Before I had my first child there were many rules and ways of doing things that I believed I would adhere to – no TV being the biggest one. Pretty much all of them have fallen by the wayside (I know most episodes of Peppa Pig word for word) in the reality of parenting and the hectic pace of life with three small children. The one that I have held on to with dog like vengeance is ‘Barbie is not welcome here’… When my nieces recently requested Barbie’s for their birthday I hoped against all hopes that they wouldn’t get them, hence spurring a green eyed ‘I want a Barbie’ from my now 4 year old, Princess obsessed daughter.
I should clarify that I loved Barbie as a little girl. I clearly recall the debates and deals with my little brother trying to get him to play Barbie with me. ‘I’ll play Lego with you 4 times if you play Barbie with me now’. He was never very keen but in hindsight I guess Ken was a bit hard for a young boy to really relate to.
I can’t even remember now the point when Barbie got kicked under the bed and eventually into boxes in the back of the cupboard – late Primary school/early High School maybe. But I do remember discovering feminism in High School, reading The Beauty Myth (Naomi Wolf) in great disgust at the cosmetic industry and outrage at society reinforcing this image of beauty. Of course, I also got on the wagon of ‘Barbie is evil’. And I’ve never gotten off.
As I have aged I can see all that is wrong with Barbie. I once read that if her measurements were to scale on a real woman she would likely be anorexic, unable to walk due to consistent high heel wear, have chronic back ache due to her sizeable boobs and surely snap in half with her tiny waist (OK, so I completely made the last bit up). I don’t want my girls aspiring to this image and I don’t want them judging themselves against Barbie as if a reality.
But there is more to the hatred and after reading an article by Karen Maezen Miller (thanks to recommendation by a friend) talking about this very topic, I was forced to question where my hatred of Barbie really comes from and whether she is in fact the vilan.
I have struggled with my own body image for most of my adult life and some of my late teenage years. I have a love hate relationship with my body that up until the birth of my three children was more hate than love. I was (and still am) always telling myself that if I lost X kg I would be happier, funnier, more successful, have more friends etc. None of this is new. We sadly read about it all the time – usually in insightful articles wedged between fashion spreads featuring air brushed size 0 models, but that’s not really my beef (for today).
My greatest hope for my two girls is that they grow up with a healthy respect for their own bodies, a love of what they have and an ability to use that to their full advantage. I never want them to spend one day of their precious lives dreaming of being something different to their frankly perfect selves. I never want them to compare themselves to anyone whether an image in a magazine or their best friend –and come up wanting. I want them to appreciate differences and love what they have, unconditionally.
I know a great deal of that comes from me. I never discuss my weight around them. I never talk about my own feelings about my body and I never ever talk about fat or dieting. When my husband and I talk to our girls about food it’s about what makes you strong and healthy. The ‘f’ word is banned in our house. When my daughter tells me I have a big tummy (with that gorgeous wide eyed innocence of a 4 year old stating the facts – I do have a big tummy…) I say ‘yes I do and that’s OK.’
So where does Barbie fit into this? I’m starting to ask myself the same thing. On reflection of this recent article that I read I found myself wondering how much influence Barbie really had on my own body image. If I’m to be honest it’s very little. I clearly remember being very confident and happy in myself up until I was about 14 (way after Barbie got kicked to the curb). I honestly remember looking in magazines and thinking I didn’t look that different to the models. I smiled a lot, I had pretty eyes and nice hair. I never really compared their bodies to mine because I honestly didn’t see my size 14 body as that much different to their size 8.
No, the damage to my own self-image wasn’t caused by Barbie – it took place much closer to home. It was planted and reinforced by friends and family – those closest around me wanting to protect me by ‘encouraging’ me to lose weight. Boys at school starting to pick out the thinner girls as the more desirable, people asking ‘helpfully’ if I really needed to eat that. The list goes on. Sure, it’s been reinforced by the likes of Barbie and the images in magazines but in all honesty that’s not what put the ideas there in the first place.
So I am starting to wonder what will happen if Barbie is allowed in the house. Will we all go nuts and start living on birdseed and cabbage and spend our savings on cosmetic surgery? Will she really cause my daughters to become filled with self-doubt and loathing? I’m starting to think the answer is no.
As long as I can provide them with a strong image of a woman who loves her body for its ability to provide her with three beautiful children, its strength to ensure she can care for them and as a desirable creature (thanks to a loving and openly affectionate husband) maybe that’s enough.
Maybe Barbie isn’t really the devil. Maybe the devil lives closer to home and is more within our own control than we think.