Where do you stand on Barbie?

December 20, 2009
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This week, IBJ Style columnist Gabrielle Poshadlo and I had very different views on the new Children's Museum's exhibition celebrating Mattel's Barbie dolls. See the story thus far here. And you can find more info on the show itself here.

We invite you to join in on the discussion. Click on the links above --or visit the exhibition itself -- and give us your reaction. 

What has been the impact Barbie has had on young girls?

Does her place in toy history justify a place in such a major exhibition (running into 2011)?

Are such sponsored exhibitions necessary evils, wise ways of doing business in tough economic times, or win-wins that enhance the offerings at the Museum without any downside?

We look forward to reading--and commenting on--your thoughts.

  • Barbie is an icon!
    I think an exhibition on Barbie is totally appropriate. I'll never forget the day in 1960 when my mother went to Glendale to get me my first (and only for several years) Barbie (blonde in black striped suit). My mother was concerned that Barbie's exaggerated figure was sending the wrong message to little girls, but I didn't think so and grew up to be (fairly}well adjusted. Girls and many adults can relate to Barbie and she should be honored as the pop culture icon that she is.
  • Great Shoes
    Lou, I believe your daughters are beyond Barbie age, but I wonder: If you took little girls with you, were you able to use the ââ?¬Å?Barbie needs to wear great shoes because every girl needs to wear great shoes" sign to, um, "kick start" a conversation about real beauty? If I take a friend's daughter, I'll likely read that sign and talk about the clogs that my female surgeon friend wears and why they are "great shoes."
  • breeding superficial behavior
    Sure, I think an exhibit on Barbie is great. Well, if you want to kick start a great conversation with your children on materialism, superficial behavior, vanity, lack of modesty, dressing provocatively, peer pressure, and finally letting the conversation move into what it _really_ means to be a woman of some depth.

    Barbie, is defined by being a shallow, self absorbed toy, whose chief goal seems to be to get the girl in question to acquire and think she "needs" to have this doll, outfit, house, car, etc. that she sees in the store, that her friend has, etc.

    Barbie is devoid of teaching the child anything about what it really means to be a woman. For those, who might claim well what about Dr. Barbie or some such thing, well what does it teach a child about hard work to acheive such a status. This isn't a chemistry set or a microscope, things that would teach hard work and determination, not to mention a true interest in a particular field beyond the superficial status of a certain career choice. There are many toys that I think have done great things to spark the interests of young girls into the interest of medicine and science, and well Barbie isn't in the top 100 on that list. Don't kid yourself in thinking that Dr. Barbie, with her large breasts and long flowing hair and tight outfit will help your darling girl in setting sincere goals and working hard for them.

    So, I guess it is how you approach this exhibit. There are some things in life that I use to teach my children as examples for them to use to apply to their individual lives and then there are other examples that I use to teach them about the other side of the coin, ie what is empty and hallow. I let you decide for yourself which side the Barbie exhibit falls into.
  • What Depth.
    I fully understand, but never appreciate, why everyone goes after toys as if they were the root of all evil.

    Are there things about Barbie that aren't great - sure. Just like there are things about G.I. Joe, Comics, Video Games, etc. that aren't great.

    I always wonder if the same people that have issues with Barbie have the same issues with other toys. Dora the explorer's head is out of proportion, what does that tell us? Blue the dog is a girl, and Magenta is a boy, are we sending the wrong message?

    In the end, Barbie is just a toy. Maybe that's what we should be teaching our kids.

    And Lou, I'll take my daughter to see the exhibit. Not because she's a huge Barbie fan, but because is a chance to learn and appreciate something else. Materialistic, corporate, pop culture, or otherwise.
  • Barbie
    Barbie was way cool when I was a kid. She was the first non-baby doll I ever had. My sisters and I spent many hours designing and making clothes for her. But maybe today's kids aren't that imaginative.
  • A Fruitful Imagination
    I don't think toys are the root of evil, by any stretch of the imagination. However, I am perhaps perplexed at how naive certain parents are that all toys are "good", because it is has the label "toy" on it, has been accepted by others, sells for a decent amount of money and has significant advertising endorsements.

    I think that what we put into a child is what we get out of it in the long run. Most of us could agree that filling out children's young impressionable minds with rampant violence in the form of video games, movies, etc., might contribute towards a more violent attitude towards life in general. In addition, the things we buy our child also in a certain sense contribute to teaching our children what is acceptable and what is not, and if we are wise we will also communicate the reasons for those decisions.

    I am constantly amazed at many parents who are so surprised when their children wear what they would consider immodest and revealing clothes or demonstrate other behaviors they deem inappropriate, never considering or denying themselves any blame for this behavior. Those same parents often blame the culture, the child's peers, TV, etc. Yet, as parents we are responsible for shaping that culture for our children. Toys matter and contribute towards that culture in their heart and minds of our children.

    So for those who are taking their kids to the Barbie exhibit, good for you. Perhaps, they will learn something fruitful. As, for mine I am looking forward to taking them to the art museum and perhaps studying something truly beautiful and teaching them to appreciate that. Hmmm...while I am at it maybe I will buy them some paint and paper and let them put their imaginations to good use.
    • naive parental fantasy?
      I think of Barbie in sort of the same way that I think of Carrie Bradshaw and the "Sex and the City" women: They are not complete role models for real life by any stretch of the imagination, but I enjoy the fantasy of their company once in a while.

      I also think of Barbie in sort of the same way that I think of any kind of collectible from Colts gear to Broadway Playbills to hunting knives to snow globes to bottles of wine to TV shows on DVD to Facebook farm animals to whatever: They definitely have the potential to become mindless, destructive addictions, but they also offer bonding opportunities and conversation starters for people who either don't know what else they have in common yet, or who know that they don't have much in common but want to enjoy each other's company at family reunions or whatever anyway.

      I have good memories of playing with the Francie doll that my parents gave me for Christmas the year that all of my friends had Barbie dolls. Francie, you may recall, was Barbie's cousin. Wikipedia says that she was "MODern." I don't remember that, but I do remember that although I wasn't sure about her at first because no one else I knew had a Francie doll, ultimately her relative rareness was very satisfying.

      I also just realized that the reason I probably spent so many hours setting up Francie's homes - making telephones for her out of modeling clay and so on - was because we moved around a lot when I was little. Packing and unpacking Francie's stuff, playing at giving her stability, probably answered some deep psychological need in me at the time. Hah! I just thought I was having fun.

      So...if I had a daughter who wanted to visit the Barbie exhibit at the Children's Museum, and/or who wanted me to buy her a Barbie doll...well, I probably would do it if I had the money.

      I agree with what Lou and others have said about the dangers of the underlying agenda to "consume! consume!" I would therefore make sure that my child and I did other things, too, like visiting the public library every couple of weeks, taking picnics to the park every summer, visiting elderly friends in nursing homes, going to child-appropriate arts events, and so on. I wouldn't spend money we didn't have on "stuff," of any kind. And I would try to teach my child to live in a mindful, compassionate way all the time, not just in terms of Barbie. It is a life journey.

      But yeah, I would probably spring for a visit to the Barbie exhibit and for a doll, if I my daughter wanted them.

      If I had a son who wanted any of this, I would probably say yes to him, too, and try not to be too quick to jump to conclusions or pass judgment about why he wanted it.

      By the way, I'm not sure how I feel about the museum website showing a boy being "the DJ, commentator, or photographer." Girls can be those things, too! But I like that the museum is giving boys a way to satisfy whatever curiosity they have about the Barbie exhibit without anyone giving them a hard time about it.

      I would say "yes" to my child because I think I would enjoy the exhibit myself.

      For one thing, I would like to read other people's "Favorite Barbie Moments" in the exhibit. I think I would find their variety fascinating.

      I would also like to look at the many kinds of Barbie dolls that have been offered over the years. I would like to see if there was ever a Wheelchair Barbie or a Single Mother Barbie or a CEO Barbie or a Voting Barbie or a Community Service Barbie or a Spiritual Questing Barbie or a Survivor Barbie (with outfits and props available for Cancer Survivor Barbie, Rape Survivor Barbie, Hurricane Survivor Barbie, Divorce Survivor Barbie, and Job Loss Survivor Barbie.)

      Probably not, I know, but I like imagining them.

      I also think that I would enjoy having a Barbie in our home. It wouldn't have to be a Barbie - it could just as easily be a teddy bear or a sock puppet or a Power Ranger or whatever - but if it is a Barbie, I'm okay with that. I once worked with a woman whose name was Barbara and who looked very much like a Barbie doll. Becoming friends with her raised my awareness of the problems that conventionally beautiful women sometimes face (like people assuming that you are as shallow as a Barbie doll) so I would try not to make assumptions about what my child's Barbie means to her, either.

      In fact, I would love to ask my daughter (or son) what Barbie has been reading lately, and what she thought of the last live theatre show that she saw. I could ask what Barbie would do if she wanted to buy twenty pairs of shoes but she only had twenty dollars. I could ask what Barbie eats for breakfast and if she knows any jokes.

      Listening to my child's answers would be the best part of the whole experience.

      Or so I imagine.

      Hope Baugh
      Indy Theatre Habit
    • barbie
      Christopher West pointed me toward another interesting perspective here: http://www.artsjournal.com/culturegrrl/2009/12/new_frontiers_in_corporate_spo.html
    • Generation Y
      I was born in 1987 and I was, fortunately, never exposed to some of the harsh gender stereotypes that Barbie had become synonomous with in earlier generations. My Barbies had wheelchairs, careers, yachts, and sensible heels. Barbie was another great addition to the arsenol of make believe my generation had in our goal oriented toy boxes. Seeing the display at The Children's Museum was a wonderful way to see how far my perception of Barbie and grown and adapted to the changing times. Having just graduated college, I can certainly relate to this.
    • Barbie is AOK with me
      Some of my fondest memories are of playing Barbies with my sister. We would dress her, design and sew outfits for her, style her hair, and even create furniture out of cardboard for her. Things are so different, though, today. When we were playing, it was the late 60's - early 70's, and we were in the 10-14 age range. Today, girls as young as two and three are playing with Barbies. I am grateful for the way Barbie gave me the opportunity to be creative and learn to sew. I still sew Barbie clothes today, and I get much enjoyment from doing that. I would love to see the exhibition!
    • Barbie
      So basically, if I'm reading this correctly, Barbie can't be a good role model because she has a waist to hip ratio that is impossible for any real woman to achieve? Maybe that is because she is not "real", "she" is a toy. Furthermore, it seems to me that some people have unfairly stereotyped Barbie and in turn are teaching their children that beautiful women can't be doctors or vets, they can't be taken seriously or be smart. Isn't that wrong, too? Barbie teaches little girls that they can be anything they want to be, and while they're at it they can look fabulous!
    • Poor Parenting
      Barbie is a doll. If parents raise their children with a variety of toys and reinforce the child's unique personality, talents and personal strengths, the female child certainly won't grow up obsessing with appearance and her body. Raising an insecure child with severe emotional issues takes more than buying a child a Barbie doll. Of course, the doll is certainly an easy scapegoat for adults doing a poor job of parenting.
    • Art Museum Gift Store
      Why not both exhibits? I assume you've taught your children that consumerism need not rule their world. If so, your children might also enjoy some fun with a few toys and the interactive exhibits!

      P.S. Stay out of that art museum gift store. Hmmm...the Monet coffee mugs, Renoir playing cards, Warhol t-shirts and Picasso dishtowels might just blind your children with
      blatant consumerism!

      Avoiding issues, including racism, sexism, bullying and consumerism, is not the way to teach children how to survive life in the real world. Adult topics can be presented in an appropriate manner for children.

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