As a mom of two girls, I’m always hyper-focused on raising my daughters to be strong, unique, self-sufficient women. Not Xena warriors, just capable, resilient people who can manage their lives and don’t feel like they have to be anything but the best version of themselves.
I think about it all the time, actually, making mental notes of things I see and hear that can help me empower them every day—things like strong images or role models or philosophies that can help me reinforce the idea that they should never feel pressured to be a Barbie doll or what they think society expects them to be. I want them to always celebrate who they are and never, ever try to conform to any of the stereotypes that exist out there in the world.
But it’s tough to combat all the preconceptions out there, especially as a parent. To be honest, it sucks. It’s like running uphill, in the wind, with a bowling ball dragging behind you, in the snow, when you have the Norovirus. But shattering as many biases as we can for the benefit of our kids is our responsibility, as much for them as for the generations who come after them.
For decades, we had the clothing companies and the makeup companies and the TV and movie and music industries all promoting similar ideas of beauty, so naturally that’s what shaped public opinion. And as a result, generations of little girls grew up believing that they needed to look and dress and act a certain way because the world of entertainment and fashion and beauty said they should.
I mean, just look at so many of the women who grew up in the 40s and 50s. For so many of them, Barbie was the universal symbol of what a woman was supposed to look like; and June Cleaver was the symbol of how women were supposed to behave. At least for a significant chunk of time in our history. And it was damn near impossible, until almost the end of the twentieth century, for young girls to be anything else.
And then, back only a few months ago in late January, Barbie went and shocked the world. She, herself, decided that she wanted to become the new poster girl for non-conformity. She wanted to break the old stereotype that she promoted and lived with for the last fifty-seven years of her life and become something and someone different. Someone more representative of the society she lives in.
So she shattered the old, traditional beauty ideals that most of us grew up with and acknowledged that strong is the new beautiful—that curves and a waist are real for most of us and they should be embraced not starved away. So she put a little meat on her bones, showed off her booty, and finally accepted the idea that beauty comes in many forms. Can I get a Hallelujah?!
Ok, fine, it wasn’t Barbie herself but rather her manufacturer Mattel who decided, after almost sixty years, that it was time to give Barbie a whole new look. In fact, three whole new looks—petite, small, and curvy—that celebrate the diversity that exists out there in the world. The real world. And that’s something.
That sends a message to all the little girls out there struggling to figure out who they are and where they belong so that they don’t have to struggle quite so hard. That if they’re mindful of living a healthy lifestyle and they make good choices, they don’t have to fit into a certain mold to be happy. They can be happy just being a one of a kind. Because in reality, even in spite of everything many of us have in common, no two of us are the same. And we’re not supposed to be.
So as a mom, I’m proud of you, Mattel. Proud of you for saying to the world, Nah, we’re not just making original Barbie anymore because she’s not a real representation of all the unique, beautiful body types there are out there. We’re making a whole bunch of new Barbies that will hopefully reflect a more accurate image of the real girls playing with our dolls.
Good for you, guys! Way to raise the collective consciousness. Way to make an impact. And, most importantly, way to celebrate that our differences are what make us beautiful, not our pant size.
And I’m proud of you too, Babs. You did a good thing reinventing yourself. It was time. And because you did, you’re gonna give a whole world of little girls out there the confidence to be their own kind of beautiful. The confidence to embrace who they are, how they feel in their own skin, and what they have to offer.
Now the only thing you have left to do is have a conversation with your boy Ken and make him realize that the dad bod is where it’s at. We’re not supposed to be perfect-looking anymore.
So get on it, Mattel, cause Ken’s next in line.
Lisa Sugarman lives just north of Boston, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at facebook.com/itIsWhatItIsColumn. She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is available on Amazon.com and at select Whole Foods Market stores.