October 28, 2011
Tattoos Aren't Evil, but Barbie May Be...
Posted by Steph
So I caught wind of this story on the news this morning, and it was also brought to my attention from alert friend and blog reader, Christine. Mattel, the makers of Barbie, have come out with a new addition to the Barbie family. And it is causing quite a ruckus. Meet Tokidoki Barbie:
Fashionista, complete with tattoos, pink hair and a puppy dog named "Bastardino." Many parents are in a tizzy about the newest lady to join Barbie. As with most issues, there are two sides. Is this Barbie a bad example to young girls who will be playing with her? Will her tattoos and pink hair inevitably lead the nation's future women to destruction?
My opinion? Nope.
This next thought may come as a surprise to you, but I am somewhat of a fan of tattoos. Weeping and gnashing of teeth! In context, I come from a family of tattooed members. Husband. Sisters. Brothers. Siblings-in-law. Myself. And I think that the stereotype that only trashy, bad people have tattoos and dyed hair is unfounded. There are many criminals whose skin is pristine and hair is naturally colored. And there are people adorned in tattoos, like my sister (the bakerphotographerpoliceofficer one) and brother-in-law, who protect our Nation's Capitol and important government officials.
In many ways, I applaud Mattel for trying to give dolls more well-rounded appearances. That we can put dolls that reflect all kinds of people into the hands of our youth. Perhaps this could even lead to ::gasp:: our children to have more well-rounded perspectives.
Many companies are trying to give toys an update, attempting to have dolls on store shelves that are a true reflection of the world (and issues) around us. Another recent example of this are the Trash Can Kidz, which are dolls that are orphans, impoverished and homeless. There is an online game to go along with these dolls as well. The introduction of these dolls caused a bit of an uproar, and I'm still not sure how I feel about the premise (although I do appreciate that 20% of the revenue from purchase of the dolls goes to charity).
The problem isn't inked skin, pink hair and strangely costumed dog. If we are honest, it's a deeper issue. I think the real issue is that for so long, the media (including our toys) has been manufacturing their own reality for the world to embrace. A reality where everyone is caucasian. Everyone has enough money. And everyone is a size 0.
Is that true of our world? Not really.
Until recently, the world of dolls was white, wealthy and impeccably (and unrealistically) portioned. Does that statement offend you?
What kind of message does this send to our kids? And we wonder why there is racism, classism and eating disorders.
Did you know that it wasn't until the late 60's that a Barbie of color was introduced? And even then, they didn't get it right, as the Barbie "lacked African characteristics". For years, kids of color had no means of purchasing a doll that looked like them! (Side note: a very interesting movie on the topic of race worth watching and discussing after is White Mans Burden. I highly recommend it).
After decades, it was decided Barbie's body structure had to change because her proportions were unhealthy and on a regular-sized woman, unsustainable. But it took until 1997 to make the change! When children play day in and day out with an impossibly slender doll, how can they not begin to think that women need to look like this?
If we are concerned about how to protect our kids while introducing them to the world, then WE need to be a part of the conversation. We cannot absent-mindedly throw them dolls, games and books while crossing our fingers that they get the right message. We need to give them the right message. Don't shy away from the hard questions ("Why does that person look different then me? Where does that person live?"). Tackle them head on. When they are old enough, volunteer with them at a soup kitchen or the Salvation Army. Let them interact diversity. Don't ignore the fact that there is injustice in the world. Start conversations about it.
Yes, it's easier said than done. But the alternative is that the media educates them, and this may be far worse.
For years, we've been giving our girls (and boys) subliminal messages about body image, race and class. And we are slow to change the momentum of our message. So yes, I applaud toy manufacturer for trying to get with the times. I know there will be poor choices and mistakes made along the way, so I encourage us to be patient.
And in time, it is my hope that the overall media message to our children will be less damaging and more empowering.