The Barbie Evolution . . . by Molly O’Keefe
MO: When my daughter was born two and a half years after my son, she was born into a world of robots and fire trucks. And because she was the second child and the second child is always slighted (I say this with authority as a second child who was slighted and as a mom who has slighted her second child) this didn’t change until she was three.
Up until her third birthday she was incredibly happy putting the robots to bed. Optimus Prime was often found wrapped up like a baby in a dishtowel and shoved down the front of her shirt (that’s how she liked to carry her robot baby). Her third birthday someone gave her a proper doll and my husband and I looked at each other and actually said “I don’t think she’ll care.”
She took one look at that doll, with its feeding set and polka dot blanket and poor Optimus was thrown against the wall.
My daughter just turned five and we have entered a world of Barbie. Now, despite LOVING Barbie as a kid, I was one of those moms who thought; We’ll be a Wonder Woman house. My daughter won’t be conditioned to think that beauty is the most important asset a woman can have. Instead she’ll fight crime as an Amazon princess in an invisible jet.
But let me tell you something Wonder Woman doesn’t come with a pool. Or a camper.
And I can hear some of you saying – “yes, but Wonder Woman doesn’t come with the micro-mini dresses and stripper shoes.”
This is true. Barbie clothes are pretty skanky. We’re still working on that.
Anyway, this year my daughter got a few Barbiemovies. For those of you who might not know, there is a huge slew of Barbie movies. Barbie as a mermaid, as a ballet dancer, as a pop star, as a princess, a pauper, a horse trainer- the list goes on. So, as a family we sat down to watch some of these movies. I was pretty confident they were 1. going to be terrible. 2. reinforce a lot of the bad lessons that I fear come with Barbie.
I anticipated a very white and blond world and a main character that needed to be saved – probably by a man. I anticipated a very shallow lesson about “following your heart” while picking out a series of beautiful dresses with a talking cat on her shoulder. I anticipated a romance that would end as the movie ended with a happily ever after. Barbie found love – therefore story over.
Much to my surprise – we didn’t get any of that. Not really.
Yes, the main character (never named Barbie – go figure) is blonde and white. And some of the movies are criminally homogenized. But the movies we watched had other main characters of color. There were fancy dresses, and one of the secondary characters was usually fashioned obsessed, but it wasn’t a big part of the story. Sometimes Barbie needed to be saved but she managed to do that on her own or with the friends that she had made. Yes, there was sort of a romance. But sometimes the hero needed to be saved – but Barbie and her friends handled that. Usually with swords, because Barbie can fence! But the romance was never the main story and in the end, Barbie never gave up anything for the romance. Instead of settling down with the prince, she was a Musketeer or a pop star or a surfing champ and the prince had to wait for her because Barbie had things to do!
There are talking cats. And fish and dogs.
But I think Barbie has grown up. Perhaps it was because my expectations were so low, but I was pretty surprised by the message in these movies. Friends are good, you can do anything you set your mind to, don’t give up your dreams for anyone, even a boy. Pretty clothes are fun but not nearly as important as saving the colony of mermaids in danger of being eradicated by the evil queen.
I think the lack of diversity in the Barbie world is a critique you can extend to Hollywood and even to romance where the lack of other cultures and skin color is just as absent. But perhaps – like the Barbie clothes – we can find a way to work on that.
So, how about you? Have you seen these movies? What do you think? Did you play with Barbies? Do your kids?
About the Author:
Molly O’Keefe published her first Harlequin romance at age twenty-five and hasn’t looked back. She loves exploring each character’s road toward happily ever after. She’s won two Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice awards and the RITA for Best Novella in 2010. Originally from a small town outside of Chicago, she now lives in Toronto, Canada, with her husband, two kids, and the largest heap of dirty laundry in North America. Follow her on her website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads