I never put a lot of stock in the idea that Barbie dolls promote negative body images for young girls. To think that adoring Barbie is going to cause my child to grow up expecting a size-0 waist and DD’s is as ridiculous as thinking that she’s one day going to expect her elbows to fuse into an “L” shape and that her head could pop off at will. Besides, Barbie isn’t such a bad role model. She’s impeccably clean, fashionable and her makeup is always just right. She’s pretty much got it going on–why be a hater?
So I buy my 4-year-old Barbie dolls. Lots of them. And everything is going just fine, until I realize that every one she wants is blond. “The yellow-haired ones are the prettiest,” she tells me. I try to explain that they’re all cast from the same plastic mold, just plugged with different colored hair; hence, there aren’t really degrees of pretty when it comes to Barbie. Have you ever seen an ugly Barbie? (The single exception being Western Barbie, but in her defense, it was the ‘80s.) Looking into the bin that houses Ava’s collection, it now occurs to me how colorless it is–less like life and more like the inhabitants of the Playboy Mansion.
When I was little, I was tall, blond and gangly, but always more Skipper than Barbie. And, truth be told, I fully expected that one day I’d have a golden-crowned Skipper of my own. My husband informed me otherwise.
“You know I’m Japanese, right?”
My daughter’s birth gave me the lesson in genetics that I must’ve slept though in Biology class: If your husband is even a fraction Japanese, your child will likely have beautiful brown eyes, dark hair and olive skin that tans just thinking about the sun. But there’s also the renegade gene that can show up unexpectedly. For Ava, it’s curly hair.
My daughter is stunning. My daughter is so not Barbie.
The breaking point was when she asked for a blond wig. I panicked. She hasn’t even lost her first tooth and she already wants to be someone else. I bought her a Jasmine doll, but her long hair tangled into a clumpy mess as soon as she was out of the box. She annoyed even me. Then I tried Snow White, but 7 dwarves don’t hold a candle to Ken.
A few days ago, Ava announced that she wanted straight hair “like Barbie.” I told her "no" and assured her that Barbie secretly covets brown curls.
“But you color your hair. And sometimes you make it straight.”
First, I do not color my hair. I highlight. And second, my hair is neither straight nor curly. It’s strurly.
Nonetheless, two seconds later I’m using a round brush and a blowdryer to straighten my daughter’s hair. It looked gorgeous. It was shiny and longer than I’d realized. It was not a better look, just a different one.
She raced to the mirror and took a long, adoring look. She smiled widely and tilted her to the side in approval.
“I look just like iCarly,” she sighed, running her fingers through her hair.
Of course. How could I’ve missed it? Ava is four. She wants to be a ballerina, an artist, teacher, pink Power Ranger and one of the Three Musketeers. She wants to stay little and grow up all at the same time. Today she eats peas, tomorrow she’ll claim she’s “allergic.” My daughter is trying to figure out her place in this messy world and a bin full of blond Barbies isn’t going to stifle that process. Sure, she’ll drift off course from time to time (does anyone remember tight-rolling their jeans?), but as long as my husband and I are there to reassure that she can do and be anything she wants, she’ll be just fine. Even wearing a blonde wig, if she so chooses.
That said, we do watch a little more “iCarly” these days.