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Playing with Barbie dolls won’t destroy self-esteem

Does Barbie’s image need a makeover or do parents just need to relax?

Mattel recently launched a public-relations blitz designed to counter the perception that Barbie’s statuesque physique puts little girls in danger of morphing into a defeated army of self haters.

Who has the dirty mind here?

Mattel, maker of the classic 55-year-old toy and cultural lightning rod, introduced what they are calling “The Barbie Project” with a short video that shows little girls engaged in imaginative play with their dolls.

Titled Don’t tell kids how to play with Barbies, the video shows girls using their Barbie dolls to role play as educators, scientists, athletes, coaches, artists and more. The underlying message is clear — the grown-ups are the ones who have the problem with Barbie, not the kids.

Toys can’t create self-esteem

When we condemn Barbie for her unattainable body proportions, we’re part of the problem. We’re giving away all the power of our influence. If we react to Barbie as a sexed-up prototype of the female ideal, we’re sending our girls that message that, well, Barbie is the sexed-up image of the female ideal.

And yet, we fall all over ourselves to get girls to play with LEGOs because we think if they can build a spaceship out of tiny blocks they’ll be brimming with self-confidence.

I never thought twice about buying my kid a Barbie doll and here’s why — a toy doesn’t dictate how my child feels about her body or her (or his) intelligence. That’s my job.

Kids like Barbie, no matter what she looks like

Even my 5-year-old son loves to play with Barbie dolls, and we’ve spent many an afternoon up in my daughter’s room creating kingdoms filled with wacky characters who just happen to have the body measurements of a Playboy pinup.

I have fond memories of doing the same thing with my younger sister, using the space between our two twin beds to create an epic mansion. Never once do I recall taking even a second to compare Barbie’s body to my own, because I understood the difference between pretending and reality.

Kids love Barbies, and they have for more than five decades. And someone is buying them — otherwise, she’d have landed on the dust heap of history a long time ago, with the Glow Worm and Pet Rocks.

Sometimes, it’s really just a cigar

Grown-ups spend a lot of time over thinking what Barbie means to our culture. We have to remember that she was designed a long time ago, before the birth of modern feminism. She’s just a charming anachronism with a terrific wardrobe.

In other words, sometimes a cigar is really just a cigar.

More stories about Barbie

Promoting an unhealthy ideal: Barbie and Hollywood vs. reality
New tattooed Barbie causes a stir
A Barbie that looks like a real woman? She’s here!

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