After 50 years, is Barbie still a good playmate?

Barbie celebrated her 50th birthday yesterday and has seen a lot of controversy in her lifetime.

She’s been accused of being too voluptuous and a bad example for young girls giving them unrealistic expectations for how their bodies will turn out. She’s been accused of forcing girls into gender stereotypes.

What do you think? Is Barbie a bad playmate for your daughter?

My 7-year-old daughter loves her Barbies (and knock-off Barbies). She has more than 30 dolls living in the basement and her bedroom. There are very specific games going on with very specific outfits, and they are not to be touched. Her imagination runs wild and she and her Barbies are in whole other worlds.

Is playing with Barbie affecting her body image? Does she feel forced into certain gender roles because she likes dressing up her Barbies and fixing their hair?

I actually don’t think so – at least not in her case. I tried subtly asking her about her thoughts on Barbie on the way to Girl Scouts last night. Apparently, in my efforts not to prejudice the jury I was too obtuse. She yelled flustered from the back of the minivan, “What are you getting at?” I gave up.

I do know one little girl who is Asian and has dark black hair and olive skin. She told me once that the blond Barbies were the pretty ones. I felt terrible for her. I thought she doesn’t think she’s beautiful. She thinks the blond little girls are the pretty ones. From that experience, we have made sure that Rose has a variety of races for all her dolls.

What do you think: Can Barbie influence how little girls see themselves? Or is she just a toy and adults are reading way too much into it?

39 comments Add your comment

Becky

March 10th, 2009
8:22 am

No, I don’t thnk that she’s bad for girls..I have 15 nieces & tons of great nieces that have all had Barbies & none of them have ever had any issues with self esteem..I think it all depends on how the parents raise young girls..

JJ

March 10th, 2009
8:56 am

I never played with Barbies or dolls for that matter. I was always running with the boys. They had way more fun, and I wasn’t about to sit in my room and play with some dolls, when I could be outside, running, hiking, playing football, etc. Yes, I was a tomboy going up.

Either play with the dolls inside or go out and play outside. I chose to play outside!!!! Growing up with the Rocky Mountains for a back yard, I would much rather be outside. I still do.

My daughter very rarely played with Barbies either. She also wanted to be outside where the fun was…….

Jesse's Girl

March 10th, 2009
9:18 am

Barbie is an awesome play-pretty!! Most especially when The Boy needs something to tie on his trains and trucks:) The girls don’t really play with them too much anymore..occassionally they will spend a couple of hours with them and the huge Barbie mansion we built for them. But that happens less and less frequently these days. It makes me sad as that is just another sign of my girls growing up:( I do think it would be a good idea to have an obese Barbie that kids can register online like a Wekinz. You could get coupons for a leaner/more fit Barbie after you show online that you have purchased nutritious snacks and meals for her and have her exercising regularly. Alhough, I suppose spending time at a computer sort of negates a healthier lifestyle for the fat kids.

FCM

March 10th, 2009
9:27 am

Like her better than Bratz. Wish I had her wardrobe! (and figure–although if she were ‘real’ she would fall over).

new mom

March 10th, 2009
9:29 am

Morning everyone!

I loved my barbies when I was little. I didn’t have a ton, but the ones I had I adored. Especially the ones that were kinda gimicky–Western barbie winked if you pushed a button on her back (a painfully slow wink, exposing way-too bright blue eyeshadow) and ballerina barbie, who kicked her leg when you pushed her back button. She also had a crown in her head, which left a horrible gaping hole when i dug it out of her head! Anyone else have one of those weird knock-offs that had blonde hair and brown hair, and you literally swiveled the top part of her head around to change her hair color? It was really bizarre.

I never felt like it was either dolls or playing outside. I did both! When it was nice out, I was either at the pool, swim team, playing w/ friends, riding my bike, etc. But if it was a cold or rainy day, I loved playing with my barbies, legos, reading books, etc.

I also never felt scarred because of barbie’s figure or hair color (I’m a brunette) My parents would laughingly say how ‘real ladies aren’t shaped like that!’ So I guess it never bothered me, or made me feel bad about myself. I mean really, I was the one telling what the barbies what to do–I was in charge! :)

Amy

March 10th, 2009
10:18 am

I had tons of Barbies growing up and absolutely loved them! It never affected me in a negative way. Honestly no doll really looks like an exact replica of people, so why would Barbie? And if anything she helped my self image because there were Barbie teachers, veterinarians, astronauts, etc. I thought if Barbie could do anything, so could I. I also had Barbies of different races and had a few non-blonde Barbies who I thought were even more beautiful than the traditional blonde ones!

I would play with her and then run outside to ride my bike or rollerblade. Sometimes a child can only play outside for so long and Barbie kept my attention when I was indoors. I really think she prevented me from watching hours of television and playing hours of videogames like many other kids were doing, and she helped me use my imagination instead.

JJ

March 10th, 2009
10:38 am

Apparently my post made me sound a bit snobbish. Sorry about that, not my intention.

It’s just that in the neighborhood I grew up in, the girls all stayed inside and played “house” and dolls, and I just wasn’t into that.

They boys were having way more fun and I wanted to run with them. Yes the girls did come outside, but they didn’t want to get dirty, play kick ball, hide N seek, hike, play football, etc. I did have many girlfriends, but I didn’t like dolls. Just like clowns, they creep me out. My mom said I never had a baby doll when I was little. She said I was always playing army men or something with my brother. There were alot more boys in my ‘hood than girls.

So, sorry if I came off snobby…….it wasn’t my intent…..

RJ

March 10th, 2009
10:42 am

I still have my Barbie dolls from the 70’s and my daughter has about 30 from the 90’s. As an African American I made sure my daughter had more black barbies than white. Her Barbie room, Barbie backpack, lunchbox,etc had to have a picture of black Barbie or I wouldn’t buy it. It was easier back then, because now my brother can’t find those things for his daughter. Her body isn’t an issue. I never looked at Barbie and wished for her body as a kid and I doubt that most kids do. However, her race is very important. Whatever your race, kids need to see images of themselves and know that they’re beautiful as they are, not the white man’s opinion of beauty. But, that’s another blog.

I’ve seen on of my dolls being sold on ebay for $300. Will definitely pass that one down to my granddaughter.

Jesse's Girl

March 10th, 2009
11:23 am

I didn’t think you sounded snobby at all JJ! I never had time for Barbie either. If I wasn’t pretending to be Linda Ronstadt ro Olivia Newton-John, then I was in my grandmother’s basement playing in her old high heels! I don’t even remember having baby dolls!!!

Cammi317

March 10th, 2009
11:52 am

I played with Barbies growing up and so did my sisters and all of my friends. My daughter used to play with them as well. Like my mother did for me, I brought her dolls of all skin tones. Albeit, my choices growing up were Christie a/k/a Black Barbie, Barbie and the dark-haired Barbie….LOL. This past weekend my daughter gave away about 10 of her Barbies to some little girls who do not have much. She held on to four with sentimental value. She still has about a dozen or so Bratz that she wants to save. She stopped playing with all of them last summer. I don’t like some of the outfits that either Bratz or Barbies wear, but beyond that I don’t see the big deal. I never knew of any one who actually wanted to BE Barbie. That’s crazy. Cabbage Patch Kids were popular, but no one wanted to be one. It was just a doll with a bunch of fun accessories.

DB

March 10th, 2009
12:33 pm

Ah, Barbie! I’m old enough, ladies, to have had the original Barbie, which I received as a Christmas present in 1959, the one with the black-and-white striped bathing suit! Back then, kids didn’t have multiple Barbies — you had a Barbie, and later on, you had a Ken, a Midge and a Skipper. Maybe one other Barbie, if you have a very indulgent grandmother! :-) You could buy a new outfit for her for an entire $1, so of course I would save my 25 cent weekly allowance for weeks to buy a new outfit — it would be secured to a piece of cardboard with string, and part of the fun would be trying to figure out how best to get the string off in one piece! I still have her, but of course, not in the original box (what 3 year old saved the box?!?), and I had a TON of clothes, because that was the favored birthday gift back in the day. I was pretty careful with them, and when my daughter was 4, she was playing with some of the vintage clothing with her Barbie. A friend came over and started to hyperventilate when she saw my daughter playing with a Midge with a green satin and net ball gown. She was a collector, and she literally snatched it out of my daughter’s hand and gave it back to me, saying, “Do you have any idea what this is worth?!?!” I told her that I had saved them in case I had a little girl, and it was fulfilling its highest and best use — it was being enjoyed. It seems like these days, no one buys the outfits — they just buy a new Barbie. My daughter only had two or three Barbies — she was more into American Girl dolls and Pocket Polly.

I never felt like I had to look like Barbie — Barbie was a DOLL, for heaven’s sake, she wasn’t real. However, it was the fuss over supermodels like Twiggy in the 60’s that didn’t help the self-image of a young teenage girl whose genetic heritage included generous boobs and curves. She was REAL!

Theresa, I think that sometimes adults read too much into kid’s comments such as your little Asian friend’s comment about the blonde Barbie. I doubt she was comparing herself to the Barbie — she probably just liked the blonde Barbie’s shiny blonde hair. I mean, you and I can admire pretty hair on someone else without thinking that we had to look like that in order to look pretty. Give the kid some credit.

Kathy

March 10th, 2009
12:47 pm

new mom….I had western Barbie too! Did you have western Ken and the horse? I still have my Barbies, my purple Barbie Corvette and the inflatable furniture…anyone else have the inflatable furniture?!? My grandmother made my Barbies clothes, which I still have also. I can’t wait to introduce Little E to Barbie. She is still a little young I think. My brother and I used to have the most fun playing with my Barbies and his Star Wars action figures. In our house, Han Solo was in love with Barbie, not Princess Leia!!

Stacey

March 10th, 2009
1:43 pm

DB…My sister had two really old Barbies. They both wore the black and white striped bathing suits but the oldest one and flat feet and when you untied her ponytail, you found that she only had hair around the edges! (LOL) The other one had the more “traditional” Barbie look and a full head of hair but you could still tell that she was old. When I would spend the night with her (she’s 16 yrs older) she would take them out of her cedar chest and let me sit on her bed and play with them.

new mom – Another sister had the Ballerina Barbie. If I remember correctly, she was on a stand and when you turned the crown she would stick her leg out slightly and “twirl”. My niece had a Barbie whose hair “grew” when you pressed the button on her back.

Stacey

March 10th, 2009
1:52 pm

Not to hijack the blog, but did any of you play with paper dolls? I LOVED them as a child and they were relatively cheap so I bought them all of the time! I don’t why this thread made me think about them because I don’t think I’ve seen any in 25 years!

Becky

March 10th, 2009
2:01 pm

Stacey, I loved paper dolls..I played with them all the time..I’m like JJ, I never played with Barby dolls..IN fact, I never had one & I’m 47..
I actually have a book with Shirley Temple paper dolls that I’m giving to my granddaughter for her 7th birthday in June..

Theresa Giarrusso

March 10th, 2009
2:12 pm

Hey Stacey –now they have expensive paper dolls at the bookstore –they’re a more sturdy card stock and they come with premade little outfits that you can put on top of them.

My mom used to sew all her Barbie and baby’s clothes. It was an amazing way to learn such an important skill.

Now she’s working on a project with my daughter and my niece — She’s sewing silky adorable sleeping bags for all their American Girl dolls. she’s trying to teach my daughter to sew since she has shown an interest.

Theresa Giarrusso

March 10th, 2009
2:14 pm

Hey Guys — also off topic but I wanted to mention that I believe Jesse’s Girl’s birthday is tomorrow!!

JJ

March 10th, 2009
2:19 pm

I too had paper dolls. It drove me crazy that those damn tabs you had to fold over, wouldn’t stay on the dolls.. ha ha…..oh memories…..

Happy early Birthday to Jessie’s Girl!!!!!! Here’s a margarita for ya!!! Do you like salt?

anne

March 10th, 2009
2:26 pm

My sister and I were talking about this just last night. She reminded me that she had a Midge and I had Francine. Our youngest sister got a Barbie and the Dream House.

Stacey – I also loved my paper dolls. My daughter received American Girl paper dolls as a gift and has a great time playing with them!

Gram

March 10th, 2009
2:28 pm

I played with Barbies as a young girl, starting with the very first one, and I never desired to look like her. (Do you think your child would want to look like one of those Bratz dolls?) Give your kids more credit. My daughter played with Barbies, and now my own 5 y.o. granddaughter is playing with them. They are a part of growing up. Do you think little boys want to be like G.I. Joe? Let’s get real here. I think kids know the difference between a toy and real life.

new mom

March 10th, 2009
2:56 pm

JJ, I didn’t think you sounded snobbish either! I thought maybe I was weird, since I did the outside stuff and had my barbies too. No worries here!

Kathy, I didn’t have any of the other western folks (ken, etc.). I never got into much furniture, I mostly had a few dolls and outfits, and played with them wherever I could. My best friend did have a barbie dream house, and I was in heaven when I played there!

Stacey, you’re probably right about the ballerina barbie and the stand and twirling…I was never one to play with toys exactly the way they were meant (hence ripping off her crown) I would love to dress up my barbies, but I HATED any stuffed animal to wear clothes. They had to be naked, even if I had to cut the clothes off. It drove everyone crazy, but to this day I hate to see some bear wearing clothes. I’m trying not to pass that bit of craziness on to our daughter…

Happy Birthday (early) Jessie’s Girl! :)

JJ

March 10th, 2009
3:12 pm

New Mom, I’m the same way. Hated clothing on stuffed animals.

Now, dressing up the cats, that was fun!!! I used to put the clothes that came on my “stuffies” on our cats. We used to laugh our butts off.

My daughter and her cousins used to dress up my mom’s cat and strap him in their doll stroller. That poor cat was so abused, but he loved those girls…….everytime they spent the night at Grammy’s he would sleep with them.

atlantaz3

March 10th, 2009
3:21 pm

I never had Barbie growing up. I’m sure mom thought they were too gimicky and expensive. They let me loose in a toy store when I was about five, I picked a stuffed NY Giants football player – it was soft.
The closest I came to Barbie was a knock off that twirled a baton – I was a majorette. My two cents a doll’s appearance should not affect a girl’s self esteem. Parents need to instill values in their children – not marketing.

Catwoman

March 10th, 2009
3:29 pm

We just returned from a camping trip & Barbie went, too! My daughter is as crazy about Barbies as I was & she has all of my “vintage” stuff—including my 35-yr.-old huge Barbie RV! I played outside too but I usually took Barbie along…she rode in my bike basket, in my backpack, etc. My kids love Barbie & GI Joe and I’m sewing clothes and sleeping bags for them just like my mama & aunt did for me (which I still have). My daughter has dolls of all races & I don’t think it warps her self image…I think that has more to do with how the kids are raised than with their toys!

Becky

March 10th, 2009
3:32 pm

Happy Birthday Jesses Girl…Hope it’s a wonderful day for you..

motherjanegoose

March 10th, 2009
3:41 pm

I too had one of the oldest Barbies ( brown bouffant), Skipper and Ken whose felt hair eventually rubbed off…are you with me DB?
My sister had Midge and Alan. My ( now 16) daughter gave my original Skipper in the red striped swim suit a haircut and ruined her….LOL!
I have all that stuff in the basement and who know what all is in there. I always remember that we COULD NOT keep up with those dang shoes. If you ever stepped on one: OUCH!
My cousin had a CARDBOARD Barbie dream house…does that date me?
Our ( the 3 year old) daughter had a pink barbie convertible and one time we turned the house upside down looking for my husband’s keys. Our son came running out of our daughter’s bedroom to proudly tell us that the key ring was in the Barbie car…memories!
Happy Birthday Jesse’s Girl…I am off to Minnesota YOU BETCHA…want me to toss a snow ball your way tomorrow? Happy thoughts will be sent your way but they may be frozen….hahaha!
Glad we can wish you the best on your day and hopefully the cranky posters who gave me grief ( when I mentioned that my birthday was on the same day as NewMom’s baby girl ) will leave you alone.
I am trying to pack some sunshine into my suitcase for tomorrow….LOL!

jess

March 10th, 2009
3:48 pm

My son played with Barbie from early age and continued to through puberty. He’s now a financially successful clothing designer, though living a totally unconventional lifestyle, surrounded by pretty men and only a few women. I’d have to say Barbie was a big influence.
Happy B’day girl.

jess

March 10th, 2009
3:49 pm

Just teasing. Didn’t really happen

JJ

March 10th, 2009
3:56 pm

I had a ton of stuffed animals instead of barbies. When we moved here in 1977, we packed them all into a huge box, and when we bought the house here, the box got thrown into the basement where it sat for about 5 years. Then my parents were getting ready to move, and my Mom and I found the box of “Stuffies”. We opened the box, and took them out one by one, and laughed at the memories. Then we found all my Winnie the Pooh stuffies. My favorite was Kanga and Roo. Roo was a little finger puppet and I carried Kanga and Roo EVERYWHERE with me. When my Mom pulled Kanga out, we both looked at each other and my mom started to cry. She said I couldn’t have them, she wanted to keep them. So I agreed. I was about 25 and she told me how she remembered they went everywhere with me………awwwww…..

I now have my box of stuffies, and my daughter played with some of them when she was little. The box is now in my basement…..hopefully one day my grandkids will play with them.

I also have two outfits (and a pair of shoes) I wore as a toddler, that my daughter also wore as a toddler. My mom has a picture of me in the outfit, and a picture of my daughter in the same outfit, down to the shoes, about the same age, in a frame next to it. Too cute.

Becky

March 10th, 2009
4:02 pm

JJ, that’s cute..I have a box of “stuff” that my 2 want me to save, so that their children can wear them…

Grumpy old man

March 10th, 2009
4:23 pm

I realize this is off the subject but I am a 73 years old man and I still have my first handsewn baby quilt. Barbie and Ken came along too late for me but not for my daughters.

PJ

March 10th, 2009
4:23 pm

My friends & I played with Barbies growing up in the 60s and loved them. We played with them inside, took them to friends’ houses, played with them out in the yard, took them to the park — wherever we played, we took Barbie. She was a great catalyst for imagination and creativity. With Barbie & Midge and a coople of outfits, I could create a whole world in my mind and occupy myself for hours. This also created an environment for me and my friends to play together and feed off each other’s creativity. In my childhood, Barbie fostered imagination, growth, collaboration, and self-esteem (Barbie could go anywhere and do anything). All of these are traits that have served me well in my adult life.

Regarding all the hoopla I’ve read about Barbie’s figure and girls’ body images, I don’t remember even being aware of Barbie’s figure. I was more interested in her life (that is, the life my imagination gave her.)

new mom

March 10th, 2009
5:14 pm

Grumpy old man, that is so sweet that you still have your baby quilt! I hope your family cherishes it too.

catlady

March 10th, 2009
5:45 pm

I still have my original Barbies and Ken (with painted on hair, MJG, which came before the fuzzy hair) and Midges and the little carrying cases, some looking like a closet. I also have the clothes my grandmother crocheted for them. I remember getting to buy an outfit almost every week for 99 cents and the expensive wedding dress set was 1.25 I think. I had the gown like Cinderella’s as well. I even had a Barbie that had different colored wigs. I remember when they came out with ones with bendable legs! Ooh!

I also played with paper dolls. I would go to the dimestore to get them. I still have some, like Chatty Cathy. I also made many, many paper dolls over the years–whole families of them!

I also played with the button box. Anyone remember that? You could sort them all kinds of ways on a rainy day. (Kids today would think you were nuts). My mom had some of my dad and granddad’s old army buttons in there, too, and some from my clothes when I was little, and some sparkly ones.

How I enjoyed those activities, and it never occured to me to feel awkward because I did not have Barbie’s shape. Of course, I don’t think the negative messages girls get now were nearly so pervasive back then, except for the emphasis on keeping your husband’s collars white!

Does anyone remember some of the old advertising on TV? L-A-V-A, L-A-V-A, that is the handsoap! Rinso white and Rinso bright! 20 Mule Team Borax!

Jesse's Girl

March 10th, 2009
5:55 pm

AW!!!! Thanks y’all! Thats really sweet…..you’re a “doll” Theresa! Grumpy Old Man….My great grandmother never understood the Barbie craze. By the time I came along, she was just now appreciating the Chatty-Kathy doll she had bought for her daughter years before!!! She kept it for her grandchildren….and great-grandchildren. But that doll freaked me out!! I think that very doll was the catalyst for my fear of puppets, clowns and circus masks! Per the blanket/quilt comment….our son was given a quilt that I used as a baby. It was in perfect condition when he received it…now it has been folded over and swen 4 times and has huge holes all over it. But it has seen more love in 6 years than it ever did in the 10 years or so I carried it around:)

JATL

March 10th, 2009
7:00 pm

I LOVE Barbie! I had so much fun playing with Barbie, her accessories, Ken and their friends growing up. I was a total tomboy and spent loads of time outside, but on bad days and at night, I loved my dolls and Barbies. I had a Barbie car, jeep and pool and it kept me entertained for hours! My mother was so sad when I got too big for them. I’m a brunette and have never had a perfect figure, but I never felt like I had a bad self-image due to Barbie. I don’t think I ever expected myself or anyone I knew to look like her in real life because she is a doll! I remember acting out a lot of emotions and dreams (Solid Gold dancer anyone?) through my Barbies, and I think dolls like that can be really helpful for kids. If a child has to look to Barbie to get lessons in self esteem and positive self image, I don’t think the parents are doing a very good job.

fk

March 10th, 2009
7:34 pm

I had “twist-and-turn” talking Barbie with the bendable legs. That Barbie was a big deal way back when. I had only one friend who was into “playing Barbie.” Most days we were out running around with the boys, but on those rainy of summer, the Barbies came out. Never into the paperdolls, but every one of my friends had “Beautiful Chrissy” dolls, with hair that “grew”.

DB

March 10th, 2009
8:47 pm

I had the cardboard house, too — with the cardboard furniture that you punched out and folded, and then had to tape later to keep Tab A into Slot A. I had the house, my BFF had the pink car, and we would sit in her backyard for hours and hours under a tree playing Barbies. She was teasing me, at our 30th HS reunion a few years ago, that I always insisted on being Ken! I had the “Beauty Shoppe Barbie”, too, with the heads with the different hair that you popped on and off, and little tiny pink curlers.

My other favorites were Chatty Cathy and Suzie Smart, who came with her own desk and blackboard. There was also Tressa, who had a button in her back that you pushed and her hair would grow. My grandmother crocheted lots of clothes for my Barbies, and does anyone remember the “patterns” for Barbie clothes? They were printed on a piece of fabric, which you would cut out and then sew together. I LOVED those, even though the clothes weren’t very sturdy!

And paper dolls — oh, yes, those were SOO much fun. Hours and hours in the car, driving back and forth to grandma’s, with the paper dolls. It was always an easy sale for my parents at the toy store — the paper doll book was always pretty inexpensive. I really liked it when they started making them so you could punch the dolls and their clothes out, instead of having to cut them — I was always cutting off the tabs that secured the clothes!

And, in case I don’t make it here tomorrow: Happy Birthday, Jesse’s Girl!

Kork

March 19th, 2009
12:47 pm

Please – Barbie is NOT the evil thing she’s made out to be by the so-called experts. I grew up with about a dozen or so Barbies of varying hair color, eye color, and wardrobe…never once have I felt that I should look like Barbie…I knew she was a DOLL…a TOY…not an icon, not something toward which I should aspire as far as her physical appearance…if anything, I wanted to be like Barbie, because then I would be a doctor…or a teacher, or a career-woman, or a ranch owner, or a designer, or anything I wanted to be! I think that Barbie might have begun as a “fashion doll”, but morphed into so very much more, showing girls everywhere that they could be whatever they wanted. I still have the most sentimental of my Barbies, and the large box of clothing. I remember thinking how much I wanted a new Barbie, and saving my allowance until I could afford the $12 for her…and then, getting wise to the fact that I didn’t need the doll, just the clothing and accessories…and would spend HOURS during my summer vacations, and on Saturday mornings, when it was too hot or too cold to be outside in the same Rocky Mountains that JJ grew up in, with my 3 older brothers playing with their G.I.Joes, making up stories, creating lives and decorating their house…and when I tired of that, we’d play with Matchbox cars, or Legos, or we’d read books, or draw or color…or we’d play outside with our wading pool, and run around the yard being superheroes, or playing Battlestar Galactica, or Buck Rogers, or Star Trek, or Star Wars, or Freeze Tag…

If there are women out there who feel Barbie objectifies women, or locks us into gender roles, I feel badly for them, that they are caught up in what a toy might or might not imply to children. We make our own roles in life…and not being taught to think and act for yourself is the true issue, not how a doll makes you feel.