Barbie power

I strongly, strongly (border on hate) Barbie. I haven’t always felt this way. In fact, I can recall a good number of hours playing with my own Barbies growing up. While I was never a “doll” person, I have fond memories cutting Barbie’s hair, dressing her up, and making up pretty lame play stories with redundant themes.

My dislike for Barbie came as an adult when I became aware of the ubiquitous covert messages bombarding our girls about gender roles and unrealistic body image expectations. All you have to do is spend 30 minutes watching the NickJr TV station and wait for the advertisements, or walk down the toy isles at Target and Walmart, to gain a testimony of what I’m saying. And I’m not just being sensitive about this. There is research to back up what I am saying. And people might think these messages are harmless, but they aren’t. And Barbie is at the center of these covert, negative messages. Even if supposedly her body was designed the way it is so she could be easily dressed and undressed, there is research reporting that Barbie damages girl’s body image and increase their risk for disordered eating or eating disorders. And since treating eating disorders and negative body image is what I do professionally, you can imagine how much I care about this topic.

I am really trying to create an environment in my home that embraces a healthy body image, a healthy relationship with food, and unconditional positive regard. While I know I can’t keep all of the worldly messages out of my home, I am doing my best. For example, Hailee thinks the “F” word is “Fat” and knows that we don’t use that word in our home. And we speak positively about our bodies and all types of food. I try to have an inclusive diet for my kids that involves all food types (from fruits and veggies to cheese and ice-cream) and model that food choices are based on likes and dislikes, not bad vs good food. For example, Hailee knows I eat chocolate everyday but that I don’t eat ice-cream much because I simply don’t like it. I also never speak negatively about my body and when talking about attributes with my daughters, I try to emphasize their qualities and personalities over looking “cute.” I’m not perfect at how I am navigating this ideal but it is something important to me that I am continuously working on.

I know I spent too many years feeling poorly about myself and objectifying my own body instead of valuing it, loving it, honoring it, and taking care of it. I deeply don’t want my girls to have that experience. I want them to be able to see how absolutely incredible they are, exactly as they are!

Ok, so back to Barbie. Because fate loves irony, my two year old has developed a strong obsession with Barbie! I seemed to mostly escape the Barbie craze with Hailee. Hailee’s not much of a doll person so while she asked for Barbie dolls, she was never too heartbroken when I refused to have Barbie dolls in the home. She settled for Barbie band-aids. And when Hailee has gotten a Barbie or two as gifts, they have mostly lain untouched on shelves or in boxes gathering dust.

But Cami, on the other hand…wow. I didn’t think two year olds were old enough to be interested in, let alone obsessed with Barbie! Barbie isn’t even intended for children under three! But Cami has fallen madly in love with the idea of Barbie and will throw hour long (not exaggerating), daily, fits begging to watch Barbie on TV. She pulls my legs, my shirts, whines and cries incessantly. “Barbie! Barbie! Want Barbie!” I try to distract her with playing other things, like building towers, or playing a picnic, and the distraction may work, but only temporarily. Her whining and obsession has been so grating on me the last month! And I know we have been randomly reinforcing her tantrums through occasionally giving in and letting her watch an episode of Barbie on Netflix (the dumbest show in existence). Seriously, watch some Barbie episodes on netflix (not to be confused with the Barbie movies) and you will feel your IQ get lower over the span of 20 minutes. The Barbie movies are slightly better and can even have some strong female themes (e.g. Three Musketeer Barbie) but I don’t want to rent Barbie movies much more than I want to let Cami watch the Netflix episodes.

Let me just say, it’s been a struggle this last month. Not only has Cami been difficult emotionally with all her tantrums and whining, but it’s felt particularly difficult given that she is throwing tantrums for Barbie! Why can’t she throw tantrums for Sesame Street? Or Doc McStuffins? Or basically anything but Barbie?!

I have heard that the more you resist or don’t allow something in your home, it can backfire. In other words, I know that if I don’t navigate this carefully, Cami may idealize Barbie and want her even more than she already does. I’m also trying to be mindful that perhaps I am giving Barbie too much power and making too big of a deal over her myself. It’s as if Cami and I are in this epic game of tug of war, with our heels dug deep and neither of us winning.

So today I made a choice. I took Cami to Target and let her pick out her first Barbie doll. She chose a combo packet of Barbie and her little sister Chelsea and I was pleasantly surprised it was under $20. This is the first Barbie I have bought…I think ever. Any other Barbie that has entered our home has been a gift from others. And those have been few and far between since I think most of our friends know how I feel about her.

Cami has been playing with her new Barbie and Chelsea since we picked them up and seems very content with her new dolls. I am praying having Barbie dolls to play with, will decrease the amount of time she wants to watch Barbie on TV. I’d rather her start playing with her imagination than zoning out in front of a TV, even if that imaginary play includes Barbie.

This is my attempt to stop the tug of war and drop my end of the rope. By allowing Barbie in my home, I am hoping she loses the power she seems to have over Cami and Barbie will become just another toy and this will be just another phase. This is also my attempt to not take everything so seriously and let a toy, at times, be just a toy, and not part of a grander conspiracy to make our daughters have low self-esteem and develop eating disorders.

We’ll see how this goes…