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Barbie isn't realistic, but she also isn't the problem


I want to hate Barbie. The fashion doll that debuted 55 years ago this month is once again a cultural lightning rod and I want to be on the correct side of the cause.

I want to rail against the inclusion of the child's toy in February's Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. I want to cite a recent Oregon State study that said girls who play with Barbies see fewer career options for themselves.

I want to join the call of advocacy groups for the Girl Scouts to end their seven-month partnership with the famously disproportionate doll. I want to put aside some money to buy a Lammily — the anti-Barbie, "normal" proportioned doll in regular clothes that may hit shelves soon thanks to a successful crowd-funding campaign.

I want to proudly say I never let my 7-year-old daughter play with Barbies.

I want to. But I can't.

In the end, Barbie is just a doll and, unlike the more insidious Disney Princesses, she comes without an established narrative. While every body image message — no matter how small — is important, no one image or item is solely responsible for a girl's self-esteem and vision for her future.

It is not Barbie's fault that women make 79 cents to the dollar of men doing the same jobs. It is not Barbie's fault that society continues to perpetuate math and science as male domains.

It is not Barbie's fault that women make up less than 20 percent of Congress and only one-third of the Supreme Court. It is not Barbie's fault that a 2013 Department of Justice survey found that 40 percent of teenage girls nationwide know someone their age who has been hit or beaten by a boyfriend.

These are the serious issues facing young girls today and they were not created by one pink aisle at Toys "R" Us.

Barbies may come in a fancy gown or a doctor's lab coat, but their story is a blank slate. A child can take that doll and create any world around it.

That is in stark contrast to the Disney Princesses, who along with their Barbie-like body types, come with scripted tales of needing the boy to save them, marrying ridiculously young, constructing their lives around the needs of others and living a royal happily ever after.

That includes "Frozen's" Elsa and Anna, the latest additions.

Anna doesn't have the typically drawn dimensions but she has the usual dreams. She sings about meeting "the one." At a clearly young age, she agrees to marry someone she just met.

(Give "Frozen" credit for having Anna's future beau hilariously mock that engagement.)

Yes, Anna is brave and loyal and loving, but no matter how much screen time she has in the film, she is inarguably second fiddle to her older sister — the one with the powers and signature song, the one who will be queen. Elsa is also the one with the Barbie-like body that Disney animates in film after film.

When Elsa creates her ice castle while belting out "Let It Go," she transforms physically. Take a look at what she becomes — long, white-blond hair, large chest, tiny waist in a glittering dress with a high slit and a take-charge, hippy runway walk that was recently imitated for me by a not-quite-3-year-old girl.

Elsa, though, hasn't caused the uproar that Barbie has – once again. Amid the Sports Illustrated controversy, someone penned a letter to the editor in the doll's name. "Today, truly anything is possible for a girl," the letter said. "Let us place no limitations on her dreams, and that includes being girly if she likes. … Let her grow up not judged by how she dresses, even if it's in heels; not dismissed for how she looks, even if she's pretty. Pink isn't the problem.

"Barbie dolls aren't the problem. Models choosing to pose in a bikini aren't the problem. The assumption that women of any age should only be part of who they are in order to succeed is the problem."

It could have been summed up like this: You're all hypocrites. It might as well have been addressed to me. I am the problem. I tell my daughter she can be anything, try anything. Then she tells me she wants to be a cheerleader and I have a full-on crisis. I say I don't want her flipped in the air (and I don't), but really I just can't get past my lifelong prejudice against cheerleading.

I don't want her standing on the sidelines and cheering for boys playing football when she could be out playing soccer or taking a dance class or doing anything else herself. I don't want her to think that her time is relegated to timeouts and halftime. I don't want her to be part of a competition where if the bow in her hair falls out, she loses points no matter how well she performs.

I want my daughter to grow up to be a strong, smart, unique, empathetic, independent woman who makes her own choices based on what she wants, not the influences of society, family or friends. If that doesn't happen, the blame falls on me and her dad, not the big bag of Barbies in the basement.