Buying Barbie

My oldest granddaughter turns four at the end of this month.

I have always tried to pick out presents for children, even before my life was blessed with grandchildren, that are not gender-specific. Or that cross gender lines. Girls should have fun with toy trucks and train sets. And boys should be comfortable with stuffed animals and toy tea sets.

Very often I settled on books as gifts. Or toys, like Legos, that can lead to adventure and creativity.

Her mom told me she wants a Barbie. She also told me they already bought a Barbie for her, but it would be fine if we also bought one so she would have two dolls to play with.

I have given her a doll before, a cloth doll with yarn for hair that probably fits the definition of a rag doll. It was part of a project to help her figure out how to use snaps, zippers, velcro, frogs, and buttons. I made clothes for the doll and included all those closures on the dresses and coats. So it’s not like I gave her a doll then. I gave her an educational opportunity.

Am I ready to give my granddaughter a real doll?

I was born too early for Barbie to be part of my childhood, although my younger sister had one, and I enjoyed making clothes for her doll. So the idea of making clothes for my granddaughter’s Barbie is appealing.

In the end, I decided to choose a present I know my granddaughter wants–Barbie–instead of something educational.

Who knew what a chore it would be to pick out an appropriate Barbie!

Barbie is no longer only fair skinned with choice of blonde, brown, or red hair color being the only option. There’s a brown-skinned, brunette Barbie in her quinceanera dress right alongside the fair-skinned, blonde Christmas edition Barbie.

Barbie also is no longer only a vehicle for displaying fashion items. I definitely do not want a Barbie that displays no ambition. I want a Barbie who works, not one who just sits around on a lounge chair outside her Barbie RV or around the pool outside her Barbie mansion. Fortunately, there are plenty of career-oriented Barbies available so I didn’t think it would be difficult to choose one.

The one I really wanted was the Barbie physician, which comes with two baby dolls, appropriately sized for a Barbie-sized doctor. But that Barbie looked more like nurse than a doctor. (Or am I allowing my own gender-biased upbringing to impose that judgment on the doll?) She was wearing scrubs, as both doctors and nurses do, but she didn’t have the white coat that I expect doctors to wear.

My granddaughter’s mom is a nurse, so I nearly picked up that Barbie anyway, but I have to admit that a second reason dissuaded me from buying it. That Barbie has very dark skin. My granddaughter is light skinned, blue eyed, and blonde. So this Barbie doesn’t look like my granddaughter. I consider it progress that dolls now come in all shades of skin color and all types of hair color, but I realized that picking out a doll that my granddaughter could identify with is still important to me, just as it is to most moms and grandmoms and aunts and great-aunts everywhere. But I cringed at the feeling in my gut that my choice evidenced values regarding skin color that I don’t believe–at least with my words.

I kept looking and finally found a pair of Barbies, a chef and a waiter. One is fair skinned and blonde. The other is dark skinned and brunette. The blonde Barbie is the waiter, a word-choice I was pleased to see on the box since it ignores the silly -ess ending used in the past when referring to occupations when women fill the positions. The brunette Barbie is the chef. If there is a hierarchy between these two, the chef’s status is higher. That feels good.

Last Christmas my granddaughter received a play kitchen, complete with pots and pans, an oven, a sink, and a stove-top with dials that turn the circles representing burners red, but without the heat. We gave her a plastic assortment of fruits and vegetables that can be “cut” apart at their velcro seams to prepare them for cooking on her stove. So the chef and waiter Barbie option is an extension of that theme. That feels good.

The only lingering, niggling thought left is this: I wasn’t sure I was ready to buy her a Barbie. Now, we’re giving her TWO.

 

 

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