Some time when I was either pregnant with or shortly after having Little Mama, I firmly decided that she would never play with Barbie dolls. I had noticed the shift in Barbie’s attire. It certainly seemed more revealing than what I remembered playing with (or it's more likely motherhood increased my awareness). Also, I had read those articles about Barbie’s impossible proportions and the negative impact this could have on little girls’ self-image. I was convinced. By playing with Barbie, Little Mama would grow up and put her body on display to the world and have low self-esteem as she strove to reach an impossible body type. I just didn’t, and still don’t want, any of that for her. Barbie was not happening in our house.
Then something happened that killed all those plans and convictions.
Little Mama turned two.
I tried to find a picture of Little Mama opening her first Barbie, but I don't have one. Instead here's a picture of her looking crazy and eating a gummy worm from her dirt cake style birthday cake.
As the birthday party was approaching, my husband’s well-meaning grandmother called and inquired about what sort of gift Little Mama would like. Since she was very much into dolls and had only one, I thought a doll would be an easy enough gift for Nanny to secure. She asked if there was any particular type of doll Little Mama would want. I said, “Any kind of doll except a Barbie doll or Barbie-type doll. I really would prefer that she not have those.” Life moved on.
The big day arrived and it was time to open the gift from Nanny. Could it be? Was it…? Yes. It was a Barbie doll!
I was perturbed. I knew she hadn’t given the Barbie to spite me. I’m certain when she went to the store she remembered me saying, “Get her a Barbie doll!” And though I immediately knew all of this, it still bothered me because now there was a Barbie in the house. I was sure Little Mama was doomed.
Of course, I wasn’t going to snatch the Barbie away and be THAT person. I was all smiles and thank-yous. I reasoned it was only one doll and it was adequately clothed. And Little Mama LOVED it.
As I’m writing this and looking at former me, I am laughing at how silly all this was. But let’s continue…
That first Barbie opened a flood gate.
I have an aunt who has collected Barbie dolls for decades, and she has some pretty valuable pieces. However, she also has plenty that have turned out to be not so lucrative. She was looking to pare down the size of her holdings and had been wanting to give some to Little Mama, but she knew my feelings on Barbie. When she saw I was allowing Little Mama to keep and play with the doll she was given for her birthday, she asked if it would be okay to give her a few more.
At this point, I saw how much Little Mama enjoyed playing with her doll and knowing that the majority of the dolls my aunt was looking to get rid of were from the 1980s and early 1990s and lso knowing there wasn’t a scantily clad one among the bunch, I consented. Little Mama had expressed a desire for more Barbies, but I certainly wasn’t going to take her down the toy aisle at Wal-Mart to pick out a few. If I did, she would be introduced to the tartier side of Barbie. So, the big-hair, puffed-sleeved, and shoulder-padded dolls arrived in droves. But this wasn't the end.
Here is a sampling of some of those old Barbies. I think these are probably all from the early 1990s. I tried to find one in particular that wears a fabulous 1980s ball gown, but I have no idea what Little Mama has done with that thing. I picked out a few of my favorites from what I could locate. As you can see from their rough clothes, frizzy hair, and dirty faces, I made no attempt to clean these things up for pictures. This is real life. And I'm not going to hide how I feel about those Christmas outfits. I would wear that sweatshirt and sweater so fast and so hard.
Our trips to the library can be blamed on expanding the presence of Barbie in Little Mama’s life. We would go to the library once a week for a children’s story time and craft hour. After the program each week, we would also borrow about two thousand books and a couple of movies. Our library had quite an extensive collection of kid-friendly DVDs—some educational, some merely entertaining.
We don’t watch a lot of television in our house. We have never had cable, satellite, or a streaming service, and where we now live doesn’t pick up any of the “free” digital channels. Our T.V. viewing is limited to DVDs. At the library, The Boy and Little Mama could each pick a DVD to check out for the week.
After her introduction to Barbie, Little Mama immediately noticed a few Barbie DVDs at the library.
Good grief! It’s like I was being harassed by a toy.
She begged to check one out. I was conflicted. I felt like I was giving up the battle if I said yes. I knew this would ruin her morals and rot her brain. But our T.V. time was so limited and there’s so much we have to say no to as parents, I didn’t (and still don’t) want to be remembered by my kids as always saying no. Also, there will come a time when I will have to say no to much more important matters than the selection of which DVD to borrow from the library. I want my kids to respect those times and not disregard them because Mama never says yes any way.
I inspected every aspect of the DVDs packaging. I read the description, the rating information, and anything else I could. I debated and agonized. I don’t exactly remember the title of that first DVD, but I know it was either Barbie of Swan Lake, Barbie in the Nutcracker, or Barbie in the 12 Dancing Princesses. Finally, I agreed to let her get the DVD reasoning that it was a story I was familiar with, so there shouldn’t be any surprises as far as the plot went and there should be no reason for any character to be wearing revealing clothing.
We got the DVD home and I watched it with her. I had to admit, the movie wasn’t the mind-damaging, confidence-killing drivel I thought it would be. It wasn’t the highest quality in terms of animation, and the characters could be saccharinely sweet (to an adult). But it wasn’t horrible.
The basic plot of a famous ballet or story was told (though I wouldn’t rely on it alone to teach the tale) and a lot of classical music was introduced. Even though The Boy wouldn't watch such a "girl movie", he could hear the music playing, recognized it, and informed me that he knew it. We had recently been studying classical music. (A year or so later we specifically studied Tchaikovsky's ballets and I was explaining them to The Boy. Little Mama joined in with her own knowledge of the plot and characters based on her precious Barbie movies.)
I actually saw some benefit to the movie. Who knew?!
We returned the movie and borrowed another one based on either a classic story or ballet. And thus it escalated.
By the fourth birthday, Barbie had been fully embraced. Little Mama specifically requested a yellow ballerina Barbie birthday cake. As you can see it wasn't that good, but she was thoroughly impressed and thought I was a professional pastry chef. And you'll have to forgive the poor quality and crazy background of this picture. It was the best I could find when digging in the archives!
As with all television entertainment, I am still guarded about which Barbie movies I will let Little Mama or any of my other children view. For instance, there was a preview episode for Barbie: Life in the Dreamhouse on one of the other more innocuous DVDs I permitted. I knew just a short time into it our family would not be seeing anything else in that series.
After writing all that, the conclusion of the matter is this. I no longer believe Barbie is the bad guy. I'll give more of my rationale for this realization in the next installment: In Defense of Barbie, Part Two.
Here is a list of some Barbie movies I've let, or plan to let, Little Mama enjoy. They're all based on classic literature or music, which is referenced in the parentheses for each item.
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Barbie in The Nutcracker (ballet by Tchaikovsky based on works by Alexandre Dumas and E. T. A. Hoffman)
Barbie as Rapunzel (story by the Brother's Grimm)
Barbie of Swan Lake (ballet by Tchaikovsky)
Barbie as The Princess and the Pauper (based on The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain)
Barbie in The 12 Dancing Princesses (story by the Brother's Grimm)
Barbie in a Christmas Carol (story by Charles Dickens)
Barbie Presents Thumbelina (story by Hans Christian Anderson)
Barbie and the Three Musketeers (story by Alexandre Dumas)
Barbie in the Pink Shoes (combines Hans Christian Anderson's stories, The Red Shoes and The Snow Queen, with Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake ballet and Adlophe Adam's Giselle ballet)