn't agree with the bratt doll ban, I honored it for my daughter's sake. It's her daughter, after all and there are now plenty of barbie-like dolls to collect and play with - both barbie sized and smaller. Lots of alternatives out there.

Jeannie D. said...

My step-daughter is that way. No GI Joes. Only educational toys. I think that children should be aloud to use and develop their imagination. So many toys kids have today don't allow them to do that. Some kids, if they go outside to play, don't know what to do because they can't plug in anything out there. I grew up in the 60's with some awesome toys, that today would be thought of as dangerous in many standards today. I say let them play and find their own style in life.

Julie Hyzy said...

Aurian - that must be a challenge, but I'll bet you have many rewarding moments, too. I haven't read the True Blood series myself, although I do have the first Sookie here and I keep meaning to start, so I can't comment on its appropriateness for a 13 year old, but based on the ads for the TV show, I understand your hesitation.

Mardel - LOL, I've seen those Bratz dolls. They're just not cute at all. I wouldn't want one, but I suppose they'd be attractive to a kid. Love the idea of the monster dolls! I agree with you - honoring a mom's rule is important, even if we disagree with a particular decision.

Jeannie - I like a lot of educational toys, too, but I still remember being a kid and sometimes you just want a toy-toy, instead of an important-to-your-development toy. I wasn't much of an outside kid, but I do remember creating my own fun out of stuff around the house. Cardboard boxes were the best!

Brittney said...

As a 20something mother of a four year old I guess I am taking after my parents. We buy my son mostly educational toys for his birthday and christmas. But we do this because I know he will get a lot of fun toys from his grandparents. I allow them in the house but to be honest my son will play with the "fun" toys for a while but it the puzzles, books, building games are the ones that he loves to play with us at night. I think that a kid needs to experience all sorts of toys and ideas to be well rounded. But I guess that is just me. I do screen very closely what he watches on TV. Some of the superhero shows that are on TV for "kids" are just to violent for many young kids to handle. We stick with Disney JR and Nick JR! But he would rather have a book most days anyway!

Paula Miller said...

I don't think I would ever give a guideline as to what could be given at a birthday party. The only thing I've ever been given for my daughter I wouldn't allow her to use was a bikini in some hand me downs. I just said thank you and sent it to Goodwill. I have no problem with Barbie at all. I do however have some problems with some of the clothes they sell for them these days. That's an easy fix though, you talk about why the clothes are inappropriate and either buy new ones or better yet help her make a new outfit that is appropriate. In that way you are learning a lesson about modesty and using your imagination for a new outfit and spending time together :)

Aryn said...

As a mom of boys, the big thing is not Barbies (obviously) but toy guns. Or GI Joe. Or anything related to the two. But I read an interesting anecdote years ago. Some parents had decided to forbid toy guns and toy swords for their boys. And one morning at the breakfast table the dad caught both boys eating their toast in a shape so that the toast became a gun. And then they started shooting things with their toast. It just shows that we are made a certain way. Little girls love to play with a doll that you can dress and put in a cool car and all sorts of other things. Boys want to play cowboys or indians (or whatever). The other day my 4 yr old asked me if he could throw his toy broom like a spear. Where he's heard the word spear, I have no idea. I told him yes, but not in the house. He then spent 30 min outside by himself throwing the broom like a spear. I agree with you that it is not the object itself, but how you relate to it. My older son does have a toy gun and we talk to him about real gun safety and how, even though his is a toy gun, he NEVER points a gun at a person or an animal and how real guns are completely off limits because they can hurt him badly. So what if we didn't allow guns or discuss them in our house? Well, then the fascination might build up and so would the ignorance about the importance of weapons.

Oh yeah, I had Barbies too. And I still have my mom's Barbies from the 50s. And if my boys wanted to play with them, I would be fine with that too!

mariehahn13 said...

First, I'd like to state, that I loved the post. :)

Second, I am a mother of a 6 year old little girl. We've been to birthday parties where parents have requested certain items not be bought for their children. And while I don't necessarily agree with it, I DO honor their wishes.

However, I have to say, (and I certainly hope that everyone understands that this is MY opinion and in no way is meant to cause a deep debate in family values) that I wonder sometimes what's happened to our society.

When my parents were younger, they didn't have an array of toys to choose from. There were staples in every household, including Barbie dolls for little girls.

When I was a kid, we played with the hand-me-down Barbies my mother had, as well as the newer ones we received as gifts. We never once looked at a Barbie doll and thought "you know, I'm supposed to look like that, and have those clothes!" And the reason we didn't? My parents were there to teach us before we EVER started to play with the dolls, that people come in every shape, size, color, etc.

I know there are people out there who work REALLY hard to maintain a home, job, and steady income for their families, and don't have a lot of free time. I am in no way trying to discredit what they do, I actually admire them! But I personally believe the BEST way to educate children properly, is to expose them to things (within reason, obviously) and then take the time to explain to them the wrong and right of it, or that it's not just black and white, it's a rainbow of possibility.

As a parent, if you put so much emphasis on the WRONG of something, then that's all the child will see. My daughter plays with her Barbies and every time she brushes their hair, she says "Look! Her hair looks just like mine after you brush it!"

It's all in what you make it be.

Julie Hyzy said...

Brittney - exactly! We get to know our kids and over time, as they are exposed to things, we see where their preferences lie. You said, "All sorts of toys and ideas..." - I couldn't agree more.

Paula - Talking about what's appropriate and what's not is -- in my humble opinion -- the very best way to communicate your family's values to children. I think anything that encourages parents and kids to talk is a boon!

Aryn - what a fun story! I'll bet your son had a wonderful time playing with his spear. And how great that you take the time to talk with them and set limits "outside only" "never point it at anyone" - those are wonderful lessons because they're learning, at the same time, how much you care!

Mariehahn - Thank you! I wholeheartedly agree. I never, and my girls never, looked at Barbie as an ideal person. She was the doll that experienced the adventures playing in the head of the girl whose fist was wrapped around her ankles. I think that if I'd been a mom who'd said, "Look at her perfect body, don't we all want that?" (ugh, that was actually painful to write), I may have messed up my poor daughters' heads. But Barbie was never that to any of us.
LOVED your daughter's exclamation about her hair. As long as parents communicate with kids, it probably doesn't matter whether those kids' toys are cardboard boxes, plastic dolls, or iPads.

Leann Sweeney said...

My daughter had LOTS of Barbies. I had one. But that's not what your post is really about. I also have a son (grown now!) and I adamantly refused to buy toy guns. This was NOT about him, but about me and my belief that guns are trouble and that my refusal concerning this particular toy was a "talking point, a learning moment" for my son. He had no problem with this. He understood. He played with his imaginary guns and I had no issue with it. The noises, the play, was fun to watch and listen to. I believed my job as a parent was to help him understand that play is about learning to grow and thrive in the world you will live in as an adult. As for my daughter and her Barbies? The big learning moment there was that you can grow up and be whatever you want. Because Barbie sure does do everything. And maybe my lone Barbie helped me understand that, too.

Julie Hyzy said...

Leann - Barbie sure does do everything, doesn't she? I like the message in that -- that there's nothing she can't do. As far as guns go - I had guns as a kid. Little silver cap guns. I loved them. My kids stayed with squirt guns and those little whirly things that shot Styrofoam disks. For some reason I never thought of them as anything but another toy. We all may parent differently, but if we keep communication open with our kids and listen to their needs as well as ours, I think whatever preferences we choose to set should be respected. Sounds like yours were! I had my bugaboos, too. Not with toys so much as food. But that's a different story for another day!

Unknown said...

A child will learn what it is taught. If she is surrounded by negative Barbie body talk, then she will learn it and think it. I developed my fat kid complex from my mother, not from my Barbies. There you go.

Julie Hyzy said...

Catmommie - Kids are incredibly perceptive. That's so true! Negative lessons, particularly when they're learned early, are hard to un-learn.

Rachelle21 said...

I did not have any Barbies until the Star Trek set came out. I had to buy the set.