Dec 3, 2006

Naked Barbie Doll

I remember one time when I was about sixteen- far too old to play with barbie dolls- my Grandpa happened by randomly. My mom is a little perturbed when people happen randomly by, because she has so many children that, in the normal course of a day, she cannot get the house to a pristine state. And so she has to make a special effort, and this requires notification.

Anyway, he came in and sat casually on the couch and engaged me in conversation. Among the randomly-strewn objects that he had to sweep away was a barbie doll. Veronica, I think her name was, or maybe Emily. It didn't matter to me anymore-- I didn't play with them. My little two-and-four-year-old sisters did.

I was totally embarrassed. I mean, you don't think of these things normally, you know? I grew up in a house full of girls. We all know what we look like without clothes on. And so the fake plastic-y, impossibly domed breasts, bottleneck midsection, and oddly prong-like hips were not really that arresting. Naked barbie dolls were a common sight at my house.

But when my grandfather picked up Debbie (I think that's what her name was) so that he could sit down, I experienced a flash of intense embarrassment. I mean, my grandpa. He's six feet tall, and taught me how to drive off road vehicles and survey with tin-can lids. He was the one who first induced me to bait a hook. I never heard him utter a single swear word (Then. Now I have. He's less worried about his influence on his impressionable adult granddaughters, I think.)

He had to look at a naked barbie doll. My insides recoiled, and ever since then I have not viewed barbie dolls the same way. I mean, despite the fact that their main purpose is to be dressed and undressed, consider. There's a Ken doll, too, with very removable clothes. What are kids supposed to do with these dolls with over-sexualized forms and skimpy ensembles?

Seriously. What is the purpose of a barbie doll? Think about this for a moment. Have you ever seen a barbie doll without feet that are molded so that they can wear anything but the barbie equivalent of six-inch stilletoes?

Out of all the barbie outfits, what percentage of them would you let your toddler leave the house wearing? Or your junior-high-schooler, for that matter? And yet, when do barbies lose their attraction? Somewhere around junior high age. Far before the time when such outfits are acceptable (if, in fact, you are EVER willing to let your daughters leave the house wearing such ensembles.)

My hypothesis-- barbie dolls are intended for the young exploration of sexuality. No, no, hear me out.

What are the primary features of a Barbie or Ken doll? Think about that one. What do the designers include, and what do they leave out?

A Barbie doll has breasts but no belly button. She has a defined behind, but her fingers and toes are crude-- in the cases of older versions of barbies, the foot is just one solid block, shaped to fit into a stilleto.

Why do barbies need an anatominally correct behind? If the purpose is to dress them in beautiful clothes and have them be Mrs. President or Nurse barbie, such specificity is obsolete.

The same with Ken's anatomy in that region-- why do we need something vaguely suggesting genitalia, when none of his pants are form-fitting enough for such accuracy (or rather, laughable inaccuracy) to matter?

Ever since the grandpa incident, I have pondered this from time to time. I ponder it as I look at the barbies that have been donated to my 4-year-old-- yes, I admit that I didn't object to them when I could have. It's far too easy. And she's only four, right? So it's not like she'll notice anything.

Well-- it's not so simple as that, I don't think. Even though barbies are generally put aside at around the time sexuality becomes an issue in a developing girl (or boy)'s life, they retain that image of the strange, domed breasts, the impossibly long neck, the waist that, in real life, would require the removable of several ribs to achieve. You know where I'm going with this.

I remember the first time I realized that my own figure wasn't odd and unattractive-- when I lived with roommates at Rick's college. Before that, I had only my mother-- and she was very modest. The only glimpse of a real breast I ever had was when she breastfed-- or those diagrams they give you in sexual education class. But I dismissed both of those-- my mother and I share the same genes, so of COURSE I inherited her strange, non-perky cleavage. And those diagrams were obviously poorly drawn, probably because the artist was too embarrassed to render an accurate drawing. Right?

It was a relief for me to realize that I wasn't ugly and dumpy and squat-- that most (normal, not anorexic or plasticly enhanced) girls share the same figure that I did. That actually, I had quite a nice body.

But I still can't quite internalize it. I mean, I grew up thinking of this

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

as what a naked woman looks like. And as for a naked man-- well. I wasn't even supposed to worry about that, right? So I tried not to think about it. But I remember being extremely horrified the first time I went swimming with my guy friends and saw their extremely hairy armpits. I mean, I knew that armpit hair existed-- I had to remove my own on a regular basis. And theoretically, I knew that armpit-hair removal wasn't a thing that most (non-supermodel, Mattew McConaghuey in how-to-lose-a-guy-in-ten-days) guys engaged in.

Consider my utter horror when I discovered that, in addition to to this, some guys have hair on their backs. (not, thank goodness, my dear sweet spouse. Ok. Anybody who's reading this who knows us, don't tell Skywalker that I wrote about his patterns of hair growth).

And, let's face it-- a Ken doll is a very innacurate representation of the male anatomy. If you grow up thinking of guys as hairless, rounded, and possibly with patterned underpants printed on their skin, you're going to be rather rudely awakened on your first real encounter. Is that really very productive? (I mean, if, for instance, you've waited until the honeymoon to engage in physical intimacy, the shock of such things could render you, erm... a little hesitant. I mean, couldn't they?)

I have decided that the barbie dolls have GOT to go. I don't want my girls to grow up thinking they're deformed. And I don't want my boys to grow up thinking that a normal woman is shaped like a wasp with breast implants.

I'm not saying that there aren't other ways to mitigate this-- sexual education is very important, on the part of parents especially. And being afraid of your own body will have a significant effect on your children. But I still contend that the barbie dolls--

they have a significant effect on how girls (and curious little boys) view their bodies and those of the opposite sex's. So, dolls should either be very accurate or not even try. This idealized hazy suggestion of sexuality is too potentially damaging.

So now, I call upon y'all to THROW OUT THE BARBIES. Buy my little ponies or cabbage patch dolls instead.

Unless of course, you're willing to go to the extreme that one of my childhood girlfriends did-- rub the front of her barbie dolls on the pavement until the breasts are down to a reasonable size and sew permanent panties on. But that seems a little neurotic-- I'd worry about my girls if I saw them doing that.

I'd love your comments.


BarBarA said...

I loved this post!!! Since I don't have any little girls I don't have to take any Barbies away, but I certainly did have a ton of them when I grew up.

I am OLD and had the very first Barbie to ever come out. I wasn't quite as innocent as you, my Barbie and Ken "did it" often and every time they did I'd get out the "baby" that came with "Motherhood Barbie".

I also grew up with a brother that I saw naked all the time so I knew there was something not right about Ken.

Garry said...

As a sincere advocate of female nudity in any and all forms, I say leave poor Barbie alone!

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your perspective on your post - and agreed with many of your points! My critique is that Barbies are simply too ubiquitous to avoid making an impression on children even if they are banned in one's own home. Friends have them. Commercials advertsie them. Movies are dedicated to them. Comparatively, just because face cards are banned from someone's house doesn't reduce the likelyhood that a child will know all the names of the cards and how to play poker. I'll have to let the ideas simmer for awhile, but there's gotta be a better way.

Jeremy said...

I have two young daughters and one on the way. This post will be included all of their sex educations at the appropriate time because it is funny and real. Thank you!

NoSurfGirl said...

Barbara-- I'm not as innocent as it seems from this post. I doubt anyone is. I just didn't go into all the nitty gritties of what I did with my barbies because I was afraid I might offend or put off someone-- but the comments section is the perfect place for that!! Thanks! And yes, my barbie and ken "did it" on occasion to. I read somewhere a HILARIOUS post (by a mormon woman, I think) about all the crazy adventurism that her barbie and ken collection engaged in.

Garry-- garry, garry, garry. Sigh.

Just kidding. I know you are.

Jeremy-- I'm glad you liked the post. I think it's important to talk about these things (in an appropriate and tasteful way, of course.) Glad this will help someone else.

Janell-- I saved you for last, because I am also troubled by what you mentioned. No matter how good a parent you are, how careful you are about what stuff you let into your home, your children will be exposed to it in the outside world. In some cases, they will be more attracted to it because they feel the limitations you put on them. Sugar cereal, for instance-- one of my coworkers a while back said that, growing up, her mom never let her and her siblings have sugar cereal in the mornings. And so, every time they went over to a freind's house, they'd BINGE on sugar cereal. Eat it all day.

I guess the conclusion that I have come to (so far) is that, by not buying something for my children or otherwise bringing it into our home, I have made a silent statement that I do not approve. I do not approve of the distorted body image that barbies (and fasion models, and movie star actresses) engender.

Not to say I will ban all movies from my home. But I do plan on commenting on such things, if something like that ever does come into my home. And I'll talk to my girls (and boys) about barbies and the false ideas that they advertise.

That way, when they do encounter it outside of my home, they'll have the framework of "this isn't real. It's potentially damaging. I can have fun playing barbies with my freinds, but I need to remember that this plastic thing is not how I want or expect to look".

I'm sure that there will be a lot of eye rolling on the part of my teenagers by the time they leave the house because I've talked to them about it so much, but I think it's an important message.

I rolled my eyes a lot growing up, and when I left, I was ultimately very grateful for what my mom taught me.

So... yeah. You're right-- barbies are everywhere, and not just the barbies of the name brand, barbie models, barbie actresses, maybe even a barbie classmate or two. It's a tough thing to think what to do.

Anonymous said...

Hey,nice blog!!! I found a place where you can make an extra $800 or more a month. I do it part time and make a lot more than that. It is definitely worth a visit! You can do it in your spare time and make good cash. Make Extra Cash

Belladonna said...

I suspect I would love this post. What I could read intrigued me thoroughly. Alas, my middle age eyes struggle with the crinkled background... but your writing seems to be right on!

NoSurfGirl said...

Sorry. Belladonna. :( :(

Sister Mary Lisa said...

NoSurfGirl, I grew up a Mormon girl whose dad refused to allow Barbies into his home because they were overtly sexual and "nasty." Every single friend I ever had, including LDS girls, had them, however. I think that he should have let us play with them. It really gave me a subconscious message that bodies are not beautiful, that sexuality is a "nasty" thing, to the point that I hated my own body in a swimsuit, or shorts for that matter. Back in high school when my body would have looked great in clothes like that, I refused to be seen. I'd swim with an oversized t-shirt on over my shirt.

Just like I don't discuss why my daughter's Littlest Pet Shop animals aren't anatomically correct, I don't make a big deal out of Barbies either. It sucked so bad growing up and admitting to friends that my dad didn't allow Barbies into our house. The question always arose, "Why not?" and what could I say? He thinks they're nasty. And sexual. And evil.

It's just like you said, your kids will be inundated with glamorous movie stars and magazine models who hardly have "real women" bodies or's up to us to help them see their uniqueness and beauty, and Barbies will have nothing to do with this, if your communication is open with them throughout their growing up years.

NoSurfGirl said...

Sister Mary--

I'm really glad you commented. I really like to hear the perspective of someone who might temper mine. And I can say this-- I agree with you in that communication is Key, and that one must be very serious about making sure that one's daughters are not embarrassed by their own bodies/ do not think that the female body is lewd, dirty, or in need of inherent censoring.

I do feel that barbie is in need of censoring, though-- simply because it makes us women (OK, me-- I'm not sure how all other women feel) think that we're not good enough.