Not Your Mother’s Barbie


Having a daughter fourteen years after what we thought was the end of our child bearing – two sons and done – was quite a lifestyle shock for all four of us.  I was wearing as much pink as I could buy in the gift shop when I left the hospital with my new daughter.  I believe our sons were in shock.  I’m pretty sure my wife was too; I know she was exhausted.  I took a month of leave from work and spent much of that time with my baby daughter sleeping on my chest.  I thought a lot about what kind of world she had been born into and how she would change mine.

When our daughter was old enough, we went through some of our storage boxes and found a whole box of dolls from when my wife was about our daughter’s age.  There was also an entire container of Barbie Doll sized 1960’s and 70’s fashion design dresses custom sewn by my mother-in-law.  The dresses were beautiful!  The dolls were very “dated” looking, but they were still in great shape and our daughter loved having them.

I always thought my sister’s Barbie Dolls were kind of freakish looking.  I mean, I didn’t know any girls who looked like that, but I knew a lot of girls who tried to.  There were girls who we swore were being forced by their moms to try to be like Barbie.  I think those moms were trying to vicariously relive their teenaged years through their daughters.  The poor girls were always stressing out about test scores, report cards, parts in the plays, spots on the cheer squads, boyfriends.  These girls panicked if they gained a few pounds, got a pimple or didn’t make Honor Roll.  Some of them were my friends.  I know they were doing terrible things to keep their waists skinny, to make their breasts look bigger and to get the approval of someone – anyone.  Sometimes they passed out in class from not eating and sometimes I found them sitting alone somewhere on campus and I could hear them crying.  They were not their mother’s Barbies.  It was difficult for me to understand as a guy; I thought most of these girls appeared to be pretty amazing in all respects.

I assumed I understood girls.  I lived with 3, sometimes 5, of them; my grandmother, my mother, my sister and my cousins.  They did their stuff, I did mine and everything was fine as long as I remembered Mother’s Day, Christmas and birthdays.  I liked girls enough that I decided to marry one.  I picked a great one, but she was a lot different from the girls I lived with and their Barbie Dolls.  When my wife gave birth to our children, I discovered she was a lot stronger than me.  She’s also a lot smarter and she has her own opinions and I needed to make time to listen; this was different.  Enter my next teacher.  My daughter has taught me more about girls than all of the other girls in my entire life!  You know what?  She’s nothing like those little plastic dolls.  Yes, she’s shaped like a dancer, but her personality is way more complex.  There’s not a shallow or indifferent cell in her body.  She experiences everything like it’s an event and claims she has so many friends because “I try to be kind to everybody and I try to like everybody.”  My daughter has shown me dimensions of the female psyche I never knew existed.  She’s not trying to be anyone’s Barbie but she is being, I believe, the person God created her to be.

For a long time, I didn’t take the time to learn very much about girls.  It seems neither did a lot of other people.  Men were designing things and marketing things to girls and women while most of those men knew very little about girls or women.  Just as my world went through a radical paradigm shift after getting to know a little girl, I think the rest of the world is finally beginning to take the time to have the same experience.  As more and more women enter the boardrooms, become design engineers and join marketing firms, the understanding that they are not their mothers’ Barbies is becoming increasingly apparent.  Even at Mattel, Inc., the owners of the Barbie Doll brand, they’re getting it.  Some of the dolls have been redesigned to more closely resemble real women.  It’s amazing it took the company until 1998 to design a Barbie with flat feet.  They were excited to be able to introduce a doll that could stand on her own two feet.  Girls had been able to do that forever.  It’s long past time to recognize the girls and women of the world are not perfect, plastic, poseable dolls with little to offer; there is so much more to them than that. Ken is finally figuring this out.

© 2016 Curt Savage Media

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