Playing with Barbie
When I was a child, we lived in a house that had an alcove on the second floor. It was right next to the stairs and just in front of the corridor that led to my bedroom and my parents bedroom. That little alcove was my everything. It was my ‘secret base’, where my brother and I would pretend to be spies. It was my 'school', where I'd pretend to teach my brother but just end up bossing him around. But mostly, it was a home for my Barbie dolls. I have vivid memories of arranging my Barbies (6 adults, 2 children) with their various furniture, clothes and accessories. On the other side of the staircase was the supermarket, while the corridor was Barbie's workplace. That alcove became anything and everything. It was my little heaven, until my dad would step on one of barbie's shoes and yell at me... that sometimes broke the illusion.
I was fortunate enough to be gifted some of the global barbies that Mattel produced. These dolls were meant to be a representation of different cultures. My favourite was Kebaya Barbie, a doll of Malay descent that wore the traditional Kebaya outfit, had black hair and brown skin. Back then, I just thought she was pretty awesome doll. In my mind, she was different from all the others but that made her even more awesome. However, as I think back now, I feel it may have been because she resembled me in a weird way. Now I’m not skinny, nor am I of the Malay culture. But I do have brown skin and black hair. And being able to see that portrayed in some way made little 10 year old me very happy.
Kebaya Barbie was not me, and she never would be me (I named her Raven). But she was the closest thing I had to a somewhat accurate representation of me. I didn’t realise how much that mattered. To be able to see “me”. Raven was smart, successful and had great friends. Her best friend Chelsea, who was pale and had red hair (Raven and Chelsea, ‘That's So Raven’ throwback anyone?), was equally as smart and together they had all sorts of adventures. They were whatever they wanted to be.
To me, the new diverse range of Barbie dolls means that more young girls get to potentially play and create a stylised version of “them”. Petite, tall and curvy Barbie extend the realm of possibilities for young girls to imagine. They can see that all women are different, and finally they have dolls that reflect that.
Criticism always has and always will surround Barbie. This of course has extended to the new body types Barbie demonstrates. While many acknowledge that the dolls are a step in the right direction, some maintain they still aren’t completely realistic or ‘normal’, and the dolls should not be applauded for that. ‘Normal’ women don't go around wearing perfect makeup all the time. ‘Normal’ women don't go around in their best clothes all the time. ‘Normal’ women don't have beautiful flowing locks at all times. But that's the beauty of our Barbie. She's not ‘normal’. She was never meant to be. She's a fantasy. Our fantasy, one which we can mould to be whatever we want to be.
If we want Barbie to be a realistic business women, she can be. If we want her to be a kick ass fairy princess ninja, you guessed it, she can be! She could be a teacher, a vet, a fashion designer, or an astronaut. She could be a friend, a sister, a daughter or a mother. To me she was always all of those things and more. But when I played with Kebaya Barbie, I saw how every woman could be those things. Even me. So here’s to the girls who get to play in their alcoves with their petite, tall and curvy Barbies. Who decide what they want their dolls to be, to represent.
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