Imagine The Possibilities: Barbie, Equality and How We Raise Our Girls

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Regular readers of my blog will know that I feel strongly about equality. I’m a feminist (a proud one!) and I want my five-year-old daughter to grow up knowing she can work towards any career. We often have conversations where she tells me that pink is for girls and blue is for boys, or that girls can’t play football as it’s a sport for boys. I know she’s saying it because she’s repeating things she’s heard other kids say – and because she’s growing up in a world that still pushes gender stereotypes, despite our best efforts to balance things off. We’ve bought her a broad range of toys over the years – yes she has dolls, a kitchen, a play house, princess dresses and tea sets but she also has a train set, a football, super hero costumes, cars and puzzles.

Despite this, my daughter has gravitated towards pink, towards princesses, towards dolls. And I’m OK with that (I wrote about this a while back, over here). On a standard Saturday morning, you’re likely to find her wearing a frilly, silky dress, a pink bejewelled crown, pushing her baby in its buggy, as she plays at going to the shop to buy groceries for the day. Sometimes she drops the baby off at nursery too, and goes off to work (in her princess dress – what will her colleagues say?!).

On her fifth birthday, recently, she was given her first ever Barbie doll. It was a moment which was met with mixed emotions from me. I grew up OBSESSED with Barbie. Totally ob-SESSED. I had My First Barbie, Crystal Barbie, Peaches ‘n’ Cream Barbie, Skipper, Ken, a silver car, a Barbie house – pretty much every birthday and Christmas for me from the age of 5 to 8 was all about Barbie. As the mum of a small girl, I try to be mindful of the body image issues facing young girls in particular, and I think that what’s probably just as important as the toys she plays with, are the messages that come from me. Which is why I’m careful never to criticise my body or hers (or anyone’s body for that matter) and why I talk to her about diversity.

Body image aside, when I see her play with her Barbie doll, I know that she’s playing in her own way – Barbie can be a mum, a teacher, a police officer, a fire fighter, a shop owner, a bus driver or a doctor. Her Barbie doll is a vehicle for her imagination.

Mattel, who make Barbie, have launched a new campaign called Imagine the Possibilities, and the campaign video is amazing.

These girls are playing with Barbie just like my daughter does, and when I first watched the video, it brought tears to my eyes – mainly because I love the empowering message and I feel so strongly that girls should be encouraged to follow their dreams and ignore any sexist constraints that society tries to place on them.

We’ve come so far since the days of women not having the vote, women being restricted to “unskilled labour” jobs which paid less than the jobs held by men, women being expected to stay at home to raise the children while the men went out to work. We’re at a point now where it’s up to us to keep pushing for equality, and the way we raise our daughters (and sons) is key to this.

So when I see girls – in this video and also in my living room – playing with Barbie in a way which gives me a glimpse into their imagination and the possibilities they see for themselves and their future, it makes me giddy with excitement.

What do you think? How much importance do you place on the toys your children play with versus the messages they hear from you and the world around them?

 

This post was commissioned by Mattel. As always, all views are my own.

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14 Comments

  1. November 3, 2015 / 8:01 am

    Fair play to Mattel for trying to change the stereotype. I think they have a long way to go, particularly with the body image the doll still represents in a world that is obsessed by size and shape, Barbie still shows us a unachievable representation of the female form.

    • Alison Perry
      November 3, 2015 / 11:23 am

      It really fills me with hope when toy companies seem to GET IT. I share your body image concerns when it comes to raising our girls – I’m so careful to talk about diversity and what’s ‘normal’ with my 5yo.

  2. November 3, 2015 / 10:52 am

    Loved this ad & the message behind it, encouraging our children to be free to grow & aspire to be what ever they want to be, with gender not being a limitation. But agree with the point raised above, about the body image issue surrounding barbie, & similar toys. Having said that, I feel like if we just let our children be little, & guide them as best we can, & encourage them to make their own choices/ decisions in a world full of mixed up messages/ stereotypes/ body image issues, & place the importance on this instead of a material object(s) that is the way forward.
    However, one step at a time & all that jazz- & it’s certainly a step in the right direction in terms of feminine equality . ‘Knees up like a unicorn’ hey?
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    • Alison Perry
      November 3, 2015 / 11:24 am

      LOVED the knees up like a unicorn bit!

  3. November 3, 2015 / 1:26 pm

    I loved that film! This is an interesting one for me as my girls don’t have Barbies. Not because i’m against Barbie but they are just not into that sort of stuff. Florence is a football obsessed, judo playing, tennis playing, hockey playing sports girl who wears nothing but football kits! India hasn’t really expressed any interest in Barbie as yet, although I did catch an episode of Barbie in the dream house (or whatever, on Netflix) and she won’t be watching that again in a hurry (it’s awful!)

    I say let kids be kids and play with whatever makes them happy, regardless of what genitals they happen to be born with! I have to be all about equality, raising both girls and a boy. It’s harder than you might think not letting ‘girl power’ over take the equality for all.
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  4. November 3, 2015 / 11:09 pm

    My daughter is working through categorising things are “girlish” and “boyish”. It’s just the natural desire to order life, I think, but I do keep talking about things that fall outside the narrow categories she’s describing. I’m not anti-Barbie (a friend left one here and I haven’t thrown it out or anything) but I did have to encourage her to watch something else when she started watching the show on Netflix the other day because it’s just so materialistic. I think that bothers me more than the doll’s body shape, which is so unreal anyway, I doubt most children pattern their body image on it (though I haven’t really looked into this that much, it’s just my current thought). It’s good that they’re branching out a bit more with the imaginative play, though.
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  5. November 4, 2015 / 10:57 am

    I love the video. Like you, I was a huge Barbie fan. I had Cindy’s and other makes too but my Barbies were the best! I loved how she could be anything and think that playing in this way gave me confidence as a child. Looking back, I never really thought of the body issues as a child. I always knew that she was a plastic doll, just like oddly shaped lego figures or rag dolls really. I can see why people worry but I do wonder if we overthink things a bit too much nowadays. x
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  6. November 4, 2015 / 11:07 am

    What great message! It’s absolutely right that we should avoid gender stereotypes. My eldest boys favourite toy is his ikea kitchen and both of my boys argue over who has the pink plate and cup at tea time, it’s their favourite colour!

    Clare x
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  7. November 4, 2015 / 9:51 pm

    I loved Sindy dolls when I was little! My girls have a few but none of them are that bothered by Barbie… I think it’s more important the messages that they hear from me than the shape of the toys they paly with. I never looked at my dolls and thought I needed to be those proportions… and my girls just think they look funny when they have no clothes on [the dolls that is!}
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  8. November 7, 2015 / 7:37 am

    I really loved this video and shared it on my twitter. It was really such an adorable and powerful message. I think Barbie gets stick sometimes for being a bit too girly but I think things have changed a lot. My girl reviews a lot of their products and this year she has had all sorts to play with including superheroes. I went to an all girls school till I was 18 so I have never ever felt that I couldn’t achieve everything. So I have always had that mentality which I will pass onto my two x
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  9. November 7, 2015 / 6:34 pm

    Good on Mattel for accepting there is still a problem and trying to address it. I love the film and let’s face it playing with barbies obviously didn’t do you any harm 🙂 I guess that’s the thing, it’s not the toys we give our kids, it’s the examples we set them and things we teach them that counts too xx

  10. November 8, 2015 / 9:02 pm

    I was never allowed Barbie dolls when I was a kid so I developed a bit of a thing for them in my mid-teens. I blame Shampoo! It’s weird hearing my kids talk about what they perceive to be for boys or for girls. It does bother me but I’m trying to take a less militant stance as I think it’s just a phase they all go through. My oldest now knows to say to the youngest ‘there’s no such things as girls’ colours, just colours!’ so I feel confident they’ll both come through it!
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  11. January 12, 2017 / 2:13 pm

    What about Burka Barbie? Is she included?
    Just a thought…hehehe
    Well actually it is a genuine question as that art exhibition doll did cause quite a stir.
    I wouldn’t worry too much about what your kids play with etc… More specifically about HOW they play with their toys.
    Whatever happens will happen – probably.
    Is it such a bad thing if a little girl playing with “girlie” things in a “girlie” way. Is that any worse than trying to force them to play with their toys in an “inclusive/equality” kind of way?
    Let kids be kids and when they are playing let them express themselves.

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