Some kids never grow up. Yesterday my husband and I attended a late night showing of Toy Story 3. While chuckling over the antics of Woody, Buzz Lightyear, Mr. Potato Head and Barbie, I reflected on “Spud Stud”- my previous satirical post about the Elvis Mr. Potato Head. Several of my astute readers commented on the serious theme underlying the spoof: that toy manufacturers are still producing items geared toward the sexualization of young children. Today I’d like to disclose (confess?) my personal experiences with controversial sexy toys.
I actually had one of the original Barbie dolls with the severe, aloof facial expression, the blonde bubble-like hairdo and the non-bendable legs. The bendable leg version came out a few years later in 1965 . . . but I’m not bitter. I did not ask for a Barbie, and I rarely played with mine. A natural tomboy, I was too busy climbing trees and playing dodgeball, softball or kick-the-can with male neighborhood friends. My doll spent most of her time stuffed awkwardly in her plastic black case wearing only her swimsuit-like underwear. Most of her tiny high heels and accessories had been sucked up by the vacuum cleaner shortly after her arrival at my house. Clearly Barbie failed to sexualize pre-adolescent me.
As a mom, I refused to provide Barbie dolls to my three daughters. Ironically, they never asked for them. My refusal was aimed at a relative who insisted that my girls would become social misfits without “hands on Barbie experience.” Eventually, this relative defiantly gave a Barbie as a birthday gift to one of my daughters . . . this doll even had bendable legs, long pony-tailed hair and a pleasant face. But her fate was similar to that of my own Barbie doll decades earlier. Because she didn’t come with a carrying case, this Barbie spent her days naked and bent in unnatural positions under the furniture. Her tiny accessories filled my vacuum cleaner dust bag.
I mentioned in my previous post that the Bratz™ dolls appeared in 2001, with fishnet stockings, midriff-baring tops, micro-mini skirts and other pieces associated with strippers and prostitutes. They made Barbie look tame. Marketed to girls ages 4-8, they caused a public outcry. Thankfully, my own daughters were well past playing with dolls when the Bratz arrived. My girls preferred creating handmade tack and stables for their Breyer horse models (purchased at yard sales), thus averting doll-induced sexualization.
But the Bratz controversy raged on in the culture, and professionals weighed in:
“The American Psychological Association cites the Bratz dolls as one of many cultural influences that contribute to the sexualization of girls. And this affects cognitive functioning, physical and mental health, sexuality and attitudes and beliefs, the group said in a report. “ [From “Lolita Lives” June 1, 2007 http://promomagazine.com/eventmarketing/marketing_lolita_lives/ ]
Armed with studies like this, I wrote a paper on the sexualization of girls for one of my masters courses. By themselves, these sensual dolls don’t have much impact. But my research revealed other prurient influences such as vampy clothing sized for little girls, sexual innuendo in many kiddy cartoons and movies, and Disney channel child stars who morph from wholesome role-models to racy icons.
Moms and dads today have to be vigilant, tough and persistent to fend off the barrage of sexually-charged kid stuff that destroys childhood innocence. The Toy Story 3 producers seem to be doing their part to help parents . . . near the end of the movie, we learned that Barbie is a Constitutional scholar.