This article was published today on Guardian online and it touches my life in more ways than one.
I liked Barbie dolls when I was little. I remember the first Barbie I had was this one, which I received as a birthday present from my mum in the late 80s. As I grew older, I became quite obsessed with how I looked. There was a point in my late teens when I’d never go out of my home without any makeup on. That was how bad it was. As I grew older and learnt more, I realised how silly I was, but I also recognised that my problem was partly caused by the way the media presents to women and girls its “ideal” of beauty – it was almost as if looking “pretty” (in the media-sanctioned way）was a prerequisite for a woman before people paid her any attention.
But the “beauty” portrayed in magazines and Barbie dolls were realistically unachievable. Even after a woman has dolled herself up, ready to face the day, there is always this constant, low-level anxiety stirring under the surface. This feeling that one is still not perfect. What’s perfection? Oh like a model or a Hollywood star… or maybe like a Barbie doll. Women are just constantly being told they are not good enough.
When my eldest daughter was an only child and a toddler, I noticed that she showed no interest in any of the stuffed dolls I bought her. When she grew older and started attending school and extracurricular activities, she received a few Bratz dolls and Barbie dolls as Christmas and birthday presents from others. I’d opened the packaging for her and put the dolls on her toy shelves, but they remained unplayed for a long time.
When my second daughter was a toddler, and my eldest was in school, they would play together at home. I remember seeing them play with the dolls on the odd day or so. Then the dolls will be put back on the shelves and forgotten.
Finally, when we were doing a spring clean of our home a few years ago, we decided to get rid of some of the toys as the toy shelf was over capacity with all the toys they’d accumulated over the years. I allowed them to pick a few toys they’d like to get rid of, so they’d have more space for new toys. My daughters unanimously agreed amongst themselves that the dolls – all of the dolls – must go.
And that was it.
We never saw any of the dolls again, and my daughters never asked for any dolls for their subsequent presents. In fact, prior to that, they’ve never asked for a doll as a present for Christmas or birthdays!
My daughters were never too fussed about dressing to impress. They usually either wear the same outfit they’ve worn for the past week, or if it happens to be one of those days when they do put a little more thought into what they wear （usually at my behest, because we’re going somewhere more “dressy”), they will put some thought into what they wear, but only on their own terms. They are very picky with what they’ll wear, but they only wear what pleases them, not what pleases others. I’m sure they’d be dressed in pjs everyday and everywhere if I allowed them to!
As an ex-Barbie lover, I was a little surprised upon discovering that none of my two daughters loved dolls. I suppose it could also be a blessing in disguise, knowing what I know as an adult about the sort of hidden messages these type of dolls send to young, impressionable girls. I know how these dolls can be part of the reasons why young girls have eating disorders and why generations of women became obsessed with being thin, having large boobs and looking young regardless of age.
I wasn’t always knowledgeable about feminism. I really only found out more about it a few years ago on an online forum, but by that time my eldest was already 6. Luckily she was never into dolls or cared much about that sort of thing at all.
Children don’t always give much thought to the hidden messages they constantly and unconsciously absorb from their environment. But as their parents, perhaps we should do more.