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Friday, September 19, 2008

barbie: a windfall

I spent last weekend cleaning and re-cleaning and shopping and re-shopping for parties in honor of Stella, who turned five on Saturday.

Five—it’s hard to believe.

Every year on her birthday, part of me relives those scary days leading up to (and following) her birth. This year, those memories were particularly close to the surface because for the first time since she was born, she was celebrating her birthday on a Saturday. I woke up Friday morning and thought, yes, it was a Friday, five years ago, when I woke up huge and bloated and knew something wasn’t right. It was a Friday when my dad and sister took me to the hospital. (D was in Seattle for a soccer playoff game.) It was a Friday when my blood pressure became dangerously high.

When I woke up at 5:30 with Zoë on Saturday morning, I thought, yes, five years ago I was also awake at 5:30, queasy from magnesium sulfate, waiting to be induced and waiting for D to arrive home on a red-eye flight.

Stella’s birthday was a day of contrasts. I stared at my beautiful, five-year-old daughter as she scurried around our packed house, giggling with her friends, and I wondered: is this the same child as that skinny three-pound baby I delivered? Is this the same child, the one I hovered over for all those weeks in the NICU? I kept trying to hug her, to squeeze her tightly, and she kept wiggling away, saying, her voice full of exasperation, “Mommmmm…..please stop!” I couldn’t help it. I just wanted her to know how much I love her. I wanted to reassure myself—yet again—that she’s okay.

She’s totally okay.

And she’s totally into Barbie. Who knew that five was the age of the Barbie?

For several months now, she has been very “into” the Barbie princess movies, and I have to admit (reluctantly) that I like them, as well. They feature strong young women who save kings and queens from being poisoned, restore fairy kingdoms, and rescue each other from trouble. There are problems with them, of course: Barbie is always very white and very blonde; princes are often stepping in at the last minute for a miraculous save. But the movies stress friendship and believing in yourself and standing up for what you think is right. (Does it sound as though I’m justifying these? I am.)

Stella was at a birthday party a few weeks ago, and her friends (who are twins) each received a Diamond Castle Barbie. This is the newest of the movies. The doll sings, and when she sings, her heart-shaped necklace lights up. When Stella saw these matching Barbies at the birthday party, her eyes sparkled. (I kid you not.) The Diamond Castle Barbie moved to the top of her birthday list.

I shrugged. Oh, alright. I passed the word: she’d like the newest singing Barbie and stuff to go with the newest singing Barbie.

Well, she got that Barbie (and two others). She got Barbie clothes and a Barbie scooter. She got two Barbie movies. She got a Barbie tea set. (I’m probably leaving something Barbie out of this list. Who can keep track?)

A few years ago I hated Barbie. I cringed when Stella got her first one. I didn’t approve. I realize I was being hypocritical. After all, I had played with Barbies. My sisters and I spent endless hours—days, really—enacting complicated stories with our Barbies. We were inventive and imaginative.

Why then was I so against Barbie? Well, mostly it was her physically impossible measurements, the unrealistic body image. I didn’t want to set my daughters up with that as an ideal. But the Barbies of today are a little more realistic. Her oh-so-tall-and-slender physique is still unlikely, true, but they toned it down enough to be anatomically possible.

I still don’t want Barbie’s body to be the ideal for Stella or Zoë, but that’s where conversation comes in, doesn’t it? We’ll talk about what it means to be fit and healthy. We’ll talk about real versus fantasy. We’ll work that part out. (I still do hate their clothes, however. Why would they make such skanky clothes for a Barbie doll? Luckily, I still have some of the clothes my grandma knit and sewed for our Barbies years ago, and I’ve thrown them into the mix to balance the trashy sequined halter tops. But really.)

I’ve caved, I know. Maybe I should be more hard-lined about this. But when I was upstairs yesterday changing Zoë’s diaper and I heard Stella signing along with Alexa, her new Diamond Castle Barbie, I couldn’t help smiling. She loves the dolls. She’ll invent stories and lives for them. She’ll spend hours playing with them. And we’ll just deal with the rest of it.


Elizabeth said...

Happy Birthday to you and your daughter!

sista gp said...

don't know about the new barbies.
for my son, it is all about PLANES, TRAINS, and AUTOMOBILES. He is car crazy; has been all his life. i expect we will be some kind of architect

kate hopper said...

Thanks, Elizabeth.

Anonymous said...

I struggled with the Barbie issue, too. I later realized that my relationship with food and my body is more important than a doll that can help a little girl use her imagination. I'm careful about what I say about food around my kids. I try to stress that the kids can eat what they want in moderation and make it a goal to have fruit four times a day and veggies at lunch and dinner. This still remains a goal, but at least I try!

American_in_Cairo said...

Good point about the stories. For me, it was that and, while in the yard, pretending I was one of the three good female soldiers on GI-Joe. Understanding what was screwy was about the conversation, totally. I just wish that the conversations would have come sooner, like, sooner than college.

Ines said...

Happy Birthday! I share what you describe in your post about barbies and other dolls like them. We ended up buying barbies and throughout (sp?) time I noticed two things happening: our daughter got some out of the box and others stayed in the box (for months) and our son plays with them occasionally.

Betsy said...

Love this.
I had tons of Barbies and think it would be just plain hypocritical to deny them. Just the other day, Eliza noticed one in the check out at Rainbow grocery store and said, Mama I want one. I figure we can hold out a little while longer...

Check out the "Dharma of Barbie"

Laura said...

My daughter just had her 5th birthday too! And she has a Barbie back pack and lunch bag. And we got LOTS of Barbies. And I am ALL FOR IT. I say, bring on the Barbie. Barbie is a toy. Barbie will come and go. What our daughters learn in life will come from their most important role model...their MOTHER. Not Barbie.

So go ahead, and sing with Barbie! And Happy Birthday!

Kara said...

Well you *know* I appreciated this post!! When my girls got their first Barbie (I still curse Pam for this) I cringed and sighed and hoped it would be no big deal. Well Barbie is a HUGE deal and even though I've come around, reading your post makes me feel better about it. Besides, it keeps the girls busy with creative play. Really busy. Busy enough so I can read my favorite blogs and comment...

kate hopper said...

Thanks! Since then, she actually hasn't been playing with them much at all. Is the singing too much for her? Who knows.

Betsy, I loved the Dharma of Barbie! Thanks for sharing the link!