Oh, poor Barbie. You get such a bad rap. We really shouldn't encourage our little girls to play with you if we want them to avoid that whole appearance obsessed culture. Your figure is unattainable. Your makeup is far too perfect. Your heels are too high. You represent everything that's wrong with "girl toys" - pink, pretty, fashionable. The original Mean Girl. You don't belong anywhere near my little girl.
Except...maybe you do.
A year and a half ago, Madison got her first Barbie for her third birthday. I felt pretty mixed on it. I didn't plan on forbidding Barbie, but I didn't know that I was quite ready for my three year old to have one yet.
Madison was not mixed on it. She loves her Barbie collection (because of course that one doll quickly became a collection). She became a Barbie spotter (much in the way that Reagan is a Mickey spotter) and had a Barbie cake when she turned four. She spied the movies at the library and found the Netflix series. And eventually, it was clear that Barbie was going to be part of her play.
I didn't have strong feelings, certainly not strong enough to forbid Barbie or shut down the interest. I played with Barbie as a little girl and Barbie in no way shaped my vision of what I should aspire to look like. She was a doll, pure and simple. One with seemingly unlimited income, sure. But to be fair, my Strawberry Shortcake dolls had a better house.
But in these past eighteen months, I've started to encounter many, many parents of girls who have very strong feelings that Barbie is not to enter their house. Until that lady gets a new shape and a make under and provides her W2 proving that she can afford her lifestyle (and not her husband's W2), she doesn't need to be anywhere near an impressionable little girl.
This got me thinking. What was my girl learning from these Barbies?
As it turns out, she was picking up on all the right things. She's embraced the "I Can Be" attitude. She's internalized the "do what's right, even when it's hard" message in the movies. Her Barbie doesn't need a Ken, because she can do it herself.
Here's the thing. Right now, she's a girly girl who loves pink and purple, so of course she's drawn to all this sparkly stuff. She'll happily play with trains and pirates and cars too, but those aisles don't pull her in quite so much when we're in Target. She likes the sparkle and forbidding it won't make that desire go away (now, anyway). But what this current incarnation of Barbie is teaching her is that she can be a girly girl and an entrepreneur. A girly girl and a detective. A girly girl and a superhero. Sure, the superhero is pink. But she still saves the day. She loves the new Princess Power movie and flies around the house, fighting crime and keeping everyone safe.
She's a little girl like I used to be. She doesn't have the adult perspective that will cause her to question herself against the idol of a doll. If you ask her if Barbie is too skinny she'll look at you like you're crazy...because to her, that's not something she notices in her toys. If you ask her if Batman's muscles are too big she'll look at you in the same way. It simply doesn't occur to her to look that deeply with the eyes of a thirty something mom. They're toys. American Girl dolls and Strawberry Shortcakes and Barbies are all different, but she plays with all of them equally. And all she cares about is how much girl power these ladies exude.
She's only four and a half. Things might change. She may stop being drawn to sparkles, I may see something in her that makes me have those conversations with her.
But right now, Barbie is welcome in our house. And I won't apologize for her presence.