Poor Barbie. For someone who smiles all the time, she annoys a lot of people. Despite a long line of careers starting with astronaut in 1965 to surgeon to Army ranger to presidential candidate, she’s criticized as a bad role model for girls. But like many females, she gets the most criticism for her fashion choices and for her figure.
But not from me. I’ve been a fan since I got my first Barbie, a red-headed Stacey I plucked out of a shelf full of blonde Barbies for my 6th birthday. I liked dressing her up for different occasions: a swimsuit for the beach, an evening gown for a formal party, a spunky mini-skirt for hanging out with friends. My sister Lucy and I would sew little outfits and craft little accessories for her, from silver plates and goblets out of foil to balsa wood furniture.
Our budgets didn’t allow Barbie to get her Dream House or own a Barbie convertible. Nor did she get a bike, like the 1970s 10-speed I saw on eBay and had to buy, especially since it was yellow, not Barbie pink. Next thing I knew I’m at Target buying not one, but two Barbies with bicycles that the dolls can actually pedal.
Ruth Handler, Barbie’s creator and co-founder of Mattel, said that Barbie appeals to girls because she lets them imagine being adult women. That makes sense to me. It’s like putting on mom’s dress and heels and prancing around the room. Barbie’s exaggerated features are caricatures of women, just like GI Joe is for men or Cabbage Patch dolls are for babies. They don’t look much like the real deal, but they make sense to a kid.
Next week I’m headed to Long Beach for the National Women’s Bicycling Summit. I’ll get to meet lots of women who are passionate about bikes, discuss critical issues like how to get more women and girls bicycling, and hopefully ride around sunny SoCal on beach cruisers with my new friends. My Barbies would be jealous.
Were you a Barbie girl or did you prefer other toys? Would it bother you if Barbie were your child’s favorite toy?