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Growing Up With Barbie

Lexie Houghtaling |
February 11, 2014 | 1:03 p.m. PST


Girls should recieve more than just barbies. (Miriam Guterland, Wikimedia Commons)
Girls should recieve more than just barbies. (Miriam Guterland, Wikimedia Commons)
If you took a step inside my playroom as a young girl you would be sure to find hundred of Barbie dolls tossed around my room accompanied by pink doll mansions and perfect little Barbie cars. There was a Barbie for every occasion. Workout Barbie, Beach Barbie, and Babysitting Barbie were just a few of the collection. However, amongst the dolls, there were no science kits, Legos, or Hot Wheels. It just wasn’t “acceptable” or “appropriate” for me to be playing with these more masculine type toys. The idea that boys should play with certain toys and girls should play with certain toys limits children of different genders to grow, learn, and explore as they mature. Children should be encouraged to play with all toys regardless of their gender to avoid falling into traditional gender roles.

Barbies have long been criticized for their unrealistic body proportions, perfect hair, and endless collection of clothes. In a study titled, “Does Barbie Make Girls Want to be Thin? The Effect of Experimental Exposure to Images of Dolls on the Body Image of Girls 5-to-8 Year-Old Girls.” by psychology professors Helga Dittmar from the University of Essex and Emma Halliwell of the University of the West England, the negative effects of Barbies are shown

The professors discovered that those exposed to Barbie doll images produced “lower self-esteem and a greater desire for a thinner body shape than in the other exposed conditions.” These dolls hope to be role models for young girls, yet they are a leading factor for eating disorders and weight obsessions for young girls. Barbies send the message to girls at a young age that perfection is needed to be women in society. Young girls should be playing with toys that build their confidence and aspirations, rather than pressure them to achieve an unattainable self.

Lego tried to bring more toy options for girls, but still managed to maintain gender separation. In a new collection aimed at girls called, “The Friends Collection”, Lego creates a line featuring new pastel-colored blocks for girls. While this new collection allows for girls to play with Legos, it still prohibits the girls from playing with the more masculine colors. Additionally, the collection encourages girls to create homes and beauty salons. This shows that Lego wants girls to focus on building things that will help them in their future role as females. It is unfortunate that girls cannot be allowed to build hospitals, cars, or city buildings that could inspire them to pursue careers in medicine, mechanics, or business. Girls should be able to create whatever they desire, and to not be limited in what they might dream of.

However, some stores have already taken action to eliminate gender biases in toys. Toys R Us has pledged to create more gender-neutral marketing and remove references to gender in its stores. The store does not have any gender-based sections in its stores and the holiday catalogue contained 83 images of boys and 93 images of girls. This ratio is closer than any other toy stores including Kmart, Sears, Target, and Wal-Mart. Toys R Us is letting children know that all toys are accessible to play with regardless if you are a boy or a girl. Girls should not feel pressure to only buy dolls and Easy-Bake ovens. Girls should have the freedom to buy anything they want in the store without being labeled or discriminated.

Many people might argue that Barbie in fact does show that girls can have any career that they dream of. Barbie plays many roles including a doctor, policewoman, and housewife. There is a mentality that Barbie can “do it all”. Indeed, there are Barbies of many occupations, but why can’t girls get inspired about their careers from rock kits or action figures? This restriction limits girls from getting toys that can further inspire and educate them.

Even though I grew up with hundreds of Barbies and dolls, I wish that I had the opportunity to play with other toys. I would have loved to have a doctor kit to learn more about the human body, or a basketball hoop to learn how to play sports and to keep my physical activity up. In the future, I hope that it is more acceptable for girls to branch out and play with more masculine based toys. These toys can allow them to learn more about other things besides clothes, fashion, and beauty. A wider range of toys for girls to play with will permit them to have the freedom to learn about a variety of things that will benefit them in the future.


Reach Contributor Lexie Houghtaling here.



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