Saturday, March 28, 2015

Being Accepting, Including of Barbie

For about the first two years of my daughter's life, I chose all of her toys. Well, me and our other family and friends that purchased toys for her. And almost every single one of those toys were gender neutral. I don't really think this was intentional. After all, there were lots of different people making purchases during those first birthdays, Christmases and so on. In those first two years, we don't really know specifically what a baby is going to like so gender neutral toys are a common choice. There were all different kinds of blocks and stacking toys. Puzzles and books. And lots of Little People. Because what kid doesn't love zoo and farm animals or a school bus? The only exception to this is we did begin a collection of baby dolls around age one. But even without dolls, her teddy bears and other stuffed animals had already become her babies. Or her "sweeties" as she called them. 

The more I think about it though, it wasn't just about the toys. My daughter got her first real illness (a GI bug) when she was 15 months old. That's when she saw her very first full length movie. She watched Happy Feet because she loves penguins. But it didn't stop there with gender neutral movies. The next ones she watched were Nemo, The Lion King and The Lorax. Not a single princess movie in sight. And, truthfully, this was not an accident. In no way did I feel the need to feed my very young daughter movies about getting saved by and then married to a handsome prince. I had intentions of limiting princesses as much as I possibly could so that I did not have a princess-obsessed daughter.

Until my daughter came home from daycare and she was talking all about Cinderella and Aurora, Belle and more. She was learning about all of the princesses from her BFF at daycare. She spent all day with this little princess-obsessed girl and there was nothing I was going to be able to do or say to stop her interest (and love) for princesses from growing. 

I didn't fight it. This is what she was interested in so I accepted it. Embraced it, really. I even bought Frozen. Because, really, how could I have resisted the Frozen craze? My oldest was Elsa and my youngest was Anna for Halloween last year. My idea. Then they both enjoyed a lovely performance of Disney Princesses on Ice. It was fun, and they loved every minute of it. We are now the owners of not only Frozen, but also Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Tangled along with a few TinkerBell movies. We fell into our princess entrenched lives. Almost every day, the girls come home from daycare and change into dresses so they can play princess together. We officially have princess-obsessed girls and I have completely accepted this.

But I was still not quite prepared for Barbie at age four. However, my daughter's friend (also age four) asked  for a Barbie house for Christmas. My daughter heard her describe it and she wanted one too. Now, I don't give in to my children's every wish but this was the only item she was asking for last Christmas. And she never changed her mind. That was the one thing she wanted. I had hoped to hold off on Barbie a little longer, but I also believe in Christmas magic. I bought the house (be it the less expensive vacation home version) and a few dolls. I also went to my crawl space and pulled out a few on my own Barbie dolls that I had saved and a bag of clothes. Christmas was magical, just as you can imagine. Today, she tells people her favorite Christmas gift was not the house, but her mom's old dolls. Inside that old bag of clothes of mine was a Barbie wedding dress. She has seen the pictures of her dad and me on our wedding and knew all about weddings. She asked for a boy Barbie right away. 

And here we are at Easter already. As I went down the toy aisle at Target, I looked for items my girls would want to fill their Easter baskets. And I came across Ken. 

I couldn't help but cringe as I placed him in my cart. Here I am, encouraging my daughter to play marriage with dolls with the most perfect of hair and smallest of waists. And if she isn't playing marriage, she is dressing her Barbies in gowns to go to the ball to meet the price. And so I placed this in my cart too.

And I cringed again. Not just for the short skirt or stiletto heels that complete the ensemble. But for the fact that I was encouraging this play by purchasing it. 

It never bothers me when my daughters play house with their baby dolls and one pretends to be the mom and the other the dad. But yet I was once resistant to characters in distress on a screen. And now I'm cringing at the idea of these little plastic dolls in their hands. But this is what she likes. This is what makes her happy. Who am I to not encourage and accept it? This is the whole of who she is. For now, she may be influenced by the toys her friends like. Or she might just really like dressing these dolls and using her imagination. Either way, it's fantastic fine motor practice. And it's highly unlikely she will grow up thinking that being saved by a man is her destiny. I certainly didn't. Despite my love for princesses and Barbie dolls.

My oldest daughter's Easter basket this year will contain Ken and ball gowns for Barbie. And it will also include a sketch book to fill with her drawings and those ball and Velcro catchers because she absolutely loves baseball. 

My youngest daughter's Easter basket will have a Thomas activity book and wooden train because that's her thing this year. 

They are both at an age now where they get to choose what they watch (when given TV time) and what to play with. These happen to include gender neutral toys as well as toys that are targeted specifically towards girls and specifically towards boys. And I'm proud to be raising girls that see no limitation to what they can watch or play with. Or where their imaginations can go. That perspective is what's really going to influence their future. Not fairy tales or pretend marriages.

My oldest enjoys playing with Barbie dolls but she also has a book about space that she carries around like a teddy bear. My youngest loves trains but also adores TinkerBell. They will both play in the mud and let bugs crawl on their arms and they will almost always be dressed like a princess or a fairy while doing this. I may still cringe, just a little, at Barbie's clothing of choice while she's on her search for a man. But I also accept that my little girls have an imagination and a choice all of their own. And I would never want to restrict that.

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