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Is Barbie Destroying Your Daughter's Imagination?

Nothing Says Astronaut like Hot Pink GoGo Boots
Well, it's finally happened at my house. My six-year-old daughter is interested in Barbies, you know, those plastic dolls with unrealistic proportions that seem to be mostly concerned about fashion, beauty, and organizing their oversized mansions? Yeah, those dolls.

Now Mattel has attempted to modernize Barbie over and over again. Who can forget the Astronaut Barbie of my youth, who managed somehow to go to the moon in hot pink gogo boots and quite impressive shoulder pads? Clearly she was going to space to teach aliens a thing or two about fashion, because what else would a female astronaut be doing in space?


Even the latest renditions of Barbie still fit ridiculous stereotypes. As a Latina, I have gone up and down countless toy aisles from Toys-R-Us to Walmart incredibly disheartened by the ridiculous number of blonde haired and blue eyed dolls with their smattering of "ethnic" friends who never play prominent roles in the Barbie universe. While my daughter is a cute brunette with freckles, she thinks that the blonde Barbies are the prettiest by far, perpetuating our cultural obsession with light skin and light hair. And while Barbie has been everything from a vet to a spy, marketers are sure to include a high level of cuteness, beauty, and fashion to incorporate a number of products like horses, puppies, mansions, and sportscars in Barbie's adventures.


While Mattel has pushed a more ethnic assortment of Barbies in 2016,
only the blonde bombshell makes it to Barbie movies.

For once, I'd like to see Single Mom Barbie, Working Three Jobs Barbie, Going to College But Failing Chemistry Barbie, Slightly Overweight but still Happy Barbie, Hot Mess Barbie, Hasn't Showered in three Days Barbie, Bookworm Barbie, Owes $40,000 in College Debt Barbie, and Nursing Barbie (not nurse Barbie). I'd like to see Barbie manage careers in math education, engineering, the arts, computer science, and more without having to have a Perfect 10 body, flawless hair, and a wardrobe that no self-respecting working woman would wear. I'd like Barbie to come in dozens of skin tones, body sizes, and hair colors that are more than gimmicks to appease those of us that are sick of the blonde bombshell. I'd like the Ken Dolls to be more representative of real men, not Justin Bieber wannabees. 

I wonder what Foster kid Skipper looks like or Homeless Ex-Vet Ken looks like. Can we have a Barbie tenement or even just ratty apartment complete with jalopy instead of mansions and sports cars? How about Thrift Store Barbie? 

Objectification of the Female Body is Prevalent with Bratz Dolls
Most of Us Don't live in Pink Mansions
And maybe I am picking on Barbie. After all, the Bratz collection should be renamed "Hooker Barbie for Kids" and Disney's whitewashed Princess collection perpetuates cultural stereotypes, fixed gender roles, and even exacerbates the racial divide. Even the latest Lego line of "Friends", meant for girls, emphasize less the complex engineering and imagination that the "boy" Lego sets do, and instead are simplified pink Lego toys with playsets like "Grocery Store" and "Pet Shop". Some recent attempts at "smart" fashion dolls still adhere to physical body types that seem like Barbie-Light instead of original creations.

To be honest, we do have Barbies at our house, as well as super hero dolls and a couple of Disney princesses that also have their own set of stereotypes and gender biases. But maybe the difference between Wonder Woman and Barbie is that Wonder Woman is clearly a myth, part of a large pantheon of make believe characters not meant to be a reality. No little boy will be as strong as the Hulk, no girl will be able to fly an invisible jet like Wonder Woman. 

Legos Friends Grocery Store Sets the Bar Low for Imagination
Barbie is supposed to embody the dreams of every girl. She doesn't. Even friends that more closely resembled Barbie's body type did not live like Barbie. In fact, unless you are a Kardashian or Paris Hilton, living like Barbie is unrealistic and shallow. 

Christmas is coming up, and as I scour the toy aisles for dolls that will build the imagination and focus less on beauty and fashion and more on creativity, I wonder what these toys are saying to our girls. We talk about female empowerment but are still stuck with dolls that belong in the 1950s or are so scantily clad that they should not be sold to young girls. 

Maybe the best bet is to avoid these toys entirely, and instead embrace more creative options like building toys, diverse dolls and action figures, books (yes books) and artistic and musical toys. I don't know what the answer is, but I will work hard to make sure that my little girl realizes that she doesn't have to be like Barbie to reach her dreams. She can just be who she is. 


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