“Maybe that’s why you didn’t like playing with dolls as a kid,” my mother playful said to me as I stammered my recount of my outing at the local toy store. I really never did like playing with dolls as a kid. Looking back, I had a number of them, but never enjoyed “playing” with them. I’ll never know what young Hillary was thinking, but I know what young adult Hillary is thinking of them today.
Tuesday evening on my way home from work, I made a point to stop at the local toy store to purchase a Barbie doll and accessories for the office’s Adopt a Family submission. Knowing that the doll was going to be gifted to a pre-teen girl, I tried to find a version of Barbie that portrayed a positive body image and no limiting gender roles.
This turned out to be an impossible endeavor.
From what I saw available in this particular store location, Barbie was only allowed to be in a bathing suit, a ball gown or a 1950’s house-wife dress. Not only that, but Barbie also had the biggest thigh gap of anyone I had ever seen with a pelvis and waistline I have not even seen on a Victoria’s Secret model.
After reluctantly accepting the fact that this was as good as I was going to get for a Barbie, I grabbed “Teresa” off the shelf.
Next, I dared to venture for some clothes for this doll’s wardrobe. Again, I searched high and low for clothes that were more practical and realistic for that of a young girl to aspire to. I definitely wasn’t looking for the most conservative dress. One can look appropriate, and still be fashionable and wow the crowd. Shelf upon shelf led me to bikini and beach outfits, dance club attire, and over the top strapless, short hemmed ball gowns. No woman actually dresses like this on a daily basis. Where were the regular clothes?
The straw that broke the camel’s back on this shopping trip, was Barbie’s choice of careers. Additionally available for your Barbie were an assortment of career kits including clothing, scenes and accessories for particular careers. The only careers I saw available for Barbie were teacher, homemaker and hair dresser. I find these all to be respectable careers, but why – two rows up – does Ken get to be an astronaut or a scientist or a computer tech. What if Barbie wants to be one of “Ken’s” careers and vice versa, what if Ken wanted to be a homemaker or a hair dresser or a teacher?
After careful research, I did in fact discover that Barbie could be a Doctor and Veterinarian, but her outfit was a pair of stilettos and a short nurse gown.
So the question here is: Am I over thinking this too much? Maybe you’re thinking to yourself, “Hey, let the kids play with the dolls. They aren’t thinking like you are and they are harmless.” But are these dolls and their accessories harmless? Watch here as these second grade children react to the creation of a “life-like” barbie doll.
At the end of the day, I think dolls are appropriate for children to own as they grow up – boy or girl – because they are tools and outlets for imagination, a critical developmental skill in youth. However, I do not think imagination needs to come at the price of defining gender roles and a societal body image that doesn’t even exist. The pressures are real for children and girls especially with these dolls; whether it’s feeling too thin or feeling overweight.
Here are some questions for reflection:
1. What do you remember playing with as a child?
2. What factors shaped your perception of how you should look, dress and act as a “grown up”?
3. Have you ever had a dream or goal, but shied away subconsciously due to defined gender roles of that dream or goal?