Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Barbie's Not the Devil (But I Still Don't Like Her)

How can I teach my kids to be kind to each other and to themselves? How can I teach them to be confident, inquisitive, happy children? Children that will gradually grow into young adults and then, unbelievably, adults.

As far as body image and beauty are concerned, I tend to focus on my daughter; I understand a woman's point of view and all that it covers. Also because it's hard to argue with the fact that there is a more intense, incessant stream of unrealistic images depicting what girls, young women, and adult women should look like.

Currently, at age 3, my daughter appears to think of her looks very little. She's blissfully unaware of the oiled, tanned bodies that lurk behind the glossy magazine covers and the scantily-clad women depicted as enviable on the screen. She prefers to wear her favorite polka dot shirt and orange-striped pants-- it appears that to her, clothes must simply be comfortable and colorful. She wants her hair out of her face; a barrette I place in her hair each morning takes care of that.

When will things shift? When will she begin to wonder if she's pretty? When will she wonder if she's thin or curvy or sexy enough? When will she learn that our culture places disproportional value and importance on women's looks? I hold my breath, I thinking of those moments. Of her wheels turning, urging a second or third glance in the mirror.

What can I do as her mother to help her navigate a world that places such a high value on female perfection? Because regardless of what I'm up against, I will continue to protect her the best that I can.

Though I have few perfect solutions, I make attempts.

I make a conscious effort to focus on her accomplishments, her talents, and her interests more than her physical beauty. She loves painting, soccer, horses, and people. I encourage those passions. I praise those interests.

I don't make negative comments about myself in front of her. My daughter doesn't need to hear her mother complain about her her burgeoning wrinkles-- is there a more horrible expression than “crow's feet” anyway?-- or whatever else is nagging at my psyche at the moment. Come to think of it, I don't need to hear it either.

I take other measures too, some less conventional.

I admit to censoring “fat” and “thin” from children's books. Why incorporate such loaded words into her developing vocabulary? How do you define thin and fat to a toddler?

Gird your loins Disney fans, but we aren't pushing her into the whole Princess Thing either. I can hardly make myself read the endings to those saccharine stories where every single time a prince comes and saves the desperate princess with a kiss. I would rather buy a Minion or Paw Patrol character over a Cinderella figurine any day.

I want my daughter to keep exploring, learning, and growing. 

I don't buy Barbies. I protect her from that aisle at the store, taking the long way to avoid the rows and rows of impossible-looking dolls. No, I don't think Barbie is the Devil. I don't even think the media is exclusively to blame for eating disorders and body image concerns. But I certainly don't think they help the matter.

I do think my daughter is beautiful-- all pink cheeks, soft little hands, and clear, bright eyes. I hope that every mother sees her children as beautiful. I don't think there's anything inherently harmful in thinking our daughters are pretty. I like to feel good about my appearance too; I love a cute new dress and bright raspberry lipstick, and I won't deprive her of the fun of clothes and make-up as she gets older.

The point is this: beauty is not all we are. My daughter's appearance does not make her the spirited, energetic, creative person that she is. I refuse to let it define her, and you can be sure as hell I'm trying to shield her from anyone or anything that implies the opposite.

What are you protecting your child from in this crazy, mixed-up modern world? Or are you of the notion that we cannot ever truly protect them so we shouldn't try? 

~Julia @ Frantic Mama

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  1. This is an interesting point you bring up. I actually just scheduled a post about how the new barbies (tall, curvy, petite) are banned from my home. The original barbie and all its variations in ethnicity or hair length/color are fine. I don't remember even thinking about her size nor did I want to be like that. I do think that the new barbies draw attention size and shape based off of comparison if nothing else. At such a young age kids don't need that element to even be there in my opinion. They are fully aware of it in real life but does it need to be there for dolls?

    For us we would like to focus on modesty if we have a daughter especially when she gets older. Be it with dolls or her own clothing. We also agree with focusing on accomplishments more than physical beauty.

    1. Thank you for your thoughts, Jenna! I did happen to catch a glance of the new line-up of Barbies, but I still think they're pretty unrealistic. I'm not buying those either! A family member gave her a doll recently that I thought was much more appropriate-- it's a young girl, dressed in her school uniform. It came with a book about her and her talents. Not an American Girl doll (too expensive!), but a similar idea.

  2. You are a beautiful mommy! And the little miss is lucky to have a mommy like you!!! I have no little girl but come across many from my eight year old son's class! Most of them seem to grow up too soon and that makes me a little sad. Little girls must stay little for longer. You put so much thought into this and even though as a woman I give into a lot of vain twaddle, I absolutely completely agree!!
    And this inspires me to make my boys grow into young men who are capable of looking beyond the physical aspect of beauty!

    1. Thanks so much, Swati. I really do try to do right by her. I give into "vain twaddle" too, of course, but I want to prevent my daughter from having to deal with that for as long as possible! And yes, I plan on working hard to help my son value women's personalities and talents more than their physical beauty. One Mama at a time, one child at a time-- We can make a difference :).

  3. Very good thoughts. This is such an important topic in today's world.

    1. Thanks so much. I think about what the media portrays even more now that I am a mom.

  4. I feel you on the barbie issue. It's nice that they just introduced the new barbie bodies, but I'm not sure that it's enough. Kids get bombarded with "ideal" bodies/stereotypes from all directions. It's less talked about, but even boys see the six packs and slick male models, and I think they feel like they have to achieve that look to be attractive. On the flip side, I think girls/women see it and are influenced to think that's the ideal male body type. And it's hard to resist that thinking even when you're aware you're thinking of it that way.

    In other news... I thought it was weird that you hadn't posted here for a while. Turns out you'd disappeared from my feed reader. So, sorry about that. I wasn't intentionally ignoring your posts.

    1. Yes, there is definitely an ideal male body type in every magazine too. This piece focused on my daughter, but I also intend to write one about sons and the issues they face as they grow up. Already, people constantly talk about how tall their boys are and what "percentile" they are on the growth chart (if they are in the 90's). It's ridiculous.
      As for the new Barbies, yeah, those still aren't cutting it for me either. We can do better than that! If I had to pick a doll, those American Girl ones (or the less expensive Target ones) seem more appropriate to me. They come with stories about the girls and their hobbies, interests, and goals in life. Much more important to me than big boobs and a tiny waist!

  5. Yes yes yes to all of this! You are my soul-mom, I am with you on this. I have a school-age son and twin daughters (toddlers) and I have really started thinking about this topic a lot. Even blogged about it a few weeks ago, how to fight the stereotypes of gender roles in my own family. It's already hard, can't even imagine what happens when they hit puberty.

    1. Thank you, Erin! I love me a soul sister when it comes to Motherhood! I just read your post on gender stereotypes-- loved it. I also do the queen thing over the princess thing. Why on earth not promote Queen (i.e. leader, ruler, powerful) over Princess? Love it!


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