The Barbie Dichotomy

 

The raising of awareness of women’s and children’s rights has always been a passion of mine, but my passion has become more focused since the birth of my daughter and the world has become, for me, a more complicated and scarier place. Whilst I like to think that many of the issues that I write or opine upon will never affect my daughter, the recent proposals to curb the commercialisation and sexualisation of  children certainly do affect the way that I bring up my daughter and the principles that I imbue her with.   I certainly welcome the proposals which protect young people from exposure to sexualised images and to a degree agree with Helen Wright’s commentary in the Saturday Times (Saturday 18th of June)[1] in which she states that young women are under extreme pressure to conform to being or looking a certain way and that young children should not be exposed to pressurised imagery. 

There is no doubt that too many sexualised images have entered into the mainstream and as I have opined in past articles, such sexualised imagery does have an impact on young men’s perceptions of young girls and have changed the sexual behaviour and trends of young people.  As a parent, I welcome any proposals which mean that I do not need to carry out a self-imposed censorship of television programmes, advertising and magazines in my own home and go to great lengths to explain that “healthy” as opposed to “skinny” is the standard that I endeavour to attain and further that education and learning is the key to success.

 I further agree that such imagery and, to a certain degree, celebrity culture has a damaging effect on young girls and their self perception and can reinforce the “dumb female” stereotype.  However we must be realistic that unfortunately we are surrounded by such celebrity culture and the infinite product branding that does have an effect on young children. Do I wish to deny my daughter the fairy tale Disney princesses or the pneumatic Barbie?  Certainly my daughter and her peers are swayed by the power of branding already and an interesting discussion is provided in the book “Raising Girls” [2], in which the author argues that Barbie is more than a doll – she maintains that “she’s the icon of modern femininity, a sacred image of men’s fantasy run wild and [she] undermines many young girls’ self confidence”.  The author suggests that women should examine one’s own beauty ideal before deciding whether or not to purchase a Barbie doll as the pressure on women to look good is so great that most women bow to this dictate and we pass this pressure onto our daughters and that in introducing a Barbie to our daughters’ world, we are providing a potentially unattainable vision of beauty.  I find this argument a little strong and also would question that in denying my daughter a Barbie, am I denying her from embracing her own femininity? 

I further have my own dichotomy in that I do believe that society does place a certain amount of importance on appearance and the aesthetic and certainly my daughter is aware that I wear make-up and enjoy pretty clothes and vaguely aware that “mummy works in an office, writes and is a lawyer”. I am not sure if the latter really means that much to her but the former probably does. In my endeavours to place great importance on empowerment and her inner security in the future, should I forego my lipstick and frilly garments and not purchase the Barbie? I personally think not but I can also see the impact that my own concept of beauty has upon her and the impact of peer pressure to conform.

My personal desire is to show my daughter that she can embrace her own femininity and in parallel to be an articulate and educated woman, but to also realise that society does judge and have its own perceptions of people based on appearance and physical beauty.  I concur that we do need to allow our children to enjoy their childhood for as long as possible but one has also to be realistic about the current and future environment in which we are raising our children.  

Without doubt, there should be accountability from certain sectors as to the heightened exposure of sexual and adult imagery to children and a framework should be put in place to protect children. However we cannot deny that people will always make initial judgements based on the visual and, therefore, my endeavours with my daughter are to empower her enough to have the confidence to be comfortable in herself.


[1] The Times on Saturday, 18th of June 2011, Greg Gurst

[2] Raising Girls by Gisela Preuschoff

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