"I would never buy my granddaughter a Barbie doll."
"Why's that?" I asked my friend. "I loved my Barbie."
"Well, you know, I'm a feminist."
I get it. We've all heard about how Barbie ruined the way girls see themselves and their bodies. I just don't believe it's true and I think it diminishes girls to think they won't be able to think for themselves as a result of playing with a toy. I don't sell toys but I am a fan.
Play matters. Playing with dolls, Barbie included, is an integral part of growing into well-rounded (no pun intended) women. My parents gave me my first Barbie in 1962. I played with her for a long time and learned some valuable life lessons along the way.
Imagination is a powerful force for growth.
Before playing with Barbie, I played with baby dolls. Those pretty much restricted me to viewing women as people with one sole focus -- being a mommy. While there's nothing wrong with that, playing with Barbie empowered my mind to envision other aspects of my future. In one outfit, I imagined being a glamorous woman who worked in a office and then, presto change-o, new clothes had me pretending I was a nightclub singer and later, an athlete and a doctor.
Okay, maybe I was all of those things with large breasts and a tiny waist, the things we've all heard Barbie mistakenly leads girls to believe are the only way to look good, but, honestly, I didn't think Barbie's body was a realistic portrayal of women's bodies. I was only a child but I understood the difference between a toy and a person. I knew real men had penises, for example, despite the fact that Barbie's boyfriend Ken was not similarly endowed. Don't misunderstand; I applaud the fact that dolls are produced now who reflect our diverse society. I'm just saying playing with dolls transcends reality. We don't need a doll to represent every aspect of life. What's missing in any toy can be filled in by a child's imagination.
Economics Factor Into Everything
Playing with Barbie taught me the meaning of "opportunity cost." I wanted all things Barbie but my parents were pretty frugal. So, come my birthday I had to make a choice. If I wanted Barbie-related items that meant giving up the chance to get any of the other toys I might have craved. I had to make choices.
Collaboration Beats Competition
As I mentioned, my parents did not spend a lot on toys. As an adult, I admire their restraint. As a child I thought they were a tad cheap. But my best friend Patti's parents were overly generous so Patti had the dream house, the car and the oh-so-fabulous nightclub singer evening ensemble complete with microphone! I had the corporate suit outfit and the ice skater's attire. Rather than simply envy what each other owned, we learned early on the most fun resulted from combining our loot and playing together. Socialism? Perhaps, but it worked for us.
Romance Should Be Mutually Lovely
In my pretend world, Barbie dated some very nice guys. They never hurt her or treated her like crap. It set me up to expect the same later in my life. If Barbie accepted nothing less than respect, romance, and responsibility in her man (despite his anatomical shortcomings) why would I choose less?
I'm grown now and no longer play with dolls but don't regret a moment of my childhood. We let kids play extremely violent video games but we balk at letting girls play with dolls because we think they may ... what? View themselves as imperfect because they don't look like the doll?
Playing pretend helps girls grow into women. I don't look like Barbie, nor did I ever aspire to. But playing with her helped me develop a skill set that enabled me to become a teacher, a mother, a career woman in a corporation, an entrepreneur, a writer, a runner, and a grandmother. She helped me see the world beyond my reality. As a young girl I could envision a future of limitless possibility through the eyes of my doll. I used to pretend she was even a president and now, this year, I'll put that vision into action when I cast my vote for a woman in real life.
I even kept my doll and passed her along to my daughters so they could broaden their horizons. Here's my doll, circa 1962 and her friends, my daughters' dolls, circa 1985.
So, yes, I'd buy my granddaughter a Barbie doll, or similar toy. Hell, I'd buy one for my grandson if my son-in-law would let me!
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