I’m a big old feminist, but I love Barbie. Their new ad shows exactly why.

I'm a big old feminist, but I love Barbie. Their new ad campaign shows why. | erniebufflo.com

Last week, my girls got their first non-baby dolls. They’re some Disney Princess toddler dolls they fell in love with Sam’s Club, and I’ve already roped their grandmother into sewing some clothes for the dolls by oh-so-helpfully sending her some links to some patterns. I foresee many hours of doll-playing in our future, and I know that soon enough, when they are a little bit older, it will be Barbie time.

This may surprise people who know me, a person who has been known to actually walk around in a tee-shirt that says FEMINIST across the chest, but I’m absolutely going to let my girls play with Barbies. Yes, I agree that Barbie presents a certain impossible beauty standard that is problematic and should be discussed and maybe even changed (hey Mattel, is fixing Barbie’s waist-to-hip ratio too much to ask?!), but I also think Barbie offers girls something no other toy does: the ability to imagine and enact narratives about adult life. Baby dolls facilitate one kind of play: parenting, which is wonderful and valuable, and all kids should get the opportunity to pretend-nurture and act like their parents, but it’s still limited. But Barbie? Barbie is a blank canvas. Barbie can be anything, and by extension, so can the child bringing her to life.

I really believe that I’m a writer today in part because I played with Barbie. She allowed me to create stories and dramas, to write dialog before I ever knew that was what I was doing, and to participate in what sci-fi types might call world building. I even did literal building, constructing furniture and houses for my dolls out of things around the house. I can still remember exactly how we made a Barbie couch out of rolled kitchen towels. Through Barbie, I imagined and enacted conflicts and their resolutions. Through Barbie, I imagined all sorts of jobs beyond just a dolly’s mommy. I look forward to my girls one day doing the same, and I think maybe when they’re 4 or 5, they’ll get some Barbies, including many of my own that my family saved for me.

All of these memories were stirred up when I saw Barbie’s new ad campaign, and it seems they’ve realized and decided to highlight what I always thought about Barbie: she is a vehicle through which children can explore the possibilities of the adult world. The ad is pretty breathtaking:

What about you? Did you play with Barbie? Will you let your kids play with her?

 

*Note, this is not sponsored by Barbie. I just have fond memories of the toy, and had been thinking about my girls and dolls when I saw the video shared on Twitter.

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um, YEAH!

I remember reading some articles when the girls were smaller about how not only should we not tell our daughters that they are pretty, but we shouldn’t tell them they are smart either. I think I made some crack about how in the dystopian future, in which we are all required to have perfectly neutral conversations with our kids, we’ll be saying things like “It’s morning, small human. You are neither acceptable nor unacceptable, just another human like everyone else. Have a day.” Here’s the thing: I tell my children they are beautiful because they ARE. They are just BURSTING with beauty. It radiates out of their every pore. I look at them and it’s like the first time I straight up blurted to my husband that I loved him, a full three months before he ever felt ready to say it back, because I literally couldn’t hold it in anymore.

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I also think they’re smart. When they solve a problem, when they complete a puzzle, when they make a connection or comparison that surprises me, I notice how smart they are. I know that I’m supposed to focus on the efforts they’ve made, rather than the outcome, and I do try to do that, but I also tell them that they’re smart, sometimes. Because they are. The sky is blue, and these girls are smart.

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Another thing they are is HILARIOUS. Claire in particular is a natural comedian, actually testing out material on us and asking “is that funny, mom?” before sharing those jokes or bits with others. I have every confidence that my small white-blond child is the next Amy Poeheler. They crack us up all the time, and when they ask, the answer to “is that funny?” is almost always yes, unless they’re just being wildly inappropriate, though I also appreciate the person who is wildly inappropriate on occasion, especially for the sake of a good laugh.

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To me, the key is to make sure they know that I’m not defining or valuing them by any one thing, but because of their amazing, miraculous wholes. They are beautiful, smart, hilarious, determined, and most of all, kind, and I want them to know all of those things.

But I’ve noticed something crazy: they actually came into the world basically knowing all of that already. Their default assumption is that they are valuable and loveable, and it seems like that must be the way we start out, and then that gets chipped at by the world as we grow, and before we know it, we’re needing to hear it from others before we believe it. And so more than telling my girls what they are, I am realizing that it’s my job to protect the knowledge they already have about who they are, how fabulous, worthy, and wonderful they are.

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We must be doing something right, because as Claire walked her sassy little walk through a waiting room today– her innate confidence combined with her slightly altered gait thanks to spina bifida means she sort of stomp-struts through life, curls bouncing–an older, mustachioed man looked at her and said, “You sure are pretty!” And she didn’t miss a beat, that girl, she just looked up at him and said, “um, YEAH!” “Good answer!” I said. And she kept on walking. She doesn’t need that man or anyone to tell her who she is. And she doesn’t need anyone to tell her that she’s more than just her looks– she knows it. It’s my job to help make sure it stays that way.

sorry, not sorry: my girls are beautiful

I love it when a friend blogs the thing I wanted to say, so I mostly don’t have to. In this case, my friend Sarah of Wifeytini (when I mentioned friends I made via the #spinabifida hashtag, she’s one of them) took on the ridiculousness of the latest in a long line of fearmongering about how we’re all ruining our children by praising/not praising them. Apparently, calling my daughters “pretty girls” is going to make them bad at math and science, and by golly, Verizon is out to save them from me and my destructive compliments.

UGH.  Continue reading “sorry, not sorry: my girls are beautiful”

they come in peace (I hope)

Today, I have 6 month olds. I am still trying to wrap my mind around it, because in my crazy mom way of thinking, it’s like their babyhood is half over.

I’ve also recently come to a new understanding of the babies. I know in the past I’ve said that babies are pandas. And I still stand by that comparison. But I’ve come to a new way of understanding these tiny beings: they’re aliens, sent to learn about our way of life and report back to their people.

They watch us, but they don’t really understand what we’re saying, and we don’t exactly speak their language, either. They find our culture strange and often bewildering, but they’re generally willing to humor us, with our strange rituals and insistence on things like giving them baths and changing their diapers. They’re observing us and compiling data for their report to their leader, usually with a sort of detached wonder, the appropriate posture for a tiny scientist or anthropologist sent to another world, but occasionally their faces betray other emotions, and sometimes, they break down altogether under the strain of their difficult and top-secret mission.

I often wonder about the stories they’re going to take back to their leaders, but sometimes, when they scream in the middle of the night, I’m not so sure they really come in peace.

mindblowing realization

The other night, I had to run to Walgreens to pick up a prescription for Etta. I grabbed some C batteries for the baby swing and headed to the pickup window.

“I’m here to pick up a prescription for my daughter.”

Outwardly, I continued to have a typical interaction with the pharmacist, but the minute the words “my daughter” left my lips, my internal conversation went something like this: “Holy crap, I have a daughter. I have a DAUGHTER. I have TWO DAUGHTERS. Daughter, daughter, daughter daughter.” The word sort of ceased to have any meaning and began to sound sort of foreign in my head.

I mean, somehow, that phrase, “my daughter” just blows my mind. I had already kind of processed that I have babies, but realizing that they’re my daughters? Well, it gives me all kinds of visions of who these little people will grow up to be.

My DAUGHTERS. Photo by Christen Byrd.