“I’m a Barbie girl, in my Barbie world, life in plastic, it’s fantastic….” You may have hummed those words more than once and not even have known where they came from, only that they have been in the atmosphere of your world for quite some time. When I worked in residential treatment for adolescents with eating disorders, I remember a client using that music as her anorexic theme song. This was the song that portrayed her battle with the eating disorder before she saw the futile inauthenticity of it all and chose recovery instead. I don’t know if there is a person in this country who hasn’t been influenced by Barbie—her long blonde hair, flawless complexion, piercing blue eyes, full red lips, miniscule waist, lean legs, and large hips. For many girls, she has been the epitome of beauty and style. The problem is, however, that she is not realistic. If any real person had her same proportions, she wouldn’t even be able to stand up without support since the tiny, stiletto-heeled feet couldn’t support her height and top-heavy breasts. Yet, since her creation in 1959, the obsession has continued—at least until 2012 when sales began to fall. Our culture and the people in it were starting to question the deeper message this plastic icon was sending. Could girls really have a healthy dose of self-worth if they were striving toward an unhealthy, unrealistic goal? Not to mention, how could girls find identification with a stereotype when we in America are a melting pot of so many beautiful cultures? As sales declined for the last three years and various focus groups voiced their misgivings about Barbie, Mattel was forced to take notice, according to an article in Time by Eliana Dockterman. Just a few days ago, Mattel presented three new additional dolls: curvy, tall, and petite. In addition, a wide array of skin tones and hair colors accompany the Barbie dolls in an effort to appeal to many types of people. Apparently, expanding Barbie’s wardrobe to include a business suit or medical scrubs back in the 1970’s wasn’t enough to convey power, strength, and individuality.
As I read this article in Time and watch the video above, I admit I have mixed feelings. On one hand, I am proud of Mattel for recognizing that the stereotypical Barbie was sending an unfair message and not recognizing the beauty in people of all shapes and sizes. On the other hand, I feel disgusted that something like a doll could have so much influence on our culture, on our children, on our next generation. I am disgusted that because of a piece of plastic, millions of girls question if they are enough.
Yet, it is what it is. As a mom, I am constantly battling to help my daughters find their worth intrinsically, rather than extrinsically. I have to be intentional about helping them realize that they have beauty, capability, and purpose that is uniquely theirs, whether or not they look like Barbie. The temptation to compare and fit into others’ expectation will ALWAYS be there, but as a mom I have powerful influence over how my daughters see themselves. It really does start with me. If I complain about my body and degrade myself in front of my kids, they will feel the same about their bodies. If I lack grace and kindness toward myself when I make mistakes, they will be harsh and unyielding to themselves when they do as well. I confess giving myself grace and loving myself may be my biggest challenge yet, but I know what is at stake. If I am going to raise strong women who love themselves and others with compassion and conviction, I have to lead by example. I have to show them that even if they do not look like the original, petite, tall, or curvy Barbie in blonde or brown hair, porcelain or tanned skin, they are still fearfully and wonderfully made; they are ENOUGH.