December 25, 2008
Before I had children, I adopted the feminist outlook that I wouldn't allow any of my daughters to have Barbie dolls. A toy that would potentially encourage my daughter to see herself as a "mannequin, sex object or housekeeper," wasn't welcome in our lives. I had my own past history — and a few scars — from growing up with Barbie. My feminist mother never bought any, but they seeped their way into my life as well. My singular lasting memory of receiving the doll was Christmas Eve when I was 9 years old. My Aunt, a Dietician obsessed with weight and nutrition, gave me two presents that year: a calorie-counting guide book and a giant Barbie head. The overpowering message of the two gifts was clear — you are not good enough. I had decided that Barbie would not be a part of my daughters' lives. Of course, while I personally didn't purchase any, I couldn't foresee the complete onslaught of Barbies at every birthday and holiday that they would receive from uninformed friends and family. It was truly overwhelming, and I succumbed to peer pressure. And as I watched my girls play with the dolls, I realized that their imaginative play was mostly positive. One thing became clear to me: Barbie was in control and didn't take orders from anyone.
Adjusting my viewpoint to fit the circumstances, I focused my "ban" on other dolls — like the overly-sexualized "Bratz" dolls. With their exaggerated lips, tits and ass, they make Barbie look somewhat like Holly Hobbie. Once surrounded by dozens of Barbie dolls, I thought I should share a few words with the girls about the doll, her features, and the cultural messages. Over the years, this has turned into somewhat of a Christmas morning ritual. Barbie (and other dolls of her ilk) come encapsulated in the most extreme packaging of nearly any product out there. There is thick plastic that must be cut, wires that must be unwound, plastic tethers that must be cut from her head, wrists and feet, ripcord strings that must be pulled from the stitching of her clothes. Of course, no child can manage this on her own, so is sweet succession, I am handed these dolls to "free them." Instead of complaining about the lengthy process of cutting through all of the packaging, I enthusiastically cut and rip at the plastic, telling the doll, "You're almost free!" And this is how my Barbie pep-talk begins each year — as I free her from the bonds of her plastic slavery. Anticipating what has become our ritual, Little M did her best Aretha impersonation this morning and danced around the living room singing "You better think, think about what you're trying to do to me." Big M and I chimed in with the chorus, singing "Freedom! Freedom!" as we held up the newly emancipated Barbie dolls. Little M and I told each doll, "You are free now. You don't have to be what they created you to be anymore. People are gonna love you for who you are, not for being what they want you do be. So be yourself now! You're free!"