"Keep working on a plan. Make no little plans. Make the biggest you can think of, and spend the rest of your life carrying it out." Harry S. Truman

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Ranting about Barbie !

On Sunday afternoon, we went to one of the big department stores that have sprouted all over Hyderabad over the past two years - I'm not kidding, this place is changing FAST.

First, we went to a music store and my 7-year-old ran straight to the DVD display and soon came to me with a Barbie movie in her hand... and a pleading look on her face.

Goodness, but I HATE Barbie! I would like to lit a bonfire and throw if not ALL the Barbies of the world, at least an enormous percentage - how about a good 50 per cent - of the white Barbie dolls in it and watch as all that sickly plastic melts into nothing.

Back to the music store: I tried to distract my daughter, to show her other movies - Hey, The Jungle Book is finally here! Remember the Jungle Book? Mowglie, Bagheera, the bare necessities of life? "This is for babies", she said with a look of disdain on her face. Shame on me, but I sent her to see her father, knowing he'd probably buy it. My husband, the black guy in this family, doesn't have, nor understands all my hang-ups about Barbie. And yeah, he bought it. And now, I hate myself. Let me add that we barely ever visit department stores. So, it's not like this scene would happen every week, or even every month. And since we don't receive any TV channel in our house - it's a choice - the kids can only watch videos and DVDs carefully chosen... usually. Later, I did tell my daughter why I don't like Barbie - in case she'd forgotten since my last rant on the subject - but even as I spoke, I tried to imagine what she might be thinking. "What is wrong with Mom? Why does she hate Barbie so much because she's blond and has blue eyes? Mom is blond and she's got blues eyes too. OK, her figure is not quite as shapely as Barbie's, and she's definitely older, but hey, Mom could be Barbie's mom, maybe!" Oh, dear!

Then, we went to the areas where they have all the toys, and the nightmare continued. There were about eight shelves of toys, one for Fisher Price toys for babies, one for craft toys, play-doh, beads, etc, and the rest, all the other shelves that represented the whole toy display for the department store, had guess what ? Barbies!!! And guess some more ? Not ONE brown Barbie. There was one white Barbie with brown hair and brown eyes - WOW ! - and all the rest were the usual sickly display of blond, blue-wide-eyed Barbies being a teacher, to a blond child of course, being a veterinarian, etc. Even the dogs are blond, for Pete's sake! And then Polly Pockets : same. All blond. We live in INDIA ! Where people have raven black hair, brown skin in all possible shades of brown, from very light to just as dark as any black person - some women and men, especially in the south where we live, have darker skins than my husband. What message does that send to all the children who look at these dolls and get them as presents, or they wouldn't be there, right ? Even the Indian Barbies are basically as light as the white Barbie, only they wear saris.

Maybe we should just avoid department stores. I'm only hoping my daughters - the little one who is 3 has started to become interested in Barbie dolls, as well - will not ask one for Christmas. Or maybe I should order a brown one for each of them right now and have them sent to me. That way, I won't be stuck, if/when the letter to Santa comes and it's too late to order brown ones and have them delivered all the way to India.


Jo Ann v. said...

I looooooooooooooooooove Barbie!!! I can still stare at them today with a huge sense of nostalgia, wanting to go back in time!
We had many Barbies, almost all were Blondes, and there was Christie, the black one.
I never had problems with the fact they were blue eyed blond haired dolls, at least I think ;) In Angola, us don't do the Barbie kind :P

Katia said...

Mm, interesting, Jo Ann. But, do you see what I mean, when I say that the lack of diversity in their look cannot be good for little girls growing up, for their sense of self, the image they have of what's supposed to be considered beautiful? You loved Barbie because you didn't have anything else, although I'm glad to read that you had Christie. Still, wouldn't it make more sense to create dolls that better represent the world's reality? And I'm not even going to start on feminist issues and what the ridiculous look of Barbie does to what girls think a woman ought to look like, and what that is bound to do to the way we look at ourselves, growing up... I used to love Barbie, too. Of course. And then, I started really hating her. Maybe because I had tremendous issues with my own body, well into my late twenties. I just don't want my kids to grow up thinking that's what beauty is : Barbie.

Jo Ann v. said...

Hey again! :)

Actually I grew up fond of Barbie while I was in Portugal. And whatever I think about the country, we did have a choice in our toys.
Although I am of hundred of origins, my mother is mixed and my father black, and most of the family I grew up with are mixed/black.
I always knew that Barbie had a strange body, that in a real woman, she'd have some issues. But strangely enough, and I can't explain it to myself, I never saw Barbie like a role model of some sort... Not in the looks at all. I never wished/dreamed or even asked to be like Barbie or like my other Blonde dolls ;), and never thought of black dolls less beautiful.
Of course, it could be different were I to live in India, where the lighter the better...
I never related to Barbie, maybe that's why I still love her and each time I see her, I want a new one ;)

Suzanne said...

I know it's not politically correct to like Barbie, but I played with them as a child and we bought them for my daughter. She has Sign Language Barbie and Dr. Barbie, and Wheelchair Barbie. She also has dark-haired Barbie dolls. When I was a kid I had a black Barbie doll. But I also want my daughter to have dolls with Asian features, who look more like her. Although Japan is filled with beautiful women, many Japanese still look to the West for ideals of beauty. Women have surgery to make their eyes look rounder and more Western. And all of the toy dolls on the market look decidedly Western. Most have round eyes and blond hair. There is something perverse about that.

Katia said...

Precisely, Suzanne - nice to "see" you, by the way. It's the perversity of the whole issue that bothers me. You see it from the perspective of a mother whose children have asian features, and I see it from the perspective of a mother of brown children, but also, here in India, from the perspective of all these Indian kids. And the result is the same. I'm not sure it has to do with political correctedness. I'm weary of PC. Even though I understand that it's often a necessity, I think that too much of it makes thought processes stilted, and it can have another perverse result: it becomes too easy to hide behind PC statements and not bother to really consider very complex issues through and through.

Valentina Acava Mmaka said...

Hi Katia,actually I understand what you mean, your worries and frustration in facing Barbie's issue. I've married a black man too, I have three brown daughters living in a society where tv shows always blonde girls dancing and exposing their body, where wearing signed clothes is "a must" and owning a Game Boy and a cell phone (at 6 years) is the rule.
I think it is a very serious social issue. But how to blame the children for their choice, their love for these insignificant dolls!
We don't have the tv at home (it's a choice... one of the best choice I ever did in my life as a mother!!!) the kids are allowed to watch a DVD during the week-end if they have behaved nicely. They like Barbies too, they play with them (I've never bought one... it's amazing they received them all as a birthday or christmas gift).I've seen they also enjoy Bratz (US dolls), which are really gaudy with an impertinent expression, some of them are black and really they don't represent their true background nor they propose a different message a part of beiang thin, beautiful, elegant and fashionable.
I think the issue is not to forbid playing with Barbies but fullfilling your' children's life with all what the Barbies cannot represent for their "healthy" growth, through talking, confronting, reading books, proposing alternative toys... As a multicultural mediator I run different kind of workshops also on how to build African toys, for example, and it is something children (not only mine) really enjoy. It's enough to recycle a tin, a wooden stick, some colourful paper, e corn flakes' box, gift paper, some old wool or an egg box to see how their fantasy run. Last year my girls built a cloth doll with woolen hairs. I designed the shape of the body, they sewed the body, filled with cotton and then designed the dress with small pieces of old clothes. My elder did an African doll, my second did an Indian one and the last one a Peruvian doll. They look beautiful and you know what???? When they go to sleep they bring with them those dolls, not Barbies. I'ts a sign somehow!
I believe in the educational theory that frobidding (in certain circumstances) totally something can damage more then preserve children from bad thoughts. If they play with Barbies one hour par day, there are maybe three or more hours to get them involved in other exciting activities.
Also another example, while my daughters play with Barbies, they act situations whereby they all come from different places, inventing different languages and getting involved in situations whereby the main statements are friendship, love, peace, being helpful. So mostly it's a matter of how they live their emotional and intellectual lives. If they are well fed in these terms then also playing with a Barbie can be less "harmful".
The worry should be of those parents who don't have the background we have, and then it happens what I figure every day when my daughter's friend come by us... they have minds full of sterotypes!!! Our duaghters will play the biggets role in changing the face of the world's society. They are called to deal with new big questions.
You have a great richness thank's to your writing activity for children. It would be the best way to represent the beauty and importance of recognizing diversity in a world that still struggles to recognize it as a value.
I remember Moroccon writer Fatema Mernissi who once said: "western people think that women in Islamic world are trapped in their veil, but they don't recognize that in their western societies women are backward because they depend on SIZE 42"!!! I think this figures up the point, western society is not able to represent models of women different from Barbies.
Changes must start from offering a different perspective on values, according also to social changes. Here family is not anymore a value and this mainly due to TV, which invites you to buy things,to imitate successful people etc...
Our daughters are lucky to live in a multicultural family, they can see the world on a 360° perspective without difficulties!