Photos: Sameen's project in Women's Studies.
I must admit, I never liked Barbie Dolls. I never had one and I never wanted one. I didn't have anything in common with her at all and she didn't have anything I wanted: the fast-paced life, the fakey-looking boyfriend, the glitzy clothes, the pink plastic house. Even her name. Those dolls always had perky names, those "ie" or "y" names, like Barbie and Tammy. I wasn't a perky child. I was calm and quiet. In a group of other children, I'd sit alone and fold my hands in my lap and just observe. I didn't feel lonely or left out. But I did feel different, set apart, and this was a curiosity to me.
I visited a few friends who had a Barbie and watched with curiousity as they played with it. I just didn't get it.
This semester in Women's Studies, a number of my students admitted to having had eating disorders; at least two had undergone therapy for years. Not one of them blames Barbie completely, but Sameen, at least, felt Barbie with her waspy waist should bear at least part of the blame.
I know a number of people will think it's silly to blame a doll. Maybe you had a Barbie and you came out just fine. And, after all, I had a toy turkey: I never wanted to be a turkey, did I? But that would be missing the point; just like we miss the point when we say we play violent video games but never killed anyone. The point is, some children ARE suseptible to these things and we don't know the full extent of these influences yet.
Barbie has been a controversial toy for some time. One of the texts we used in class, now called Body Outlaws, first had "Barbie" in its title. The toy company sued and the author changed her title. However, the critical essay about Barbie remains in the text.
I wonder how many girls will receive a Barbie under the tree this Christmas. There are very few things as beautiful as children playing with their toys. But not all toys are innocent, I think.