When my dad was here in May he suggested going ahead and buying Juliette her birthday present. It is this month, in fact, and he figured he could let her choose then and enjoy while he was there. At first I suggested a chocolate baking kit made for kids but when we saw it in the store it wasn't quite what I had imagined. She didn't seem as interested in it as she when she'd seen the ads on TV. So my dad, wise as he is, said, just let her pick out what SHE wants. And she recalled seeing a Barbie whose hair you can dye in rainbow stripes. So we found that and my dad bought it for her.
She enjoyed dyeing the hair and washing it and combing it. "Isn't Barbie beautiful?" she'd ask me as she combed that incredibly blonde hair. "Yeah, she's pretty," I'd say but felt like adding, of course, brunettes with glasses who aren't statuesque are lovely, too. Six-year olds aren't quite ready for that kind of talk though.
I couldn't fight it, nor should I. Girls like Barbies. My sister and I sure did when we were little. One of my fondest memories is coming home to find that my mom had sewed cute little jackets and skirts for our Barbies and set them up in their chairs, as if they were on a talk show or something. My little sister and I spent many an afternoon making up Barbie conversations. I also remember us beating up Ken in the backyard and clobbering his head against some wooden tool.
There are still moments I look at Barbie and say, in that judgemental way I have, I don't think I could be friends with a girl who looked and dressed like this in real life. But why? Because she takes good care of her hair and make-up? Because she dresses to her advantage and isn't afraid to show off her feminity? Because she can walk way better in stiletto heels than I ever will? Maybe I'm being the catty one here, just assuming Barbie is an airhead because she cares about her appearance and is always flawless. Who knows how many nights girls like Barbie go home feeling lonely because the girls diss her and talk behind her back, and the men who approach her are only interested in her looks. Poor Barbie.
But at 41, I've reconciled with Barbie. She's not as shallow as she might seem. And she's been growing up. Here are some reasons I will let my girl play with her.
2. Because Barbie can be whatever she wants to be. The new generation of Barbies may still love their clothes but they are also equal opportunity. They can be doctors and business women and vets. They can be astronauts and moms, too. Then there is Super Barbie. Good role models for girls!
3. Because Barbie really IS a nice girl. Yes, she's gorgeous. This is no Cabbage Patch ugly cute. But she's also a good friend, sister and girlfriend. I've been watching the cartoons Life in the Dreamhouse on youtube with Juliette and they actually have some good messages and portray Barbie as a kind and hard-working, even intelligent (!) person.
4. Because Barbie can poke fun at herself. In these same cartoons, there is a lot of tongue in cheek humor about how Barbie spends hours picking out her clothes or the problems of getting sand in plastic joints. Mattel has evolved and Juliette's generation sees Barbie as a girl who doesn't take herself too seriously.
5. Because little girls need to dream. No, not ever girl will turn out to look like Barbie.* But as long as girls know that Barbie is just a doll, like Rapunzel and Barbie mermaid, then she fits perfectly in their world of imaginary play. Juliette now tells me matter of factly that mermaids don't exist. So I think she will be able to tell the difference between dolls and people. And all too soon she'll abandon Barbie for fashion magazines, which send more messages than Barbie can.
So, Barbie, you are welcome at my house. We'll sing along to Barbie Girl by Aqua and brush your hair, because girls will be girls, and Barbie is a girl of her time.
*It's pretty rare to have those magical measurements, though one girl
has tried. We saw her photo in a magazine at the doctor's office and
Juliette was transfixed by it. But I told her that girl put herself
through painful surgeries to look like that.