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Dolls under fire

March 16, 2009 - Betsy Bethel
The dolls-and-self-image debate keeps rearing its ugly head.

The Bratz dolls have been maligned for years as trampy, vampy, pouty-lipped icons of debauchery.

A few weeks back, a W.Va. legislator made national news — probably international — with his desire to rid the state's toy stores of Barbies, claiming the ill-proportioned doll sets unrealistic body standards for our daughters.

Now, Mattel and Nick Jr. are up against it after revealing they will launch a new, older Dora the Explorer doll for the 'tween set, with long flowing hair, pierced ears, a more slender figure and a flirty tunic over leggings.

Some parents have decried the move, saying Big Biz has made the lovable, tom-boyish preschooler into a Britney wannabe. The companies say the blogosphere is overreacting (nooooooooo, that would NEVER happen!). Other parents they surveyed showed they wanted a Dora that has aged with their daughters, to keep the positive, adventuresome, bi-lingual role model from being kicked to the curb. The cartoon itself will still feature the bob-haired tot.

(See the Associated Press article posted on the OV Parent Web site,, under "National News.")

My opinion is that whether it's Barbie or Bratz or a lip-glossed Dora, dolls are meant to entertain children and spark their imaginations. I don't think their makers truly are out to set our daughters up for failure.

I won't lie: A Bratz doll who looks like she's ready for a little S&M freaks me out and is totally inappropriate. Barbie was banned at my house growing up because my mother didn't want me to think I had to have boobs four times the size of my waist. I wouldn't buy my 3-year-old a Barbie or a Bratz or the "new" Dora. But my 10-year-old? Maybe. Probably.

What I find interesting about these debates is that people rarely look at it from their children's perspectives. I am just starting to do this myself. It's not easy to put yourself in the shoes of an 8-year-old. It's been a looonngg time for some of us! Not only that, but today's 8-year-old lives in a much different world from the 8-year-old of 1981.

How a child develops positive or negative self-images really hasn't changed, however. Again, look at it from the child's perspective. Say you're like me and don't care for Barbie or her ilk. You say so to your daughter. Your daughter, eager to please you, says she doesn't want one. But inside, she feels ashamed, because she WANTS a Barbie, REALLY REALLY BADLY! All her friends have them, and she enjoys playing with them. She doesn't really understand why you don't like them. But she transfers your distaste of the dolls onto herself.

This, in turn, affects your daughter's self-image negatively. Your efforts backfired.

Some parents see the world in black and white, especially when it comes to their kids. Myself included, most of the time. When issues are polarized, it's easier to choose sides, and we feel more justified in laying down the law.

But what I'm learning is that, although the gray areas are more difficult to navigate, perhaps it would be more beneficial to both my daughter and me to explore those areas together. I hope that what she learns about life and love and relationships as we struggle through the gray areas will help her become a stronger, more self-assured person.

I come back to the point about dolls entertaining and sparking children's imaginations. I can picture it: Five years frow now, Emma playing with her Barbie or Bratz doll and pretending to counsel the poor misguided vixen, serving her a pretend meal of stew and bread and telling her everything's going to be OK and Jesus loves her!

Hey, I can dream!


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