In Reluctant Defense of Barbie
You know the say, don’t judge a book by its cover? Well here’s a thing about Barbie, the all-plastic blond bimbo who giggles in a world of pink; she’s pretty cool. I asked my 8-year old what she thought Barbie’s biggest quality was and here’s what she answered – get ready, find a chair, pour yourself a drink – “Barbie is brave.” More than brave. She can sword-fight against villains, she is cunning and smart, she can ride horses, she can ice-skate like an Olympic figure-skater, she knows her way in the woods, she helps rescue people in distress – that includes the prince, the pauper and all their brothas – she has magic powers and she can outrun nasty monsters. Barbie is the bomb. The truth is, Barbie is what we make of her and to my 8-year old, she ain’t a half-witted fashion-obsessed white piece of trash.
Believe me, I love would nothing more than to hate Barbie. Her augmented breasts, unrealistic figure, long blond hair, feet formed for high heels – clearly this doll was designed to be loved by kids and despised by parents. To me, hating Barbie is common sense – how could anybody in their right mind be Free To Be You and Me and Barbie? My dad thinks absolutely terrifying that we even have Barbie DVDs in our house and the sight of pink shimmery dresses gives him headaches. My husband’s reaction when he realizes that our girls are watching a Barbie movie is two-fold. It starts by “What – again?” and then we hear, “Have you done your homework? Piano practice? Cleaned up your bedroom?” Anything to get Barbie off the TV screen, short of promising a trip to Disneyland. Barbie is the pinnacle of junk pop culture for girls. (As far as I know, boys don’t really play with Ken).
In fact, I was ready to reject Barbie when my daughters were born, to never let her set a dainty plastic foot in the house, much less a pink and turquoise clawfoot bathtub. However when my first daughter was 3 – a babbling chubby opinionated toddler – a family friend offered her what I considered the most unappropriate gift she’d ever received: 10 Barbie DVDs. Not one, not two, but a full set 10. Why, I didn’t even know there was one Barbie DVD. Imagine my shock! My little girl was beyond thrilled – it’s pink, it glitters, it sings!
My husband and I were mortified so we did the proper San Francisco thing – we buried the DVDs in an archaeological layer of crap so deep my daughter would never have found them … until one day we needed some quiet time and plunked her in front of her first Barbie DVD. Bliss and peace ensued – and for my daughter, a love affair with the pastel world of Barbie. On and off, all 10 Barbie DVDs made it out of their secret hideout. Barbie Nutcracker was followed by Barbie Fairytopia which was followed by Barbie Island Princess and so forth. The Barbie cat was out of the bag!
The following Christmas, the same family friend completed our reluctant collection by offering 4 more Barbie DVDs – and a Bratz DVD that I’ve managed to quarantine until my girls are 12. Swan Lake, 12 Dancing Princesses, Rapunzel, Princess and the Pauper, Magic of the Rainbow, Mariposa, The Diamond Castle, Magic Pegasus – what didn’t we have? Oh, I know. We didn’t have a Barbie doll (yay!) and still don’t. Over the years, I secretly wished that my girls would grow out of Barbie but they are now 6 and 8 and guess what – the DVDs are on top of the DVD player in a round tin box that says “Barbie” inside a red heart.
Now’s probably the right time to quote my husband’s grandfather who always said that only idiots never change their minds. Because we did warm up to Barbie. Three years ago, my daughter hummed a tune to my husband who was surprised to realize she knew a full piece of music by Mozart. “Where did that come from?” Barbie, of course. A lot of the Barbie movies feature classical music soundtracks – hey, cheaper copyrights, makes sense. Then I watched one of the Barbie movies with my girls and amidst all the pink Pegasus, fluffy cute pets and flurry of princess dresses, I admit Barbie did a pretty good job at saving the world from the evil spell of Wenlock. The animation and colors are simply atrocious but the story is OK and Barbie is neither a whiner nor a Disney princess in distress. She’s an action girl who gets the job done. Then came Barbie and the Three Musketeers where Barbie and her gals become the period Charlie’s Angels of the French court. OK, Barbie you’re in.
Last week I had lunch with Chris Byrne of TimeToPlayMag.com, otherwise known as The Toy Guy. Talking about Barbie, he said “Each boy or girl brings a toy to life in their own way. Barbie is just a lump of plastic. She does not dictate a role. Parents are the ones who model a role that their kids re-enact with toys.”
After I discovered the admiration of my 8-old for Barbie, Chris’ words led me to ask my 8-year old how her friends played with Barbie dolls. “Fashion,” she answered. So most girls played with Barbies as fashion dolls yet she liked Barbie because she was a brave and strong girl. “Why do you think that is?” wondered my 8-year old, pensively. It had never occurred to her Barbie could be anything else but the product of her imagination.