Childrearing

I’m A Feminist And I Plan On Buying My Daughter A Ton Of Barbies

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vintage-barbie-sign

I love Barbie. I’m not going to lie.

I’m also a proud feminist, and somewhere along the way it became not okay for proud feminists to love Barbie. I’ve become lost in the arguments for why that is — I think it has something to do with her body types and assigned ‘jobs.’ I stopped caring, because when we analyze a doll this much, we really give small children zero credit — and place an unrealistic amount of emphasis on a variable that really doesn’t influence kids all that much. What I mean is — I’m pretty sure kids are clear that Barbie isn’t real. I’m also pretty sure that what you say to your children has a larger affect on them than what you buy them.

When I was a little girl, I had a huge collection of Barbie dolls. My Barbies were bad-ass. My favorite one came dressed in Jordache jeans with a fuzzy, pink short-sleeved sweater. She owned a hair salon and didn’t take any shit from Ken. She drove a purple Camaro and got into it Dukes-Of-Hazzard style — her perfectly-dressed body jumped right over that door and sped into the sunset (my closet). She always drove when her and Ken went on a date to my living room television, a.k.a the drive-in. She was a strong woman. She really was.

Maybe my little girl won’t like Barbie. Maybe she’ll be like my step daughter and pour all of her imagination into My Little Pony or Spongebob. Whatever she chooses to animate with her imagination is okay by me. For my four-year-old boy it’s currently a bunch of superhero figurines and an Elsa book. Elsa and Batman have transcended the barriers between them — that one is a book and one is an actual doll — and have become friends, anyway. Wonder Woman hangs out with Sully from Monster’s Inc. and they go on walks around our house together. They all have personalities that my child has assigned them and I love watching him sit in his room, entertained by these beings he has brought to life.

I’m not knocking the need to have different options for body size and such – which is why I’m a lover of more realistic-looking Barbies, too. I just think that over-analyzing Barbie’s role on our collective psyche is a gross waste of time. I’m saying this as a woman who suffered from eating disorders in my young life. I assure you it wasn’t because of Barbie.

I love dolls and role-play and the concept of little girls and boys losing themselves in imagination. I don’t love the idea of putting so much emphasis into a classic doll’s measurements that we forget what her purpose was to begin with and forget why we all love her so much. Dolls are a vessel in which children’s imaginations live. Barbie was that vessel for me and I hope she will be that vessel for my daughter because I am dying to buy some again.

(photo: Instagram)

41 Comments

  1. Elizabeth Catalano

    September 25, 2014 at 1:36 pm

    Agree! Though I do get caught up in the mocking Barbie thing, because I grew up with Barbies yet retained my sense of how ridiculous certain parts of the fantasy are, I think my daughter will be okay too. You’re right, we should give kids more credit.

  2. Chuck Basstard

    September 25, 2014 at 1:44 pm

    My mom definitely had a chat with my sister and I at some point about how Barbie wasn’t a realistic expectation of what women should look like but that was about the extent of her anti-Barbie sentiments while we were growing up, since she still bought us lots of them.

    Then again, my Barbies lived in a lesbian commune since I had about three Kens and over twenty Barbies so I don’t think she had much to worry about when it came to the dolls teaching me poor gender roles.

    • pixie Ninja Tits

      September 25, 2014 at 2:21 pm

      I had about 5 Barbies, a Skipper (or was it a Stacy? I forget…), and a Kelly, but zero Kens. I never felt the need for a Ken, and therefore my Barbies were strong, independent women who didn’t need a man in their life.

    • SarahJesness

      September 26, 2014 at 4:15 am

      I think I had like, one Ken. With no interest in romance, I made him an idiot comic relief character who was always doing something stupid.

    • Ursi

      September 25, 2014 at 2:22 pm

      My folks wouldn’t buy me a Ken doll for years because they thought it was inappropriate to be undressing a male doll (I guess?) so I nominated my brunette Barbie to be the “boyfriend”.

    • Maria Guido

      September 25, 2014 at 2:36 pm

      Haha – perfect!

    • itpainsme2say

      September 25, 2014 at 2:44 pm

      Same my mom wouldn’t buy me anymore kens and my sister wouldn’t share hers so guess who got a haircut

    • Chuck Basstard

      September 25, 2014 at 2:53 pm

      I think I actually only had one ‘real’ Ken doll – the infamous Magic Earring Ken (which I only realized years later because of vague memories of his mesh t-shirt and distinctive bleached hair). The other two were an Aladdin and a Beast doll, who I infinitely preferred when he was wearing his Beast getup, rather than the creepy dead-eyed dude underneath.

    • chill

      September 26, 2014 at 11:06 am

      My normally conservative parents bought me a baby boy doll with a fake 1 cm penis. My mother laughed hysterically when I showed her, and I’m still not sure if she bought it as a joke or not.

    • js argh

      September 25, 2014 at 3:49 pm

      My sister’s and my Barbies fought constantly over our one Ken. Talk about stereotyped gender roles…

    • Kapibara-san

      September 26, 2014 at 11:52 am

      Haha, I also only had 3 Kens, and my plays often included the Barbies being kick-ass and Ken being stupid and getting beaten up or something. I also had some lesbian stories, I think. My best friend also had a wild imagination, and our plays together were all kinds of weird.

  3. Guest

    September 25, 2014 at 1:51 pm

    I am not a girly girl, and have never been one. But DAMN did I love Barbie. So much potential for imaginative play with her and all her little friends. Some of my most enjoyable childhood memories revolve around playing Barbies. Never once did we role-play shopping or anything like that. Barbie had interesting occupations and life situations that were pretty limitless, none of which really revolved around what she was “supposed” to be and do. I never compared myself to her, or thought I was supposed to look like her. I didn’t feel bad about myself because I lacked physical resemblance to a Cabbage Patch Kid, either.

  4. ted3553

    September 25, 2014 at 2:24 pm

    I am a feminist and and a mom and sports jock and have a career where I’ve managed to move up the chain reasonably well and loved barbies. I mainly just dressed them up and changed their outfits and I still love clothes. I don’t recall ever wanting to look like Barbie or be her. She’s a doll and I think it’s important that parents talk to their kids about not modeling themselves on anything fake or on TV in general-not just Barbie.

  5. noodlestein's danger tits

    September 25, 2014 at 2:31 pm

    You know, I don’t know how Barbie got assigned as the anti-feminist doll. I mean, sure, her body is unrealistic, much like…ALL OTHER DOLLS. In all the time I played with her, it never once occured to me that I should look like Barbie. You know what I remember? That jingle that said, “We girls can do anything, right, Barbie?” I remember Astronaut Barbie and Rock Star Barbie and Doctor Barbie and all the other myriad professions that I dreamed up for her. Isn’t that something we want to encourage children to do? To explore the possibliities of their worlds? To me, buying Barbies dovetails perfectly with feminist ideals. Barbie has been every profession under the sun, is a single woman with children (or a coupled up one without or…), is everything that you want her to be. Doesn’t that sum up the ideals of feminism? Essentially, it’s about choice and equality and limitless possibilities unresticted by gender. There could be far, far worse representations of that than Miss Barbara Millicent Roberts.

    • Jill

      September 25, 2014 at 2:36 pm

      Yeah, none of my dolls really looked all that realistic except the baby dolls made to look like a real sleeping baby. Everything else was way out of proportion and from what I see for sale now…bratz dolls and monster high etc it appears to be about the same.

    • Brooklyngirl28

      September 25, 2014 at 2:56 pm

      Yes, Yes, Yes.. I am a feminist and I LOVE Barbie. My Barbie’s lived in an elaborate village that I created in my basement. There was the dream house of course, there was also the apartment/office that “work and play” Barbie came with (she was my favorite), then another apartment building/hotel that I made out of a few book shelves, I made a “hospital” where doctor Barbie worked at and some of the babies were born. Then there was the high school where skipper went, the hair salon. Astronaut Barbie always needed a room in the hotel when she was in town. etc.. Basically Barbie let me as young girl play and create a world where women could be anything. I had Ken dolls (and New Kids on the Block dolls that were way better than Ken IMHO) and some of my Barbie’s had boyfriends or husbands but some just had careers and best friends. I never wanted to look like Barbie, my parents taught me well enough to know she was just a doll.

    • noodlestein's danger tits

      September 25, 2014 at 3:30 pm

      Yep, basically samesies! Of course, the fact that I concentrated on her career over relationships is probably a reflection of the fact that I grew up in an activist/feminist household, where both my mom and dad made sure to stress equality and self reliance.

    • Brooklyngirl28

      September 25, 2014 at 3:43 pm

      My parents always stressed
      equality as well and they also told me I could be anything. My favorite picture
      of myself as a little girl is me standing in front of my tea party and stuffed
      animals in overalls and a construction hat. (Who said construction workers
      can’t have tea parties?!). I grew up playing sports and Barbie’s.
      So I definitely agree who you are and what you believe you can be is shaped
      more by how you are raised than any doll you will every play with.

    • Allen

      September 25, 2014 at 4:52 pm

      I agree. While I won’t deny that the ways Barbie is proportioned are influenced by sexist beauty standards, I think it’s hard to find any type of doll that has the same proportions as a real person. Some of it is stylistic, and some of it is due to practical limitations (like making the dolls easy to dress).

      One of the things I loved about Barbie was that she *was* realistic compared to a lot of other dolls I had. You could tell she was supposed to be an adult human, even though her features were exaggerated.

  6. Katherine Handcock

    September 25, 2014 at 2:51 pm

    My issue isn’t so much with Barbie (although I get annoyed sometimes at their vague attempts to promote some careers – like the Paleontologist Barbie with a silver sparkle dinosaur fossil. Five-year-old me would have been VERY offended – I knew what a fossil looked like, dammit!) but the fact that Barbie and other fashion dolls are pretty well presented as THE girl toy. It’s not Barbie alone that’s the problem, but Barbie and Monster High and the Disney Princess dolls and those awful Novawhatsits….you end up with a whole aisle of brands that seem to be competing to create the skinniest, most fashion- and beauty-obsessed “characters” that they can. I think it’s the repetition and ubiquity that’s the problem, and since Barbie has long been the best-seller in the category, that’s how that brand became a target.

    Now, my daughter has Barbies, and I’m never going to rant about how Barbie will destroy kids’ lives. But I do think that Barbie has had opportunities to break from the fashion doll mold, and isn’t taking them, despite their sagging sales. Case in point: the recent Barbie astronaut couldn’t have had a spacesuit modeled after an actual NASA suit? It had to have pink on it? Needing to “pinkify” the non-traditional careers speaks a lot to the attitude at Hasbro about the property.

    Also, WTF were they thinking with that pet owning Barbie that came with toy poop you can scoop?!…I’m digressing again, aren’t I? 😉

  7. SarahJesness

    September 25, 2014 at 3:21 pm

    Barbie is a doll, with a stylized design like a cartoon character. She’s not supposed to resemble a realistic person and I think most kids get that. Honestly, how many realistic fashion dolls exist? Pretty much all of them have weird body proportions (big heads are very popular) along with having other exaggerated features like big eyes or crazy hair. It’s not about creating unrealistic beauty standards, it’s about having something that’s more interesting to look at. I mean, this cartoon character is fat, but she still doesn’t look like a real person. I’m not talking about the purple skin, I’m talking about the big eyes, simplified features, as well as general body proportions. While not being drawn with an “ideal” body type, she still looks nothing like a real person.

    I think Barbie can really only fuel body image issues if the little girl is already obsessed with and concerned about her appearance. Besides, Barbie has so many different careers and hobbies. Yeah, she’s pretty and likes fashion, but that doesn’t mean she can’t be an astronaut or a doctor.

    • SarahJesness

      September 25, 2014 at 3:22 pm

      … I don’t think the image is showing up.

    • rockmonster

      September 25, 2014 at 5:38 pm

      Amethyst is there.

    • SarahJesness

      September 26, 2014 at 2:47 am

      Hooray!

    • minnie

      September 25, 2014 at 6:41 pm

      Exactly.

  8. LK

    September 25, 2014 at 3:37 pm

    There are MUCH more obnoxious girl dolls than Barbie. She’s pretty much the classiest brod in the aisle now.

  9. journalgal2

    September 25, 2014 at 3:47 pm

    THANK YOU. My daughter is SO into Barbie and Disney princesses right now. There’s enough pink in that playroom to choke on. I love listening to her little imagination games and see nothing at all wrong with it. It’s my job to teach her about positive body image, etc. Not Mattel’s.

    However, I am the mean mom who won’t let her have Monster High dolls. Not yet. She’s only 5 and those things are creepy ;).

  10. Jenna Lynn C.

    September 25, 2014 at 4:28 pm

    “I’m saying this as a woman who suffered from eating disorders in my young life. I assure you it wasn’t because of Barbie.”

    THANK YOU. When I think back on what could’ve caused/triggered my eating disorder, Barbie isn’t even in the top 50.

  11. GPMeg

    September 25, 2014 at 4:31 pm

    THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!! I knew we were soul mates!

    Every time someone starts hating on Barbies and Disney movies and how they form little girls’ minds in to weak beings within potentially emaciated bodies, I try not to twitch myself to death. I have my own body issues, but I’m pretty certain none of them were informed by the bajillion Barbies still living in my basement OR my desire to grow a tail and look for treasure under the sea. Barbies and Disney, just like every other damn form of consumable media, is seen through the eye of the beholder.

    *deep breath*

    End rant. Also, my Ken dolls were gay. I grew up in a very gay friendly area, and something abut magic earring Ken made me suspect that he was not interested in having margaritas on the patio with his girlfriend after a long day at the beach. (OK, so I wasn’t *that* versed in gay guys. But he and other Ken usually were still laying out on the beach tanning!)

  12. minnie

    September 25, 2014 at 6:40 pm

    Barbie never triggered any of my insecurities, so I don’t know why people are always saying that they don’t like barbies because of superficial reasons. It’s more than just the doll. It’s a combination of things.

  13. Blueathena623

    September 25, 2014 at 6:46 pm

    I loved Barbies as a kid, and I still love them. Barbie has always had unrealistic proportions, that’s true, but it used to be that dolls who had unrealistic proportions had a variety of proportions. In my toy chest of yore, no, I would never look like Barbie, but I wouldn’t look like rainbow brite (head oversized, but body was okish), strawberry shortcake (remember how oversized her head was? Tiny body) but I could potentially look like Holly Hobby since she looked like a real kid. But now it seems like so many of the dolls all have the same unrealistic proportions, so you start to wonder “wait, are these unrealistic?”

  14. Tara

    September 25, 2014 at 7:03 pm

    I have absolutely zero problem with Barbie. I hated them as a kid and thought they were too girly, so of course my own little girls love them! We have plenty at our house. I do have to recommend the Lottie dolls, as well, though. Their proportions are based on an actual nine-year-old girl, which I think is pretty cool.

  15. Marisa Quinn-Haisu

    September 25, 2014 at 7:30 pm

    I loved Barbie growing up too and never once thought “I hope I look like her one day!” because I wasn’t an idiot. She had a massive neck, no vagina, and pointed claw like feet to fit into high heels. I knew she wasn’t real. Kids aren’t stupid. They know she’s a doll. I still don’t have a problem with Barbie for the most part and will buy them for my daughter except for the one that talks. There’s a talking one that laughs like a ditz and says things like “I’m going to go get ready for my date with Ken!” BURN.THAT.SHIT.WITH.FIRE. It’s like that doll out of the Simpsons that sends Lisa into a rage. If my girl got that doll I would make sure it never uttered a single dumb blonde word ever.

  16. Kathryn Mackenzie

    September 25, 2014 at 9:36 pm

    Just buy them for yourself. As an adult, I buy myself any damn toy I want, because I know they didn’t stop being fun, just because I became a grown up. – Although I was never into Barbies, I’m a Transformers/Lego/colouring book kind of person.

  17. Cruise Mom

    September 25, 2014 at 9:40 pm

    My niece recently had her 5th birthday and I bought her Barbie as a gift. My niece wouldn’t stop holding her and kept petting her hair. Then my brother informed me if my ExSIL ever saw a Barbie she would throw it away. This news came two weeks after ExSIL begged my mom to pay for the Princess dress up makeover at Disneyland, even though none of f us were allowed to go to Disney with her. So apparently dressing as a Disney Princess is ok, but Barbie isn’t? I just don’t get it. So to hopefully save Barbie from the trash heap we told my niece her name was Sally. Haha!

  18. Kristen

    September 25, 2014 at 9:50 pm

    I am a Barbie loving feminist.
    There are some toys, many of which I enjoyed, which I won’t encourage or forbid. Princess toys and Barbies both fall into that category. Other toys, like art supplies or building blocks I will encourage. Weapon-y toys I will try to forbid.
    But then again my daughter is only 15 months so what do I know 😉

  19. brebay

    September 25, 2014 at 10:41 pm

    I’m a feminist too, and I loved the shit out of some Barbies. It honestly never occurred to me that I should compare my body to a Barbie doll, maybe for the same reason I never thought to look at my Cabbage Patch Kid and wonder why I didn’t have yarn hair and webbed toes, or a signature on my ass. It’s. a. doll. You have to remember with eating disorders that parents want someone to blame that isn’t genes or parenting, and I think Barbie kind of got a bad rap.

  20. Kite

    September 26, 2014 at 3:27 am

    Why didn’t you buy barbies for your boy, then? You don’t know if your girl will like them, but you obviously didn’t bother with your boy.

    Fehhh.

  21. Kapibara-san

    September 26, 2014 at 11:48 am

    I had a quite big collection of barbies (maybe 50 or so), and now my niece gets to play with them when she visits my parents. I cringe a little inside when I see their messy hair and clothes (I was a very neat child and organized my barbies), but I still think it’s nice she plays with them now that I wouldn’t know how anymore. It’s kind of sad how you lose that vivid imagination when you grow up.

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