“Barbie was hushed contraband—I didn’t say much about it, but she wasn’t welcome in the house,” writes Betsy Ball in WNC Woman. “She had been a topic of serious discussion within the circle of my women friends who also had daughters.” So it goes within many households containing mindful parents and a little girl. Barbie is the ultimate no-no doll, the epitome of the unattainably small-waisted, big-breasted, blonde ideal that is presumably so damaging to little girls’ self-image as they’re moving her from room to room in their Barbie 3-story Dream Townhouse or shooting her down basement stairs in her pink Barbie Corvette. Barbie angst—along with Bratz angst and Monster High angst—elicits well-meaning conversations among likeminded adults about how those dolls will be quietly disappearing if they find their way into the child’s hands from enemy sources.
When her 5-year-old daughter inevitably received a Barbie gift from a relative, Ball wondered, “Should I confiscate The Doll with a discussion on Loving Our Bodies? Pretend that the Malibu gal got mauled by the dog?” In the end, though, Ball magnanimously let Barbie stick around and reminded herself that her own body image will have a far greater effect on her daughter than a doll’s figure:
I tried to remember how many times my daughter had wandered into my room while I was getting dressed, and I started harping on about my jelly thighs or hips the size of Texas. How many times had she heard me complain about the size of my tummy?... To think that a girl’s self-image is going to get twisted by a doll is ridiculous.
It’s true, Barbie is a silently happy doll who never complains about her weight (except for one little slip-up from Slumber Party Barbie in the 1960s), whereas a mom’s fat fits and constant diet talk can lead to the same in her daughter. Dolls and stuffed animals are pretend, and children know it. Moms, sisters, and friends, however, are real-life—and children know that, too. “I’m thinking that I’ll have to look past my own baggage regarding the iconic doll’s ludicrous, lifelong-body-issue-neuroses-inducing physical proportions and let my daughter explore her innocent desire to play with one,” concludes Jenn McKee, another mom wrestling with her daughter’s first request for a Barbie, on her An Adequate Mom Blog: “Mommy’s the one bringing all this paranoia to the situation.”