Barbie – just the name alone is epic. Images of a glamorous doll with long blonde hair, a tiny waist, and a big bust, come to mind whenever someone mentions the name. She has captured the attention of so many people for the past 50 years, especially young girls who often want to be just like her and look just like her. For the past month, the Women’s Center has been hosting events across campus examining Barbie’s role in society and her influence on young girls. Tomorrow at the Toy and Miniature Museum, we will be hosting “Barbie: Love Her or Leave Her?” The event will address the way some people played with Barbie growing up, and how that may have influenced how they feel about her now. We’ll even be showing a short video of what some UMKC folks think about Barbie.
So this event got me thinking about my own childhood and the way I played with Barbie. What influence did she have on me? My childhood wasn’t too long ago, and I do still remember having buckets full of Barbies and playing with them when I was a little girl. My Barbies were all different skin tones. My mother wanted me to understand diversity through my dolls, so I would play with them as if they were different races. The way I saw all the different skin tones that Barbie had, reflected the diversity I saw if my friends growing up. So for that, I think Barbie had a pretty good influence on me.
Growing up, I never thought deeper about Barbie. All I was worried about was whether or not Barbie had all her accessories and looked pretty once I clothed her. I never once thought that I should strive to look like Barbie or that she was the epitome of feminine beauty. Barbie was just a doll; that was it. I enjoyed playing with her and she made me happy, so I think my experiences were very positive.
I’ve read some blogs and heard many discussions regarding Barbie’s bad influence on young girls and their body image. Her super thin figure, elongated legs, and big bust do reflect an unrealistic body shape for anyone. Perhaps some young girls have looked at Barbie and imagined looking like her. Perhaps in some of these cases, this desire has grown into unhealthy obsessions and girls have turned to extreme measures to transform their bodies to look like Barbie. But for me, this was never the case. For me, it was more about what Barbie had and what she had achieved that had more of an influence on me.
Barbie had it all, so who wouldn’t want to live the Barbie life? She had all the nice sports cars, she lived in luxurious homes, she had lots of friends, and she was accomplished in several professional careers. And did I mention her wardrobe? A shopaholic’s dream! Sounds like the good life to me! I believe that Barbie is a great figure to have in our society, but it should be understood that she isn’t real. She’s fun to play with and she encourages little girls (and boys) to use their imagination and dream big. I think, like me, many young girls who played with Barbie realized that she is just a doll and they were more influenced by her independence, career aspirations, and the joy she brought to us as we were growing up.
So please come to our event tomorrow at the Toy and Miniature Museum at noon and let us know how you played with Barbie growing up and how you feel about her now. It should be an interesting discussion.