A new Barbie commercial has moms talking — in a good way.
In the ad, various little girls are seen doing jobs traditionally thought of as male. One girl leads a soccer team of all men; one is a dinosaur expert; and yet another is a vet (who asks a patient’s owner if her cat can fly). The commercial is, needless to say, adorable. But the message it sends — that little girls can do anything — is even better.
Given Barbie’s history of promoting completely unrealistic body images and generally being a vapid, do-nothing kind of gal, Mattel obviously still has its share of critics — and probably always will — when it comes to the doll. That said, this ad marks a new direction for Barbie — a Barbie who’s changing with the times — and it’s hard to criticize her for that, however long and lean she may still be.
Here’s the commercial:
About a year ago, a public relations company sent a bunch of swag over to the office I was working in at the time. In it were a few Barbie toothbrushes that sparkled and lit up and, I believe, even made noise. My then 2-1/2-year-old daughter would have freaked out over them, but I refused to take one home. I was anti-Barbie, and I didn’t want to see her blond head in my house — even if she did get my toddler to thoroughly clean her teeth. I also avoided the Barbie aisle at toy stores at all costs. I was “fighting the good fight,” despite the fact that I’d played with Barbies when I was younger and consider myself to be a feminist now. Why was I doing this? Well, let’s be realistic: Barbie hasn’t exactly done wonders for body image issues. But other than that, I’m not sure I have a really good answer.
Recently, despite my efforts, my daughter met Barbie, who evidently resides in the “doll station” in her classroom at school.
“What did you do today?” I asked my daughter one day as we were walking home.
“Played Barbies with Emily.”
“Oh,” I said, surprised. I had no idea she even knew what a Barbie was, much less played with them. But after a few weeks of Barbie-playing, turns out she’s still the same girl who likes to run around like a maniac at the park with the boys and play with dinosaurs in our basement. Barbie has not infected her with a case of the Tee-Hee-Hee Girlies.
As her parents, my husband and I are responsible for teaching — and showing — our kids that they can do and be anything. We are their examples. They are the loves of our life and our responsibility, not Mattel’s. Just as I wouldn’t blame a cookie company for making me unhealthy, I’m not going to blame Barbie for my daughter’s beliefs.
At this point, I have no intention of buying my daughter a Barbie (unless she asks for one for Christmas) for various reasons, one being that I’m a mean mama who doesn’t buy her kids tons of stuff. But I can’t control what she plays with at school. She’s happy, she’s learning, and she’s made loads of friends, so I feel good when I drop her off in the morning, regardless of the toys in the classroom.
When I was younger, I played with Barbies. I had the dream house, Ken, Ken’s Corvette, and on occasion, Barbie even stayed at Jem and the Holograms’ beach house. It was awesome. I could’ve spent hours playing with those BPA-filled toys. But despite the fact that Barbie was marketed as a passive, nothing-more-than-a-pretty-face girl, I distinctly remember how my friend and I created World Wide Business, a company that our Barbies ran, where they did a lot of typing on calculators and handing out business cards. My friend is now a doctor, and while I certainly can’t claim to have a job that’s as impressive or important, I have a career of my own that I’m very happy with, and I’m trying my damnedest to teach my daughter — and my son — that the sky is the limit for her. That’s exactly what my mother did for me. She and my father were my influences, not the toys we used to let our imaginations run wild.
Of course, all this said, if this is the direction Barbie is moving in, I’m all for it. There’s no denying the fact that kids are sponges and the odds of something they see on TV or hear at school is going to make an impact, regardless of how small. The more people, toys, cartoons, animals, etc. that are telling our little girls that they can do anything, the better. In some ways, it does take a village.
But in that village, I am my daughter’s North Star, not a long-haired, plastic doll who does a killer cat-eye.