Author and speaker for children’s media culture, Dr. Rebecca Hains, wrote a 2015 blog post titled “5 Reasons NOT to Buy Barbie for Little Girls (It’s Not Just Body Image!)”. Hains focuses on Barbie’s damaging beauty ideal, her portrayal of girls as unintelligent, her race problem, the inappropriateness of the dolls, and the fact that Mattel buys into pro-girl spaces to make more money. Although fashion dolls can be fun, there are other alternatives to dolls like Barbie that are not plagued with problems.
The unequal representation of culture through Barbies can be observed through things as simple as their prices in stores. Hains conveys that Mattel has a hard time presenting Barbies of color in ways that surpass tokenism. The doll’s arrangement in stores does not help with this problem. “Unlike Bratz dolls, which competed with Barbie so successfully in part because of the dolls’ racial diversity, kids know that there is only one “real” Barbie—and that Barbie is blonde and white” (Hains).
In Keywords for Children’s Literature, Elisabeth Rose Gruner discusses the term “education”, the many ways it has evolved, and it’s role in many different aspects of one’s life. Gruner describes education as “the systematic instruction, schooling, or training given to the young in preparation for the work of life” (70), and states that education appears chiefly as an action practiced by adults on children. When adults provide children with different toys, they are teaching their children what types of things set a good example. Barbie trains young girls to develop unrealistic expectations of what their bodies should look like, what their future careers may be, and what their future lifestyles will be like. Children are taught life lessons while playing because their toys script for specific types of play. Robin Bernstein’s 2011 essay “Children’s Books, Dolls, and the Performance of Race; or, The Possibility of Children’s Literature” discusses the idea of scripting through children’s toys, and the ways that play performances can reify narratives. Barbie encourages girls to fall in love with fashion and beauty by promoting lots of clothing and beauty products for the dolls. Although Mattel has tried to take steps towards transforming Barbie’s body into a more realistic woman figure, most of the negative effects of the doll still exist.