Confession: I hated the Jem doll when I first saw her because after years of playing with Barbie, I felt she was fat and therefore (despite her awesome hair which I loved and the epic clothing she had) she was ugly. At the tender age of seven I think it was my cousin Kimmy who had a Jem doll and I thought about how thick she seemed compared to my barbie and how I’d never want one.
I was seven. And no. Jem dolls were NOT fat. And yet… I had an image in my head about how dolls (and probably how women) should ideally look.
It wasn’t that my mother didn’t discuss body issues with me from a young age. I knew there were dangers in the wrong kinds of dieting, I even watched my fair share of Phil Donahue episodes with anorixic girls over the years… having long discussions with my mom about those topics. I’d say I grew up with a healthy love of myself and respect for body diversity.
So, what’s my point?
I still had an image imprinted on my head as a child that this one way was right. This one way was best. This one thing was what “pretty” was. If there had been short, tall, thin, and, yes, even fat Barbies… would I have even thought Jem was different? Would I have had so may days as a teen where I lamented that I was born with a sturdier frame than my size zero friends? Even an instant of not loving yourself because of the message society sends us CONSTANTLY, is wrong.
“Hello, I’m a fat person, fat, fat, fat,”
A quote from a young girl in Time Magazine’s latest article about Barbie’s New Body (click here) she was playing with the doll and didn’t know she was being observed secretly by adults. Her words changed when the adults came in the room proving what we all know… our kids don’t tell us what’s in their heads sometimes.
Toys allow us to observe how our children see the world. Their play is learning time, it’s therapy, and for the parent who is paying attention it’s where you can get a lot of your red flags about what they’re dealing with, going through, and the opinions they are forming on life.
And while there are a variety of ways you can take the little girl’s words, I think about it like this: As a mom, wouldn’t I want to know my kid thinks that (and let’s face it, the curvy Barbie is far from fat) is what my child thinks is “fat” … but more importantly that she feels fat is something worth being put down and mocked. That she feels appearance determines whether or not we respect someone or like them.
It’s so much more than worrying about your kid being a “mean girl” (though this is also worth noting) but it’s also about the fact that eventually her seven year old body will give way to curves… curves she might view as “getting fat” … and what will she be thinking of herself as that happens?
Mattel’s decision to diversify Barbie’s look is a great thing. It’s hard to change adults opinions… and changing society is next to impossible… unless you start from the bottom up. Little girls who have a chance to regularly see different races and body types in their every day play will come to accept those things as “normal” and all of them as “pretty.” Their happy memories won’t revolve around only one type of beautiful people… but they will gradually come to have happy memories about all types of people. And, like it or not, adults are the sum total of our experiences and the knowledge we gain along the path of life.
Personally, I understand the purist sense… loving Barbie for who she has been and the icon that she is wonderful. The tall, leggy Barbie of old should never disappear and by all means keep her as the icon and symbol of the brand because it’s how she started… but why not include more ways for our kids to express their imagination and broaden their worlds of play to be more like the world they will one day live in.
And, why not give parents another open door to the hard discussions… BEFORE they MUST happen due to life and death issues. Playtime with children is a safe environment in which we can frame many of the challenges and worst parts of our world they will encounter – and in those safe places help them to develop opinions and attitudes that are healthy and strong, strong enough to not just survive their youth and adult lives but to thrive in them.