When I was little, I liked dolls and tea sets. I had a couple of Barbies, including Odette from Mattel’s spin on Swan Lake and Erica from Barbie: Princess and the Pauper. Not to discount their fancy dresses (because I really liked their dresses; they were pretty), but what I really liked about each doll was that they had a special feature that other dolls didn’t have. Odette had a pretty pair of detachable light-up wings and luscious, soft hair while Erica had a button on her back that would play, if I remember correctly, a small portion of two songs from the movie if pressed. Though I acknowledge that my dolls were pretty, I didn’t envy my dolls, wish I was as picture-perfect as they were, or hate myself for not being like my dolls.
I feel like the anti-Barbie sentiment that is currently running amok is barking up the wrong tree; Barbies are not the problem. Virginia Postrel’s “Dolls and Standards of Beauty” points out that dolls are simply meant to be enjoyed. In her article, Postrel argues that “Lammily”, a doll made of average measurements reported by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, does not fit the image of the average girl better than a Barbie does. In striving to be the “average”, one ironically never touches the “average” girl. It’s like the saying that the average family has 2.5 kids. Do the families really have two kids and a half of a kid just running around? No, but that’s the average. Some families might have one kid, two kids, no kids, or four kids. The glorification of average is really no better than the harmful beauty standards that Barbies are rumored to create. Wouldn’t that just continue a cycle of body image problems? Instead criticizing themselves for not looking like Barbie, girls would examine their figures and wonder why they couldn’t look more like the “average” girl. Though carried out with good intentions, actions taken to empower girls might wind up putting them in another box.
A particularly poignant time that stands out to me was my late elementary and middle school years. I strongly rejected traditional female things like skirts, dresses, makeup and the like, because, I said, they weren’t really my image. I tried so much to fit in with a more tomboy image, it was kind of embarrassing. On the outside, I scoffed at girls who squealed over Justin Bieber and gushed over whatever so-and-so actresss wore at the Oscars, but on the inside, I was more conflicted. Over the actress part, not the Justin Bieber part, that I was staunchly against for appropriate reasons. It seemed that everyone didn’t like girly things, so I shouldn’t either. But worshipping male-oriented things like video games, blue, skateboarding, rap and all that jazz wasn’t any better. In rejecting one form of “conformation”, I had subscribed to another.
Since then, I have largely come to terms with the fact that actions and hobbies can’t be separated into “girly” and “tomboy”. People are just a mixture of things. I still feel pretty uncomfortable wearing skirts and dresses, but I’m working on it. I’ve heard it all my life to “be yourself”, but I find that it’s much harder than it sounds. I don’t think that we can hear it enough; even though I heard it multiple times, it took me a while to actually understand it, and ask myself if I was really happy with what I was doing. Maybe it’s curled hair and blue-eyeshadow one day and bare face the next. It doesn’t matter; no one is keeping track. Do what you feel like. It doesn’t matter if you prefer ‘boarding to Barbie. Just be you.