By: Christine Cox, The Choosy Mommy
It seems in today’s world, girls, even pre-school aged girls, are influenced more and more by celebrities, characters, brands, toys, shows, etc. The power that these influencers hold can seem like it is beyond a parent’s power to educate. But here is the thing, when specifically talking about Barbie, I believe it is solely up to the parents to teach their children what is best about this toy…she can be anything she wants to be and to not take her shape and looks into consideration. Essentially, girl power! Let’s talk a bit more in depth about Barbie’s image though, the thing that seems to effect girls the most.
Managing a healthy lifestyle starts at home at a young age. Parents do have the power to guide children in the right direction as far as what is and is not healthy for their growing bodies. This doesn’t mean girls shouldn’t play with Barbie (or boys shouldn’t play with superheroes for that matter) because Barbie doesn’t set realistic body image goals for them, but instead means the parent should use Barbie as a teaching tool for what a girl could achieve in the world.
In my home, Barbie represents the many careers a woman can have and when you work hard, you can have the luxuries that Barbie has (the cars, homes, boats, clothes, etc.). I have heard Capri say that her Barbie is a mommy, a doctor, nurse, vet, teacher, works at the grocery store and post office, etc. And that is because I actively engage with her during Barbie playtime. We learn about the different jobs Barbie has and never once has she even mentioned that Barbie is “skinny” or “pretty” or “tall”. And now the “curvy” Barbies are a hot commodity but she hasn’t ever noticed their difference in the store.
I was truly a Barbie girl. Through and through it was the thing I asked for most for birthdays and holidays. My mother recently expressed to me that she never told me when she thought I was gaining too much weight. Those pre-teens years were stressful enough and she didn’t want to be a negative person. Instead she educated me on what was healthy for my body and helped me find activities to do that secretly burned calories (because I thought we were just having fun). But she does remember a time that I yelled at her for not telling me that I was gaining too much weight. Puberty! But was I comparing myself to my favorite toy, Barbie? No. I was comparing myself to my peers.
So back to my original question of when does the Barbie doll perspective start to do more harm than good for young girls? Studies show girls as young as 4-6 years old start to worry about their weight and could possibly look to Barbie as a body image role model because she is trendy and a popular toy among their age group. However, I feel that this can all be reversed when parents are involved in active playtime, pretend time and properly communicate about a healthy lifestyle with their children and beyond into their teen years. When parents are the role model, girls won’t need to look to a doll for how they should aspire to look.
This wonderful toy should be looked at as just that…a toy. I don’t feel the Barbie doll perspective could have an effect upon young girls if the parents educate them on what a healthy body is and that people come in all shapes and sizes. The earlier we educate children on this, the better the chances are that they will ultimately be comfortable with the beautiful bodies that belong just to them, and that they will prefer to live a healthy lifestyle.