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Back Off Barbie

Posted by on February 17, 2012

Awh, Jem. You had my heart every Saturday morning. P.S. I was never persuaded after watching Jem to put makeup on like that and wear short skirts. But it may have inspired me to sing into my hairbrush.

Yesterday, I posted an article last night by a blogger who I regularly enjoy reading.  This author typically writes about various parenting and social issues that I find interesting and relevant.  I like what this blogger writes.  Keep that in mind.

But last night, I disagreed with her point of view in regards to a recent Happy Meal box photo that was sent to her by a friend.  Here is the link.  Go look at the picture.   Seriously, go do it.  I’ll wait.

And we’re back.  I can’t tell you what you see when you look at that image.  I know that people tend to view things through their own personal lens of experience and personal background.  What you and I might see could be two entirely different things.  But before I tell you what I see, I want to tell you my background and my filtering lens.

I am of mixed Caucasian and Mexican descent.  I have brown hair and brown eyes.  My skin is dark in the summer and lighter in the winter.  I grew up as a child of divorce.  My primary care taker was my great-aunt who predominantly spoke Spanish and looked more Native American than anything else.  Throughout my childhood, I grew up somewhere between not really poor to almost middle class.  Today if you saw both of my families you would easily say that they are now upper middle class, but this was not the case when I was a child.

For the first ten years of my life I was an only child.  I was shy.  I had few close friends.  I probably watched more television than what was healthy or necessary.  My favorite meal of choice was a Happy Meal.  My mother would buy them for me as a treat.  On more occasions than what I can count, my mother literally hunted for loose change around our home or in our car so that she could buy me a Happy Meal.  My favorite Happy Meals were those that contained Barbies.

Growing up, I had many different types of friends.  For starters, the high school that I attended was easily comprised of a population that was 90% Hispanic.  In fact, some people would joke that you could count the white people in a classroom on one hand.  I had friends of all different races, religions and ethnic descents.  As I grew up and began dating, I dated a variety of men.  By the time that I met and married my husband, I had dated more men of color and mixed descent than I had Caucasian men.  My husband often jokes that he is the polar opposite of “my type.”

I have always been interested in cultural and societal issues.  I have completed more than my fair share of cultural diversity courses throughout my nearly 8 years in college.  I know that various studies show that children recognize color as early as three years of age.  I know that studies have shown that children as young as five can create a positive or negative association based upon color alone.

All that being said, this is what I see when I look at the image on the Happy Meal Box…

I see an image is of a girl who appears to be African American (I say appears because I don’t personally know her and it is totally possible that she is of mixed descent or is Caribbean.) thinking about all the different things that she can have her Barbie pretend to be.

And this is what I don’t see, but apparently others do see…

~I don’t see a racist ad suggesting that this little girl is daydreaming about being white.


~I don’t see an ad that suggests that this little girl is daydreaming about looking like Barbie.


~I don’t see an ad that suggests that this little girl’s entire self worth is tied up into a child’s play thing.


~I don’t see a toy that is going to limit this little girl’s imagination because it looks a certain way.


~And I don’t see that Barbie is a disaster.

And no, Mattel and Mickey D’s did not send me a Barbie and carton of fries to write that.  And yes, I checked my “privilege.”  Both of them.

The main issues that I have seen people take with this image after posting it on my Facebook page include: the fact that the girl is a girl of color and Barbie is not, the fact that Barbie is evil because she promotes an unrealistic body image for young girls and the idea that toys like Barbies limit a child’s creativity.  And here is my somewhat educated two cents about them all.

Idea:  This ad is atrocious because it is racist and suggests that this little girl is daydreaming about being just like her white Barbie.

Two Cents:  Bullshit.  How do you know she is not half white, half Mexican, half Japanese or something else?  You don’t.  And since when are children and people only allowed to dream about people in their own color?  Is my son not allowed to look up to President Obama?  Can my son not daydream about playing guitar like Jimi Hendrix?  Would there be a racist undertone if my son wanted to play basketball like Jeremy Lin?  What if he wanted to sing like Juilio Iglesias?  No, it wouldn’t.  It would be called normal.

Sidenote:  When I was growing up, I hung a poster of Will Smith on my wall.  I never daydreamed about becoming a black man.  I did daydream about finding a guy who was funny and smart just like him.  I found one.  He happened to be short and white but is still just like him.

Idea:  This ad sucks  because Barbie promotes an unrealistic body image that is damaging to young women.

Two Cents:  She’s a doll.  She’s made of some sort of plastic crap and doesn’t even have a hoo ha.  Why the hell are we looking to a doll to provide our children with a social commentary on healthy body image?  And if we are going to bully Barbie’s body image, should we then also bully these other toy freaks and their unrealistic body images…

She has no bottom, no neck and no knees.


Something tells me she is not anatomically correct under that dress. And once again, no neck or joints.

Does this doll send the message to my child that all orphans come from fields of cabbage and have webbed fingers and toes?

If my child plays with Polly Pocket, will he assume that all little people who are girls are fashion crazed and will fit in his pocket?

And let's not forget that all trolls are body modifying nudists.


Come on.  It’s a doll.  If your child is depending on any doll in the world to teach them about body image, then I sincerely hope that your child never has to pee…but don’t worry, I am pretty sure they make a doll for that.  If you think Barbie is evil, there is a good chance that your kid will too if she or he hears you talk about it.  And then you should be careful.  You might inadvertently teach your child that it is OK to bully people who don’t look normal.  Eek!

Idea:  Barbie limits creativity.

My two cents:  Yeah….take it from this writer, Pinterest lover, former teacher, art lover, home project extraordinaire wannabe, doodler, semi crafter and stay at home mom…that Barbie bitch really limited my creativity.

Finally, one last point.  I grew up playing with Barbies, and no I am not just fine.  I am not normal.  I am probably weird.  I panic sometimes.  I can be emotional.  I can get moody.  But guess what?  So are you.

And I am also fantastic.  Funny.  Smart.  Silly. Nice.  Creative.  Beautiful.  Strong.  And loving.  And guess what?  I bet you are too.

I don’t know if I can blame or give Barbie the credit for any of that.  But here is the thing, just because you don’t give your child a Barbie doesn’t mean that your child will grow up to never have an issue in life.  That’s a parenting fantasy.  You know, a fantasy is something that is not real.  Kind of like Barbie.



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AbundantLifeChildren 6 pts

Okay, so I really enjoy your blog, but I totally diagree. The issue at hand is not doll play. I would be surprised if phdinparenting found the issue to be doll play. The issue is images that perpetuate unhealthy societal biases. I am an early childhood educator with an extensive background in anti-bias education. There is an abundance of research to support the fact that bias is slowly built over time, and images like this one are a factor (not the only reason children grow up with biases, but one of the reasons). It's not like the marketing gurus at Matel or McDonalds are sitting behind a giant desk with their minds bent on growing a bunch of racists. That said, they also do not have the best interests of children at mind -- they are motivated solely by the bottom line, which gives their tactics no wiggle room in my eyes.

Also, line of logic that says, "It worked for me, so there's no problem" is just unsound. This is not to diminish the significance of stories, but just because something worked for you doesn't mean we should extrapolate that example onto everyone else. My parents spanked me, and I turned out fine. Therefore, we have no reason to speak out against spanking. I grew up riding in a car without a car seat. Therefore, we should throw car seats out the window. I spent 6 hours a day in front of the television, and I turned out fine. Therefore, TV watching is harmless on young minds. The reality is that when know better, we *must* do better, regardless of how we were raised and how we turned out. When we learn about the impact of early experiences on a chlid's assimilation of bias into their way of thinking, we must always choose an anti-bias approach. This ad is far from bias-free! To take the critique of this ad as perpetuating bias and turn it into a commentary on doll play is (I think) to miss the point (PhD in can correct me if I missed the point. I think you would be fully supportive of doll play.) There is fabulous literature about bias and young children (Louise Derman-Sparks, Beverly Tatum, Ann Pelo...just to name a few) that raises the bar for those of us who are with young children on a daily basis. What we know about how kids learn demands that we advocate for a childhood that is as bias-free as possible. Not to strip away doll play, but to seriously critique whether or not Barbie (more importantly, Barbie and the way she is used to advertise to young children) is helping to raise the next generation to be compassionate and thoughtful individuals.

Thank you for your thoughts, Conscience Parenting, but we don't see eye to eye on this one! :)

cbplaner 16 pts moderator

I'm not debating doll play. I am debating the fact that the doll as you say "perpetuates unhealthy biases." It is a doll. But from one early childhood educator to another, I appreciate your input agree to disagree too :)

AbundantLifeChildren 6 pts

cbplaner I think you might find the work of Louise Derman Sparks very interesting. I would have been on your side a few years back. (Dolls? Perpetuate bias? Nah!) And I am not solidly in the camp that encourages me to think critically about ALL messages kids are subtly fed through the visible and invisible images around them. Just a thought. Thanks for engaging in the debate! Raising the questions is half the battle!

cbplaner 16 pts moderator

AbundantLifeChildren And I am not making the argument that because "I turned out right my kids will too." In fact, I actually tried really hard to not use that. I even say that I am not fine. I am a million different things. But if I could pinpoint exactly what made me the way that I am, I would probably not spend my time blogging about all of the issues I may or may not have.

phdinparenting 7 pts

AbundantLifeChildren Yes, I see this primarily as a media/imagery issue, compounded by the fact that this particular image is suggesting what this young girl could hope to be.

Erinobrien 5 pts

Very thought provoking, thank you. I must agree with you, although I think that images of women portrayed in the media are more influential than we would hope.

cbplaner 16 pts moderator

Erinobrien I agree about women in the media.

mollie 7 pts

I don't think the portrayal of women in the media is any different. Happy Meal boxes and Barbie are the media for young kids.

cbplaner 16 pts moderator

mollie I disagree. Little kids have plenty of media if they are exposed to it. Barbies are not real. The Britney Spears and Hannah Montanas of the world are real.

mollie 7 pts

I get what you are saying, and agree for the most part. You as a parent are the most important person in your child's life, not her Barbie doll (or a photo on a box).

But, the box clearly says "I can be...", not "I can pretend my Barbie is." I'm a white woman, and I saw immediately what PhDinParenting was pointing out. It was glaringly obvious, actually.

I don't think it was intentional or malicious on the part of Mattel or McDonalds. I think it's telling, though, that this went across how many peoples' desks/emails prior to production, and no one thought this might be a little off. I can't believe that no one questioned the wisdom of the juxtaposition of these images. They probably thought they were doing good job at being diverse by using a darker-skinned girl.

cbplaner 16 pts moderator

mollie I get what you are saying. I guess the way I saw it was she was thinking of things that she could be via her Barbie. I didn't take it as being literal, but I probably saw it that way because I would pretend to be things via my Barbies. Perception is funny and weird.

sarahatjarvis 8 pts

Okay, I agree that Barbie, by herself, does not seem that bad at all. When I was a kid, my parents only let me have Skipper and Courtney (do they stil exist?), the teen, gentle version of Barbie. Back then it was real bummer but now? Eh, I see the wisdom in it.

I think the inundation of pink, perfection, and sexiness that seems to pervade girlhood is the REAL problem. And Barbie personifies all of those things. I can see how people get upset with Barbie and I doubt I'll let my kids play with her. But the teen version? MAYBE. Hopefully a doll with a realistic body and lifestyle will be available soon ;)

cbplaner 16 pts moderator

sarahatjarvis I loved my Skipper!

phdinparenting 7 pts

Thanks for the commentary on my post.

Yes, it is normal and healthy for children of all races to have role models of all races (and shapes, sizes, etc.). So why not show some diversity in the image instead of five identical, white, blond women?

sarahatjarvis 8 pts

phdinparenting Yep, I do think the FIVE identical images were a bit much!

cbplaner 16 pts moderator

phdinparenting I'm not sure. Maybe because she only had one doll? I really don't know. I did google Barbie on Happy Meal boxes though and found a whole slew of ethnically diverse Barbie Happy Meals. Some were very interesting.