By Sue Elvis
I have something rather shocking to admit, so I’ll whisper: my girls are Barbie girls. What’s that, you say: Barbie girls? Yes, I say, looking around to see who’s listening. My girls play with Barbie dolls. Well, now it’s out in the open. My reputation is probably ruined forever but at least we no longer have to keep the dolls hidden behind closed doors.
Barbie entered our home quietly without a lot of fuss. My eldest daughter, Felicity received a ‘My First Barbie’ as a third birthday present from her auntie. This gift brought back enjoyable memories of my own Barbie days and prompted me to dig out my old childhood friends. Before we knew it, Barbie games had become part of our girls’ recreation. Gradually however, we became aware that not all people are Barbie fans and that some folk even find this doll objectionable.
Once, one of my daughters wanted to give a small gift to her friend and without my knowledge, she photocopied some pages of her Barbie colouring book. She was most distressed when the pages were refused with the words, “My mum doesn’t let us have Barbies.” I explained to Imogen that some parents disapprove of Barbie dolls and perhaps we’d better keep the dolls to ourselves. If guests came to play, the girls were not to get them out for fear of offending anyone. They were to be an “at home alone” toy.
My girls don’t understand what is wrong with Barbie dolls but they accept that different families have different rules. I, also, accept and respect the decisions of other families. These differences in opinion have caused me to reflect on the subject: are Barbies harmful?
One objection that could be made is that Barbie has an unrealistic body shape and this may cause girls to have distorted ideas about their body image. Yes, Barbie is a strange shape but so far, none of my five girls yearns to be Barbie. I don’t think the younger ones attach much importance to Barbie’s fashion model figure. To them, she is just a pretty doll. But are they absorbing subtle messages? Our eldest daughter arrived safely at adulthood without acquiring the ambition to be a human Barbie and so did I, so I am not really worried.
“Let’s play Barbies,” one of the girls suggests and soon the bedroom floor is covered with a dozen or more dolls, a mountain of clothes, a car, a camper van and other Barbie ‘stuff’. It is amazing what the modern Barbie owns. She has numerous pairs of shoes including ice skates, roller blades, sandals, slippers, high heels and sneakers. She has an extensive range of personal articles like a toothbrush, a hairdryer and soap. Of course, she needs an iron, a camera, a kettle and many items of food including a box of six eggs to place in her very own fridge. Before you start to imagine we are victims of the Barbie merchandise machine and we are making Mattel a very wealthy company at a very rapid rate, I will add that all Barbie’s belongings have arrived in the same manner as herself: off the shelf of that wonderful shop, St Vincent de Paul (with the exception of a few gifts). Once a game is in progress it can last all day.
One of the attractions of a Barbie game is the opportunity to dress Barbie. Her clothes are changed frequently as the game progresses. I cannot deny that the average Barbie tends to enjoy parading about in skimpy little outfits. It seems rather miraculous to me that anyone is able to put together such small items of clothing using a sewing machine. Fortunately, our Barbie’s clothes budget doesn’t allow her to shop for off the rack clothes like those found in such glamour boutiques as Toyworld. She has to rely on her own dressmaker who designs pretty but decidedly less revealing skirts and dresses. Barbie and Ken have inherited a few heirlooms from my own childhood. Imagine Ken in a seventies inspired flowered shirt, flares and leather fringed vest.
I have observed many Barbie games and witnessed many weddings between Barbie and Ken. Admittedly, the same Ken doll has married many different Barbie dolls but I think the problem lies in the unequal ratio of Kens to Barbies and doesn’t show a lack of appreciation for the sacred and eternal bond of matrimony. Barbie and Ken do their best to bring up and homeschool their children (the Kelly and Tommy dolls), ensuring they always say grace before meals and go to Mass regularly. I have never heard Ken and Barbie’s surname but by observing their lifestyle, it very well may be Elvis.
I have come to the conclusion that sometimes it is the game children play with a toy that is objectionable and not the toy itself. A few years ago, we lived in the same street as a non-Catholic homeschooling family. One day, seven year old Amy arrived on our doorstep with the announcement she’d come to play. On entering our home, she was delighted to discover that a huge Barbie game was in full swing. She helped herself to a couple of Barbie dolls and was soon directing the course of play. As I eavesdropped, I could hear Amy saying, “Let’s make Ken and your Barbie break up. Now Ken’s going out with my Barbie.” My girls looked rather blank not understanding the concept of “breaking up” and I was rather relieved when I heard Amy’s mother calling for her to come home. I expected Amy to be a regular visitor to our house now that she’d discovered our girls and their dolls, but she never returned. Perhaps she told her mother how Barbie and Ken went to Mass and this confirmed her mother’s opinion that we are rather a weird family.
We all know that Barbie has had many different careers: she has been a teacher, an air hostess, a skater, a ballerina, a doctor and even a scientist. But our Barbie, together with Ken, is a Catholic homeschooling parent. Her life is played out in our girls’ bedroom. I will admit that she is rather more physically beautiful than your average Catholic homeschooling mother. (Don’t I wish I looked so young and glamorous as I face the daily challenge of educating and raising our children?) However, it is this beauty which is the chief attraction of the doll. My girls love anything pretty; their favourite colour is pink; they enjoy all things ‘girly’. To me, possessing beauty and ‘girly-ness’ is a positive feature of Barbies. I like to see our girls being real girls. There are many games that are enjoyed by both girls and boys, but rarely have I seen a boy completely absorbed in a Barbie game. It is a truly feminine past time.
I once heard a discussion of how beauty is associated with good while evil has always been traditionally portrayed by ugliness. Movies like Shrek are very confusing because this association has been turned upside down. This is the reason I prefer Barbies to Bratz dolls. To me, Bratz dolls are unattractive with their heavy dark makeup and drably coloured clothes. I do not want our daughters to absorb the idea that ugly is really beautiful. It could lead to the thought that evil is really good and there is nothing wrong with sin. No, we’ll stick to the good old fashioned Barbie who won’t be seen with her face plastered with a thick layer of black and purple make-up. We’ll have a Barbie who never pierces any part of her body except for her delicate ears.
I guess I could be wrong. Maybe Gothic Barbie is out there somewhere but I have never seen her. Our trips to the Barbie aisle of the toyshop are so rare: I may have missed such a doll. But even if our girls were allowed to purchase any brand new Barbie still in her protective box, I am sure they wouldn’t choose Tattoo Barbie. Their first choice would be a Princess Barbie, maybe Swan Lake Barbie complete with her handsome Prince: a real fairy tale doll. To us, that is what Barbie is: a fairy tale who lives in a world where good is beautiful including hard working homeschool mothers.
Now many of you may disagree with these opinions. I am not out to convince you. I am no authority. Like everyone else, I am bumbling my way through the challenges of child rearing, trying to do my best to bring up our children the best way I can. So next time you see me, don’t give me a shocked look but be tolerant of this woman who has the courage (or folly) to reveal a controversial secret. Oh and by the way, if your girls are fellow Barbie lovers, please come and visit us. We’ll put the kettle on and enjoy a chat about homeschooling while we sew beautiful modest creations for Barbie, who no doubt will be in the middle of a homeschooling picnic with her husband Ken and their numerous children.
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