March 14, 2013

In Defense of Barbie

     I've given my step-daughter all my old Barbies, including the 'collector' dolls that may be worth a few bucks. I have about fifty of them, in various stages of dress and decay, accumulated since childhood. They've been sitting in my garage for years now, collecting dust, and I figure someone should have some fun with them.

     She gasps as I hand her each one. She asks me about their costumes and accessories. I tell her the story of how I came to own each doll. She gives them loving hugs and sets them up in her playroom.

     She plays with them all, combing their hair until it falls out, dressing and undressing each one. I try not to cringe when she puts the Bob Mackie dress on Vetrinarian Barbie.

    She looks longingly at the Barbies that are still encased in their plastic boxes, and asks if she can remove them. "I will be very careful," she promises me as I glance towards the 2002 Holiday Barbie I let her take out of the box the previous week. It now resembles a beat up drag queen. I shake my head, letting her know it's not yet time.  She nods, undetoured, and plays with them anyway. She lines them up in their containers, marching them into their dream  house, as if they are on their way to some macabre all-mime ball.

     "Some girls aren't allowed to play with Barbies," she tells me conspiratorilly. I smile and say nothing. I've heard the argument. By allowing our girls to play with these dolls we are setting them up for unrealistic body expectations. Once Barbie infiltrates their brains they will start hating their bodies, puking up their lunches, and appearing on the Dr. Phil show.

     "You can play with them when you are here," I respond to her. "You know they aren't real right?"

She nods, showing me the foot of one of the dolls I had chewed through when I was a kid. She giggles and responds."If this was real, it would really hurt."

     I'm not sure who first decided that Barbie was the devil. I never looked at Barbie and thought, 'if only I had her small waist and those giant, nipple-free boobs my life would be perfect.' The reason I wanted to be like Barbie had less to do with her measurements and more to do with her kick ass shoe collection. She had the closet I always wanted.

      Barbie isn't the antithesis of feminism. In fact, I when I was a kid I saw her as a superhero, second only to maybe Oprah. She could babysit Skipper in the morning, pull an afternoon shift at the McDonalds, perform surgery in the evening, and still have time to go into space.  She may have dated Ken but she never had to ask him for money. When you work four different jobs, you can buy that dream house on your own.

     Barbie isn't bad. It's just a toy made of plastic. We don't tell our boys they shouldn't aspire to be transformers, mainly because we know they understand the difference. I would hope we give our little girls the same credit.

     I will do my best to teach my step-daughter the difference between fantasy and reality. In fantasy you get perfect skin and arms that bend in every direction. You get twelve careers and a house that never gets dirty. You get a boyfriend with a corvette who only comes around when you want him.

     In reality you get...

     Well, maybe I won't teach her about reality yet. It's going to be tough enough on her when she learns about Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. I'll give her a few more years before I tell her about the real world.

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