I loved Barbies growing up. Loved them. I loved the creativity that came with making up stories to go with each Barbie. I loved making up their houses, perfecting them to my 8 year old mind’s dream. Obviously, it’s where I figured out sex, smashing my dolls together in fits of passion.
I also loved climbing trees, riding my bike, playing sports, watching WWE, and watching my favourite movie: Top Gun. All relatively ‘non-girlie’ things when all is said and done. I didn’t think it was weird that I played Barbies one day and scraped my knee climbing an apple tree the next.
My neighbour, and best friend growing up, was a boy. We’d constantly play together, running around playing X-Men (literally just us yelling Rogue! Gambit! Essentially playing a cross of tag and Marco Polo. Kids, amiright?), riding our bikes to the park and back. We’d play with his Action Toys, killing each other, playing the boy version of Barbies. Then I’d go home, bust out the Barbies and her dream home and decorate and make elaborte stories.
I never felt like I couldn’t do anything simply because I was a girl, simply because I wanted an Easy Bake Oven or a Barbie cruise ship for Christmas. I also received a microscope, Lego, science experiment kits, and rocks. All deemed ‘boys’ toys. It was a different time in the 90s where toys focused on learning were geared towards boys and housekeeping ones towards girls. It didn’t seem to matter what I was playing with, as long as it made me happy.
For years, my dad would be the one to play Barbies with me. My mom hated the idea of Barbies and would only play if my dad couldn’t and I wanted someone other than my imagination. She didn’t push me not to own Barbies, she didn’t push me to hate them like she did, instead she just opted out of playing with something she called ‘nauseating’ whenever she could. She simply let me play and explore the world of creativity.
Nowadays, the Barbies look vastly different from my childhood. They come in various skin tones and Barbie has a whole slew of accomplishments and careers she can choose from. While it’s awesome to see that they’re trying to be inclusive of body types and races and show that women can be what they want, they’re still what they are, what they have always been: Barbies. They’re still an instrument for children to explore creativity. Just a little more real life than before.
Never once did I think I couldn’t be anything I wanted to. When told from my dad that there would be hardships and stresses as a woman police officer, not just from criminals but inside the department as well, I scoffed and rolled my eyes. I would do what I wanted and any man who insulted me would live to regret it. A mindset I wish I had kept well into my 20s when my self-esteem could be shattered from a drunk 19 year old calling me a slut for doing nothing but kissing his friend (grown-ass men, amiright?).
Clearly, there were some errors in my ways of maturing. What adult doesn’t make mistakes in their youth? It’s how you learn, grow. My self-esteem had nothing to do with me playing Barbies in my childhood; it had more to do with society once you’re done playing with Barbies.
I had a great body not from starving myself, but from being healthy and working out. But, I still thought I was fat. I had to look great, even if just going to class, and I used tanning beds regularly to look better.
Besides feeling the pressure to look perfect, I still lived with the same type of mindset like I did as a child — for the most part. I drank with the boys and worked out harder than most of them in the gym, often benching more than they could and reveling in the glory. I rolled my eyes at their antics, then joined in, filling up the beer bong dutifully as our friend was, once again, scored on in NHL ’03.
Besides the fact that I wore a dress to the bar and took 30 minutes to get ready, and they just threw on jeans and maybe used some mouth wash, I felt as I had when I was younger. When I would play with Barbies and then go ride my bike with my best friend, arm wrestling with him to prove I was stronger. I could be that girlie girl, the one who was fine staying home and cooking, and yet the one who knew she could also go out there and be whatever, do whatever she wanted. It was a weird mix of low self-esteem and extreme confidence that got me through my 20s.
It was the obsession from fashion magazines, from the rest of society, that made me feel inadequate. From Cosmo, read early as a 16 year old that made me feel like I HAD to be the best I could be in bed. Even though I wasn’t actually having any sex. I had to be good my first time, though, Cosmo said so! I had to look great and talk beautifully, yet not too smart, never making a man feel like he wasn’t as good as, or better than I was.
Magazines have turned to social media, a place that’s constantly in your face, a place that can be toxic for adults’ self esteem. Think of how young girls feel as they watch their celebrities promote diet teas and take perfectly crafted photos of themselves. I never felt like I didn’t measure up when I played with a Barbie, when I looked at her — clearly — disproportional body, but I felt that way when looking at the women in magazines. I feel that way as an adult, when I look at certain celebrities on Instagram, their face filtered and angled to the nth degree trying to look as perfectly alluring as possible.
There was a time I wanted to look like a Barbie, but less in the flawlessly sculpted way she did and more in the fantasy life that Barbie built for me. I wanted the life I had made for her. Of course, I also wanted the blonde hair and perky breasts, too; what 12 year old girl doesn’t yearn for large, perky breasts? But, the constant need to look perfect never came when I was a kid, making up stories, it came from reading articles telling how to look perfect.
Just like a boy isn’t going to turn gay if he plays with dolls as a kid, a girl isn’t going to be a vapid idiot going nowhere in life if she plays with Barbies. So let her play, because a girl doesn’t need to hear, yet again, something else she can’t do. Simply because she’s a girl.