Please, No Barbie Dolls



(Synopsis:  The world’s most popular doll is Barbie.  She now is sold in more than 150 countries and generates more than $2 billion in sales.   But is she just a doll with a voluptuous figure, or much more than that?   Currently, the world thinks of America as being a bunch of GI-Joe dolls, but how many realize we are really a nation of Barbie dolls?   If you haven’t looked at the strength of Barbie’s character, or her positive force in shaping the confidence and independence of young women around the globe, maybe you should join G-Ma Lori in a deep look into Barbie’s impact on her granddaughter, her older daughter and on the young women of the world.)

                         Please, NO Barbie Dolls!

         “Mom, you’re such an awesome gift-giver and I know you shop year-round just like GaGa did.   But, mom, I want to ask a big favor.  When you’re out and about and see an ‘object of a grandmother’s desire to give her granddaughter’…. please, mom, be somewhat selective.” 

       My daughter’s sweet nature caused her shiny chocolate eyes to cloud over like whirling Kansas dust darkening a brilliant morning sky.  She didn’t want to offend me. She turned to face me, reaching out gently to touch my arm like I was the child and she, the mother.
        “What’s up, Anna-Banana”?  I smiled using one of her favorite childhood monikers. 

Initially my daughter preferred her daughter to play with paper dolls as she did, not with Barbies

        “Well…I just can’t bear the thought my little Sarah will waste her time playing with Barbie dolls.  You know how I feel about the false image of girls and women they portray.  I don’t want my sweet princess to grow up obsessed with big breasts, a tiny waist and frau-frau clothes. If she’s going to play dolls at all, I’d prefer her to play mommy with little baby dolls.
        Frankly, I was more than prepared for her request and her comments.  However, I just didn’t expect them on the day after she gave birth to her daughter and my granddaughter. 
        Sarah’s mother didn’t play with dolls that much when she was little.  As I recall, she did like paper dolls and spent many hours cutting out the clothes and putting them on her cardboard ‘dollies’.  Her paper dolls didn’t have shapely bodies or suggestive clothes like those of the Barbie dolls.  Sarah’s aunt—our younger daughter--did play Barbies but preferred playing with Barbie’s car, townhouse and her other possessions.  She too was seemingly unimpressed with Barbie’s figure and clothes.  Then, too, Barbie wasn’t ‘in your face’ as she is today with television marketing and store displays.

       “Hey, New Mommy,” I said to my concerned daughter, “I’m not planning to inundate your precious girl-child with ‘fake’ dolls.  I know your thoughts on ‘bimbo-Barbies’ and that you believe they instill an unhealthy attitude of women in the young girls who play with them.”  Laughing, I hugged my ‘new-mommy-daughter’.
        I honored my agreement with my older daughter - at least until the ‘Please, No Barbie!’ contract was broken by another family member. 
        I was neither the first nor the only family member to give precious Sarah a Barbie Doll.  And I imagine I will not be the last. 
        Approximately three years after the No-Barbie-Please request from Sarah’s mom, a Barbie ‘doll’ was given to Sarah followed by other similarly bosomed dolls that graced her toy bins.  They delighted her.

Yankee Barbie was the first Barbie Doll I gave Sarah

          Yankee Barbie was the first Barbie Doll Sarah received from me, her G-Ma.  I figured since she was bound to eventually receive at least a few Barbies that one in baseball disguise would slide in unnoticed.  After all, the entire family is composed of Yankee fans.  The accurate Yankee uniform almost hid Barbie Yankee’s shape and her hair was styled in simple braids.  I thought she was beautiful reminding me of my own two ballplayer-daughters.  Frankly, I was a bit miffed when Sarah took her out of her collector box, stripped her of her blue and white pinstripes and dressed her in the ‘other’ Barbie outfits.

I gave Sarah a Gymnast Barbie primarily because Sarah is a Gymnast herself

           After Sarah’s mommy yelped surrender to her No Barbie plea, I selected a Tinker Bell Barbie followed by a Gymnast Barbie.  To date Sarah is thrilled with her growing Barbie collection.  She adores each and has an Indian Princess in a sari, Cinderella Barbie and Prince Charming, a Ken doll, a mommy Barbie and several copycat dolls with long legs, slim waists and ample breasts.
           “G-Ma, I hate it when Sarah plays with her frau-frau Barbies.  There‘s no fun in putting on their funny looking clothes and taking them off again.  It’s b-o-o-o-o-ring.  Her dolls don’t do anything.  I won’t play with them.”  Matt, two years older than his five-year-old sister, crawled out from behind the bunk bed and shook his bed-head hair like a wriggling puppy emerging from a ground hole.

Matt was engrossed in playing Yu-gi-oh

          Right now Matt is in to Yu-gi-oh trading cards and his Lego sets.  He isn’t about to be cajoled into playing with Sarah’s Barbies even with their horses, castle and a flashy purple convertible.
           To keep the peace within their small apartment, the kids play together along with their twenty-month-old bro Angus who demands on joining in.  Proximity forces cooperation.

Barbie computers

   “Matt, some of the Barbies aren’t merely clothes racks,” I said.  “They have careers.  It’s fun to imagine their exciting lives. There are Barbie computers

and did you know there is a Doctor Barbie? And even more exciting, there is a new Secret Agent Barbie.  You and Sarah can play Hardy Boys and Secret Agent Barbie.  How about that?” I knew this was dangling a mouse in front of a hungry cat.  Playing spy games is right up Matt’s alley.

If Sarah played Spy Barbie, Matt would join in

      “Well, okay, G-Ma.  I’ll play spy Barbie with Sarah.  But, I’m not going to change her clothes.  I’ll make her Ken doll Frank or Joe Hardy.  Let’s go Sarah.  I get to be the chief spy.”   Matt took Ken out of Sarah’s outstretched hands and didn’t notice me winking at his giggling sister.
        “M-A-A” Angus blared while directing me with his pointed finger to sit down with him and the Barbie he selected.  Matt and Sarah laughed as their little brother roared out “Maa” like a feisty lion cub calling for his mother and swiping at her with a playful paw.  We all played with the Barbies for the rest of the afternoon. 
        As we played, I let my mind drift into Barbie Land.
        I recall Sarah and I, accompanied by, Matt, ‘window shopping’ at Toys R Us in Times Square, and billed as the World’s Biggest Toy Store.  It might be at that, since it has a huge Ferris wheel inside and giant computerized T-Rex.  And, a city block of Barbies.

"Ohhh, G-Ma, look at the Teacher Barbie"

        “Oh, G-Ma, look at all the Barbies…there’s Cinderella, Rapunzel…a Barbie mommy with twin babies…. Barbie’s family… Ohhhh…. a bicycle Barbie, a surfing Barbie, a Teacher Barbie………………..and even a pregnant Barbie named Rika.”
         “Can we get one today, G-Ma?  Can we?  Oh, please, G-Ma.”   Sarah’s eyes like those of her mother were glisteningly chocolate brown.  For a moment I thought I was hearing my daughter, not my granddaughter beseeching me…but it wouldn’t have been for a Barbie Doll.  The subject matter brought me back to the present.
          As a dutiful mother honoring a daughter’s wishes, I had inured myself not to succumb to the pleadings or wishes of my grandkids and purchase whatever they begged for.  My husband followed suit.
          And so, I forced myself to not listen to her requests…. Or her oooohs and ahhhhhs.  Sarah agreeably continued to just look and there was a treasure trove of different Barbies to look at.   The store’s House of Barbie was a great hall of fantasy for any child.   It was painted pink and stood three stories tall right in the middle of Toys ‘R Us.

At Barbie World at ToysRUs... 

       I didn’t take umbrage with my daughter’s anti-Barbie stance at the time she first broached her feelings.  She seemed oblivious to her own statuesque beauty and wore little or no makeup.  Even in high school she wasn’t that interested in clothes.  She always Voiced her disgust at the stress on makeup and clothes and nice figures for girls and women.  So I wasn’t surprised at her anti-Barbie stance and her wish for her daughter to not be taken in by all the falderal and fakery hinted at in Barbie World.     

In Times Square

        But, for the other mommies in the world, should they be as hyper Vigilant as my daughter?   And, now that my daughter was relaxing her ‘No Barbies’ stance, maybe it was time I got to know more about Barbie.   I began to ask those Big Questions:  Who is Barbie? Where did she come from?  I decided to go to my favorite search engine and Google Barbie history. 

The creators of Barbie, Ruth and Elliott Handler

       Here’s what I found Ruth Handler whose own daughter was named Barbara invented the Barbie doll in 1959. In 1957 while visiting Germany, Ruth Handler purchased a Lilli Doll. The dolls were based on a cartoon strip in Das Bild. In the comic strip, Lilli was portrayed as a sultry, sexual character aimed at attracting men. This was the complete opposite of the ideals Ms. Handler wanted the doll to represent. With a few changes to the heavy make-up, full lips and slight alterations, Barbie was created. She kept a woman’s figure.

1959 Barbie

       Ruth and her husband, Elliott, founders of Mattel Toys, introduced Barbie to the world at the American Toy Fair in New York City in February 1959.  The doll was intended to be a teenage fashion doll. 
        I located several sites indicating there has been a bit of controversy over the years over Barbie’s voluptuous figure.   If Barbie were a real person her measurements of 39-18-33 would be undeniably unattainable without plastic surgery or strenuous exercise and dieting. Today she's had over 500 makeovers yet her basic design remains constant.  She regularly adapts to changing times and continually reinvents herself.  She remains optimistic and idealistic.
       Barbie is the most famous name in doll collecting.  All little girls love to dress up. There are a greater percentage of these than those with eating disorders trying to have a body like Barbie.
       Barbie and her copies represent the only adult looking dolls most children have. Almost every other doll made for little girls is a baby doll, variously accessorized with a bottle of milk to 'drink' from, a set of bibs and diapers that the child can change from time to time, or a button in its stomach that goes 'Ma-ma' when pressed or one with a hole in it to let out the tubby water simulating going potty. 

All little girls enjoy playing dress up

       I remember dressing up in my mother’s long formals and I recall Sarah’s Auntie “E” and her friends enjoying my old high school formals.  Little girls like nothing better than imitating their mothers, whether it is strutting around in their high heels or raiding their dressing tables and jewelry boxes.
       At present, Sarah’s mother’s wardrobe doesn’t consist of many fancy dresses since she’s given away all her formalwear to more room in her and her husband’s apartment for their three children, but Sarah’s Barbies have several lovely gowns.

from housewife ...

        Barbie is a bonus for the imagination of little girls.  She can go where baby dolls cannot!  She is not confined to a baby bed, highchair, stroller or being carried by ‘mommy’.  She can climb mountains, play soccer, and play baseball, model, dance, sing and more.   Through her a girl and her little friends can realize secret fantasies and wild adventures e.g. Astronaut Barbie in 1986, Dr. Barbie in 1988 and from a housewife to a stewardess to a pilot. Astronaut

         During the time when women were moving into the work force all over the country in every kind of career demanding equality, Barbie grew along with them.  Barbie helps make the workplace more enchanting for little girls.  She reflects many of the options available to women of today.
       As our country became more multicultural, so did Barbie.  Mattel came out with the same Barbie with different skin tones.
      Barbie has always been an easy scapegoat for feminists. Many mothers see Barbie as a negative influence; not wanting to teach their daughter that they have to be blonde and beautiful to get a boyfriend or a career.  Some women do not allow Barbie's into their homes.  (Several weeks ago I read that Barbie dolls have been banned in Saudi Arabia.  The country’s Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice cited the dolls ‘revealing clothes and shameful postures, accessories and tools’ as a ‘symbol of decadence of the perverted West.)
       From the beginning, Barbie was a trend setting figure.   Historically, Barbie went “mod” in the sixties. Older girls still played with Barbie and started collecting them and displaying them. 
       In 1976, Barbie was awarded a place in "America's Time Capsule" at the nation's bicentennial celebration, embossing her in our country's history. In her Betsy Ross dress with lace trim, Barbie proved she could uphold an image amidst troubled times; she had survived the critics and evolved into an icon of American culture.

For the "Barbie Summit" in New York City in 1990

Doctor Barbie

       In 1990 Mattel demonstrated Barbie cared about more important world issues.  Thirty-nine children from around the world met to discuss world hunger, environmental degradation, and war and peace as they joined for the "Barbie Summit" in New York City. This children's version of the United Nations showed the country and the world that Barbie was still dedicated to breaking cultural and ethnic boundaries. Her life did not revolve around superficiality as her shopping sprees and fascinating fashions may suggest. The "Barbie Summit" doll as well as the “UNICEF” Barbie has benefited important children's causes.
        In November 2002 a Barbie was placed in a second time capsule along with 59 other items having an impact on Women’s Health in the past century to be unearthed in 2100.  She already was confirmed as an American cultural icon in 1993 when she entered a Paris wax museum.

Barbie has benefited important children's causes

        During my ‘Googling’ I found that Mattel’s effective advertising, promotion, and merchandising has infiltrated Barbie into 150 countries by 1999.  Approximately one billion Barbies have been sold during the four decades since her launch.  Global Barbie sales reached one billion dollars in 1993 and reached two billion dollars in 1999.  The average number of dolls per household in the sixties was one, in the nineties the average American girl, three to ten years old, owns eight. A prime reason Barbie has survived is because she is so accessible. Even children in the poorest countries can afford a Barbie; her world has transcended all socioeconomic boundaries.
        Barbie has captured the hearts of young girls and the wallets of mothers everywhere. As long as Mattel continues to absorb current attitudes and feelings and apply them to Barbie, she will be an integral part of girls' lifestyles, both young and old. She is the endlessly successful brand, the "toy world's version of Coca Cola.                                          
         Barbie’s evolution into multiculturalism has been fluid through time because Mattel has captured necessary generational differences. Vigilantly, the Barbie team has taken every criticism in stride and transformed challenges into opportunities; Mattel has taken the right actions and responded to the marketplace in hopes of shaping it. And when it comes down to it, despite a few dresses that fit too tightly or blouses that don’t quite cover her chest and upset some mothers and fathers, Mattel has made an All-American doll and given her to the world.    I felt good playing Barbies with the grandkids.
        “G-Ma, let’s play Barbies” is a frequent request when I’m taking care of Sarah.
        “Ohhh…, no Angus, give that back.  That is too small for you to play with.  Augghhhhhhh!!! G-Ma, get that Barbie shoe back from him.  He can’t play Barbies with us.  He just can’t!   G-Ma………..” 
         It’s difficult whenever little Angus wants to play Barbies.  But I’ve enjoyed watching him play – well try to play and witnessed that good motor skills are required to dress the doll.  Learning wise, conversational skills are utilized, and Barbie’s world feeds animation, imagination, and creativity. Some feminists actually believe she is the symbol of female emancipation because she works and can be independent unless, of course, she decides to be a stay-at-home Barbie.

The new Blaine doll - Barbie's new guy

   “G-Ma, look, Barbie has a new boyfriend!   Ken isn’t number one any more.” 
        My precocious granddaughter saw the ads on television.  Sarah and Matt’s television viewing time is limited to a few cartoons, Discovery Channel, other nature shows, and Star Trek (a family viewing event).  Matt and little Angus were over at our apartment and Matt held the coveted honor of being in charge of the clicker.   The commercial was on and over before Matt’s irritation at watching a girls’ commercial prompted him to switch channels

The Ken doll was named after Barbie's real brother

        The Ken doll was named after the flesh-and-blood Barbie’s brother. Barbie is the classic millennium woman and has been equal to Ken in all their activities.   According to the latest press release from Mattel, Barbie has always been independent of Ken and has broken off her relationship with him.  He no longer is her number-one boy friend.  Blaine, a blonde surfer dude, has captured her fancy for the moment.
         For all her heroics Barbie is not a tomboy.   She’s accomplished in the kitchen and indulges her feminine side with her incredible wardrobe.  Through the years several well-known designers such as Bob Mackie, Vera Wang and others have created her more elegant evening wear. 
          I believe that one of the reasons my daughter finally allowed Barbie to enter their family is she didn’t want her own biases to interfere with Sarah’s development – or her fun. She didn’t allow her fear that her daughter would become one of those who pathologically obsessed teens seeking a Barbie body to win friends and influence people.   Her goal, I believe, is to raise a well-rounded daughter with healthy values.  She emphasizes it isn’t necessary to have all Barbie's material possessions to be popular.  Sarah seems to understand the concept that what’s inside of someone is more important than what is outside.
         I trust my daughter knows as long as Sarah is counseled that she can learn to hopefully make her own dreams come true.  I think she knows Barbie's world is make-believe, and has allowed Sarah to play out her fantasies.

The Bob Mackie designer Barbie for Barbie's 45th Anniversary

      It is not deplorable for a child to aspire to beauty and nice clothes, as long as these aren’t the only things she aspires to.  A child’s fantasy needs to be nurtured.  Barbie can be a tool to stimulate a young girl’s mind, emotions as well as imagination.  Playing contributes to the young girl ways about how to relate to and understand other individuals, times and places.

Barbie with real diamonds and pearls auctioned off to benefit the Red Cross

        Sarah just enjoys playing with her Barbies and her childhood is also made up of things other than Barbie – not just dolls, but books, music, educational toys and adventures, church and outdoor activities, friends and family. I was thinking about how Barbie might be a Sentinel of Vigilance.   Throughout the world, a lot of people look upon America as a nation full of GI-Joes.   I know that’s not true.
        We are a nation of Barbie Dolls.
         Barbie is the number one doll in America and now the world market.    She is a great role model to all young girls.   She’s confident, independent and professional. 
          She’s an aviator, a Scuba diver, a policewoman, a teacher, a ballet dancer, a gymnast well as a movie star, debutante, dancer, pop star and a model.   Right now you can go to the Barbie website and vote on whether the newest Barbie should be a librarian.  

Barbie is much more than an airhead
If all the little girls in Iraq or Afghanistan were to start playing with Barbies, they would realize the world was about independence, freedom, and the right to choose.   Those who think Barbie is all glitter and no substance have to take a second look at what she represents.    She survives all criticism.
         If she were “weak” in character, she would have folded many years ago.   Many have tried to marginalize her as being an “airhead,” a “materialist,” a “sex doll.”    But Barbie is much more than that.
         She is her own form of women’s liberation.  She is a “can do and will do” personality that young girls throughout the world relate to.
          Perhaps in Iraq and other nations of the world where GI Joe is trying to tame the “Beast,” we need to drop tens of thousands of Barbie Dolls instead of bombs.  Maybe after the people play with Barbie long enough, they’ll come to realize that America is a lot richer and deeper than GI Joe. 

If I could have played Barbies when I was Sarah's age, the Elvis doll would have been my choice

          I’m quite pleased my daughter gave her daughter the okay to ‘play Barbies’.  As a child, I found my fantasy world in books so I’m looking forward to Sarah’s and my next adventure in the exciting world of Barbie.

          Maybe they’ll come out with Barbie, Ambassador To The United Nations!




Go To Sophia 28: "Can You Teach Your Child To Be Patriotic?"


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