While scrolling through my blog feeder today, one of my new favorite bloggers, Simple Mom, had a link to this article, Little Girls Gone Wild: Why Daughters Are Acting Too Sexy, Too Soon, by Rachel Combe. She is writing about her reaction to the book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the New Girlie Girl Culture by Peggy Orenstein (Combe interviewed her for this article). I read it. I felt amazingly guilty and had to resist the urge to gather all the Barbie dolls and burn the Barbie house.
image borrowed from Peggy Orenstein
As the mother of two little girls who are outgoing, bright and pretty darn cute, I am often worried about the choices I make for them (or the choices I allow them to make for themselves). The truth is that I have strong feminist tendencies, a big piece of me believes that women can and should do it all. As I’ve aged, ahem, I’ve learned that no single person can do it all and maybe the desire or intent is enough at times. Still, I want my girls to be fiercely independent, strong in their beliefs, and not afraid to face the world. Sadly, a positive body image is key in achieve all three of those desires and it is the one thing I do not possess.
This has been an issue for me when it comes to developing a positive image for Emma and Regan. I am afraid to mention anything about myself being overweight, I never use the word diet around them and try so hard not to label foods with emotional words (good and bad, etc.). I do talk about my weight in terms of health: Mommy’s working out to be more healthy; I’m not eating a cookie because I want to eat something healthy right now; or I am just not hungry. It has really put a damper on my own weight-loss efforts and I’m not sure I’m even going about it the right way. Unfortunately, there is very little evidence that my efforts will impact my girls without a drastic change in the way they interact with various media.
When I was pregnant with Emma and for her first few years of life, I refused to buy anything character themed…not even a single Winnie the Pooh anything. I was determined to keep Barbie, dress-up shoes, Bratz and so many other things out of our home and I succeeded, for awhile. I’m not sure where Emma first played with Barbie, but she was drawn to that blonde bombshell and I finally gave in.
The Barbie in Emma’s hands started it all, Snow White was her second, received a few days later, a day before Regan’s birth. She got her third the day of Regan’s birth and it just kept going.
Once I caved, her first Barbie (carefully chosen for non-hookerish attire and her purple Corvette) began an avalanche of Barbie paraphernalia. Suddenly, she was gifted Barbies and other character things left and right, Regan was a newborn and I was exhausted…far too tired to take a toy away from my sweet 3 year old and way too exhausted to remind friends and family about my “NO CHARACTER” rule. So I let it go. Our house is now bursting with Barbie stuff and and a 5 foot Barbie house. Emma literally has more Barbie stuff then any little girl I know and I still tell myself Barbie is just a toy.
How did this happen? Well, I saw the Barbie “I Can Be” line and was reassured by Mattel’s efforts to show girls the different careers and achievements they can experience: doctor, dentist, race car driver, teacher, pizza chef, etc. Right around this time Tom deployed and I found it much easier to purchase a $10 Barbie then deal with more tears. I was even encouraged by Emma’s elaborate play involving 20+ Barbies at a time, but I have never been comfortable with the role Barbie has in my daughters’ lives.
It all came to a head one evening a few weeks (maybe months) ago while we were watching the tail end of a family game show. Two moms were competing to win the competition for their families and Emma said she hopes the mom with the dark hair wins. I asked her why and was terrified by her answer: “She’s prettier than the other mom.” Yikes! The truth was that she wasn’t. She was thinner and wore a lot of makeup, but not prettier. So I asked. Emma’s answer “She looks like a Barbie.”
Man. What to do? We talked about beauty and what real women look like, but I doubt Emma heard me. She was probably too busy thinking about the latest Barbie movie and I just kept on feeling guilty.
Other than a few moments of embarrassment when talking with friends about Emma’s passion for Barbie (yes, I’m embarrassed ), I haven’t pondered the matter much until now. Barbie is a bit more obvious in her impact on body image then say, Snow White and Cinderella, but the idea that those precious dolls and their accessories stress the wrong ideals makes sense. Think about the clothes, hair extensions, play makeup, vanities and jewelry that is such a large part of being passionate about princesses (and Barbies). Orenstein points out that this teaches our girls some messages we may not want them to learn: 1) “you’re training girls that buying things makes them valuable;” and 2) “every little girl wants—or should want—to be the ‘Fairest of Them All.”
This scares me more than my pant size. Now what to do? Is it too late? Well, Tom and I have been talking about our need to say “no” to our children far more often, so we’re on the right path there. But what about Emma’s love of Barbies? She wants to be a Barbie designer when she grows up (well at night, during the day she still wants to build houses and she plans on being a kicker for the Steelers during football season). How can I discourage the presence of Barbies in my house? If only I could move to another country where Barbie isn’t on the shelf of every store…wait, there’s Portugal. Out there waiting for me…just one more reason why I can’t wait to get there.
This isn’t the last you’ll read about my war with Barbie. I promise for updates as I read Orenstein’s book (I just added it to my Kindle—love that thing!). I will also work on weeding out some of the Barbies and do plenty of research into children and body image. Until then, I’ve got to get going. Emma left a Barbie on the table next to me and I have to go hide her right now. It will make me feel a little better.