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Jan 9 2013

Why Does My Daughter’s Barbie Come With Sexy Lingerie?

By at 12:13 pm

barbie on the beachThat line about how you’re a great parent until you have kids has its kernel of truth–or at least of good intention. I started off–umpteen years ago, as my eldest is 17–very clear: no guns, no Barbies, no blue-for-boys, pink-for-girls, no television. I’ll cut to the chase: the mighty have so fallen. And also, phew, the mighty have fallen.

I don’t regret no screens or my attempt to ensure my firstborn boy had a truck and a doll. It turned out he played with neither of those toys. He lacked the so-called “transportation gene” I’d been assured all boys had. He wasn’t terribly interested in nurturing a baby doll or his stuffed animals. He liked books. I’m a writer and his dad is an antiquarian book dealer. We were fine with books, lots of them.

Fast-forward and the television plays and our preschool daughter can work her papa’s iPhone (her mama, a flip phone user, not so much). What she most wanted for the holidays was a Barbie. Specifically, she wanted one with “pretty long hair and a dress and high heels.” I didn’t really hem or haw; I thought it would be better just to get Barbie over with, because for a little girl who is as rough and tumble as she is pretty, Barbie wasn’t about to be a deal-breaker; Barbie would not likely send her to anorexia or slinky Halloween costumes or anything else I might dread.

I learned after I spent what felt an interminable amount of time on the Internet that I could have bought a pretty enough Barbie at the supermarket. The look on her face when she opened her Pink Princess Barbie was classic: she was awed. She was delighted. She spent some quality time with Barbie over vacation. She also didn’t play with her all that much after the first couple of days. I wasn’t sweating my decision one bit.

One thing, though, gave me pause.

Yesterday, I saw Barbie without her gown for the first time. I’d expected naked Barbie. My childhood memories of the Barbies my sister, cousins, and I had were mostly centered around unclothed adventures, mostly swimming along with us in our grandparents’ pool. Our Barbies drowned numerous times. They made daring underwater escapes other times. The outcome depended entirely upon the game and the older cousins’ whims.

But I remember Barbies’ molded breasts that curved like mounds for perfect scoops of sand when you made a sand castle. They were so far removed from bodies in my mind; they were forms, more akin to popsicles you pour into plastic troughs. Barbies’ butts were also unreal, so compact but shapely, nothing like the women or teen girls I knew. And the hair… well it was play hair, dolls’ hair. Their frozen half-smiles and pointed fingers that could hurt you, their tiptoe feet, their narrow hips, they were so obviously not meant to be anything but iconic. There were other ideals that had greater impact upon the beauty I might personally want: Laurie Partridge, for example. Barbie wasn’t it. Barbie did have a doll body, even if it was an unreal doll body.

Pink Princess Barbie, when she sheds her gown, is not naked. Pink Princess Barbie when she sheds her gown is clothed in what my daughter figures is a bathing suit but is more likely a pink undergarment complete with bustier. In other words, she’s not wearing a bathing suit or underwear; she’s wearing lingerie. She’s wearing quite risqué lingerie at that.

I had to fight the immediate urge to snatch Pink Princess Barbie from my daughter’s hands. I took a deep breath. I let myself hear her interpretation: “bathing suit.” And then I remembered naked Barbie of yore and I realized that whatever my daughter thinks is pretty about Barbie (or not, eventually, she may just be in it with Barbie and her pink unicorn for the adventures they can have, since unicorns are magical), she’s not necessarily likely to think that a bustier-clad doll is in any way real or a role model for beauty.

I tried Google to see whether all Barbies come with undergarments these days–and failed to find the answer. I sent an email to Mattel; I doubt I’ll get a response.

At the moment my 4-year-old daughter is quite engaged in bathroom talk and the humor of words like “butt.” Beyond the annoyance of this developmental moment, the good news is she’s comfortable with her body. She knows the correct words for body parts (and is not afraid to screech them). She knows that people do not come encased in bathing suits or lingerie. I am pretty sure that whether she has bustier-clad Barbie (the vixen beneath the princess?) or a truly naked Barbie won’t really matter. I am sure that however unreal Barbie’s “body” is, naked beats lingerie-wearing in terms of its messaging to young girls.

While I don’t regret her having Pink Princess Barbie in her possession, I can’t say I like her much. I was so looking forward to Pink Princess Barbie’s eventual naked adventures, the ones she’d have been bound to have when the shoes got lost. Now, her ragtag adventures will always be “bathing-suited” ones.

Photo via Flickr/Puuikibeach

For more on moms’ conflicted feelings about their daughters’ Barbies, check out Streetwalker Barbie has Invaded My Home, and another mom who wonders what it means that she just can’t play Barbie with her daughter. And then there’s Jason, a Jewish dad looking at Jewish dolls for his Jewish daughters.


Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on Kveller are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

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