I played with Barbies until I was about 12. Older than most, I know. Maybe it was 11, maybe 13, but a long, long time.
There are very few toys from my childhood that I loved more than I loved my Barbies.
I don’t remember when I received my first Barbie doll. By the end of my Barbie tenure, however, I had lots. Like two large rubbermaid bins full, the full deluxe dream house (spotted in my parents closet weeks before gift-giving), three cars, a couple Ken dolls, a Joey McIntyre doll and a Jem doll (hey, 90s kid here). My lifelong best friend had the camper. I was, and perhaps still am, really jealous. I had a Skipper, a Kelly, and a Teresa. She had brown hair.
I loved my Teresa barbie. She looked like me.
Now, I had it pretty good. I’m white. Able bodied. And still, to have a Barbie that looked kind of like me was a big deal.
Now, with the news today that Barbie is set to launch a new line of dolls – with different body types, heights, skin tones, features, and yes, hair colours, I am tickled, well, pink.
This one looks like me and this one looks like my mom. Right in the feels, people.
Barbie is a contentious issue for feminists.
I know that Barbie is the poster-doll for an unrealistic body image. I know she is a product. I know she makes money for large corporations that surely don’t need any more. I know that this new line was likely introduced to reinvent the Barbie doll – to sell Barbies when Barbies aren’t really selling so great anymore.
The thing is, for me – a thirtysomething feminist mother of two young girls – Barbie is more than a toy. Barbie is my childhood.
I learned to sew so that I could make Barbie clothes. I learned about gender, and played around with the idea of family dynamics and structure with Barbie. My Barbies married each other. They became lawyers. They were teachers. They went on adventures – camping, mountain climbing, to the moon. I remember making Barbie and Ken have (gasp!) S-E-X under the blankets in their bedroom in the Barbie dream house. I learned that you should always put the scissors in the hands of a hairdressing professional.
My best friend and I would spread a blanket out on the front lawn and play Barbies for hours. We learned about life, about relationships, and about friendship through Barbies.
And you know what, I have been okay giving Barbies to my kids. Even before this big announcement, I have happily played with Barbies with my girls. I know the problems associated with a toy line, but I’ve felt able to balance it out a little with using that time to teach, to demonstrate, and to share with them stories of my own childhood, of their Auntie Dar, and of how my mother used to tell me she only ever had one Barbie herself, and aren’t we so lucky to be able to have so many things to play with.
I even like the self-deprecating Life in the Dreamhouse – there’s some smart humour in there obviously aimed at adults who also grew up with Barbie.
So yes, I’m aware that Mattel is a company selling toys for profit, that this release likely has some very smart marketing behind it. Of course they are making money – hello capitalism! But if consumers have demanded (both vocally and through buying power) that children’s toys look like the children playing with them and the company has responded – I’m all for it.
Is this new line perfect? Hell no. Curvy Barbie reads as “average size Barbie” and there is no sign of any larger sizes coming down the pipe. Introducing new Barbies, however, that look younger and wear less makeup, have the ability to wear flats (this girl’s go-to), are different heights, body shapes and skin tones, and some even wearing freakin’ glasses, my girls can not only pretend to be anyone else, but Barbie may also perhaps help them figure out who they are too, as they can see themselves (and their mama) in Barbie.
And if you need me, I’ll be patiently waiting until this Barbie becomes available. Because she looks just like me.
In defense of Barbie (Bustle)