Do toys, especially dolls, have a positive roll to play in home-based sex education? There has been plenty of research revealing a negative correlation between certain fashion dolls and early sexualization of little girls.¹ And in a past blog post, I’ve expressed a rather dim view of Mattel’s iconic Barbie doll ( http://www.hearttohearttalks.com/Blog/?p=49 ). However, my view of her has recently begun to brighten. Becoming a grandma hasn’t been a factor . . . all of my current grandchildren are boys. No, Barbie herself has undergone changes that are slightly softening my cynical heart.
Mattel has finally redesigned Barbie’s much mocked, wildly unrealistic figure to reflect that women’s bodies come in various shapes and sizes: petite, tall and “curvy.” Perhaps 9-year-old me would have appreciated and played with my doll if these options had been available in the 1960s. The image to the right is similar to the Barbie I had. I just couldn’t relate to her haughty adult facial expression, heavy make-up and puffy bubble hair that defied further styling. It was frustrating trying to force her non-bendable limbs and disproportionately large bust into the ugly outfits that came with her. If Barbie’s creators had hoped to influence preteen girls’ attitudes toward sexualized beauty standards and fashion materialism they utterly failed with me.
The new “petite” Barbie option pictured to the left would have been my childhood choice had she been available in 1961 because she most resembled me: short stature, straight mousey hair, and casual, modest clothing. Dodgeball-friendly jeans and sneakers would have quickly replaced her skirt and boots.
The more realistically-proportioned Barbie line shown below, debuted in January featuring diverse hair styles, eye & skin colors, body types and (mostly) dignified outfits. It’s a positive change I suppose. But must dolls resemble every human body type lest our preadolescents suffer irreparable harm to their self-image? Some researchers believe so. However, to paraphrase an exasperated Woody in Toy Story: “Barbie…is…a…TOY!” Attentive parents, not toys, truly shape a child’s self-esteem and moral character.
Since her introduction in 1959 Barbie has role-modeled success in over 120 glamorous careers primarily associated with wealth, fame and power. She has even run for President several times and apparently was elected to one term beginning in 2000 🙂 If multiple authentic body types are so important for dolls, then will Mattel eventually roll out a realistic variety of humbler vocations to complement Barbie’s new physiques? I doubt we’ll see Barbie singing in a church choir robe, sorting clothing donations for Salvation Army thrift stores, shucking clams in a seafood processing plant, earning her trade school certification as a plumber, or mining coal . . . her wardrobes would be limited, drab and probably less marketable. And Mattel would go broke trying to portray Barbie in every pursuit great & small.
Children have God-given healthy imaginations capable of combining fashion dolls, plastic soldiers and stuffed animals in whimsical scenarios outside of the manufacturer’s design. The original 1995 Toy Story’s opening scene demonstrates this wholesome creativity so well: Young Andy stages an elaborate “cops & robbers” fantasy with diverse toy characters. I observed and encouraged my daughters’ similar fanciful enactments throughout their formative years.
So back to my opening question: Do toys, especially dolls, have a positive roll to play in home-based sex education? If parents are dedicated to teaching discernment and integrating biblical values throughout daily life, then even their children’s playthings can be a means of acting out and reinforcing virtuous behavior. . . to my knowledge my daughters’ blue & pink My Little Pony™ couple is still married and probably celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary 🙂
Did you know Barbie is now 57 years old? I confess to fiendish delight in “authentic portrayals” of her aging process that are circulating online. . . it’s been good for my middle-aged self-esteem. 😀
Footnotes: ¹ http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/17/6-year-old-girls-sexy_n_1679088.html