I was one of those weird kids who played with Barbies a little too long. Like, the age in early adolescence when parents start getting concerned thinking, “God, please don’t let my kid be the one who takes her dolls to high school with her.” Much to my parents relief, I finally packed away my giant Tupperware tub of plastic bodied blondes just shy of the eighth grade.
Before I finally came to terms with the fact that blossoming into womanhood also meant leaving behind my beloved Barbies, I was a Barbie freak. From two Barbie Powerwheels to a Barbie Dream House to a My Size Barbie, I couldn’t get enough. During birthday parties, my eyes would scan the gift table, expertly able to detect the rectangular shaped packages that housed my Mattel vice. Christmas mornings would grind to a halt as my parents spent 30 minutes trying to extricate a fashion forward brunette veterinarian from the plastic bondage holding her to her cardboard display, as my attention could not be redirected once I had opened a Barbie. Christmas and birthday wish lists from my childhood always begin with the generic “Barbies,” with “Barbie clothes,” next and maybe some particular Barbie vehicle, horse, or dwelling listed after. It really didn’t matter what it was as long as it was Barbie.
In an effort to tap into my hysteria while guiding me toward adulthood, my mother and grandmother introduced me to the world of Barbie collecting. (Because it’s totally weird if you play with Barbies as an adult, but keeping expensive ones displayed in their boxes is very normal). My world soon became filled with a clear delineation of Barbies I could play with and Barbies I had to simply look at. Though it didn’t really matter to me, the main idea was I had Barbies. Hundreds of Barbies.
As I got older and my mom eventually tossed out that Tupperware bin, I became confronted with the well-known argument of Barbie being an unhealthy model of body image for girls. In high school and in college I heard reports, had discussions with peers, and even once attended a lecture about the negative effects Barbie’s appearance has on the development of body image for young girls. I was stunned. I had never seen Barbie as anything remotely close to making me feel badly about myself. In fact, Barbie made me feel better about myself. When I didn’t get invited to a girl in my class’ slumber party, I still had Barbies to play with at home. When I couldn’t get my unruly, frizzy hair to look right, I could spend hours brushing, braiding, curling, and even cutting (sorry, mom!) Barbie’s hair. When I had to shop in the women’s department for an outfit in middle school because there were no options for plus sized girls, I could dress Barbie up in the perfect outfit for whatever occasion I constructed in my mind. I never saw Barbie as something detrimental to my development. Sure, she was gorgeous and had a barrage of boyfriends, but she was also very smart (do you think any idiot woman could be a doctor, a veterinarian, an astronaut, a teacher, a NASCAR driver, and the Sugar Plum Fairy all at one time? I’d like to see you try that). She was also financially independent, financing the Dream House, the pink Corvette, and the party yacht all on her own. Barbie was the star of the storyline, Ken was just a sidekick, taking a backseat to Skipper, Midge, Stacy, and even Theresa. And, above all else, if you are using a doll as a model for how you want to look, you have serious issues.
I have vehemently defended Barbie like she’s a real person I have known for years (again, it’s okay because I no longer play with her, just collect her. It’s very adult, and there’s nothing weird about getting emotional when people talk shit about a toy…). Women I had just met and so desperately wanted to impress would say things like, “Yeah, but if you compare Barbie’s measurements to a real woman’s….” I never knew how those sentences ended because my eyes turned into slits and I immediately began internally shouting, “HOW DARE YOU?!” I would abruptly end girl dates and vow to never spend another second with such a nasty, vile woman.
Early this year, Mattel announced plans to begin making Barbies with a variety of body types. Not much happens on the internet without me finding out about it, but news about Barbie travels to me especially quickly (I’m not sure why so many people feel the need to tell me about things happening in the world of Barbie…). When I first read about the new body types for Barbie in a very reputable news publication on Barbie’s Instagram, I was upset. I felt betrayed and abandoned. How could they just take away my gorgeous, blonde, leggy childhood friend and replace her with a short, chubby, freckle faced imposter? Suddenly Barbie went from being an icon of beauty to being something much more….like me.
And that’s when I realized how much young, chubby, short me with the braces and hair five feet wide thanks to the lack of scientific funding of the Chi flat iron, needed this new Barbie. Young me needed to have a standard of beauty that was realistic and not unachievable. Young me needed to know that women come in all shapes and sizes and all are just as beautiful and equally deserving of the opportunity to take a roadtrip in a fold out RV with their best friends.
Young me needed a My Size Barbie that was actually her size. Not just another super-cool Barbie with clothes her friends could come over and wear, but hey, it’s okay, because I get to wear the veil!
My beauty and self worth were never determined by Barbie, instead, my lack of confidence at an age much too young to have had to deal with such a mature feeling, was due to the lack of respect and worth attributed to women outside of socially constructed ideals of beauty. Barbie was a safe harbor for me from a lot of feelings of being different, of not fitting in (because playing with Barbies at age 13 is totally a good way to fit in), but Barbie also represented the many things holding me, and so many other girls like me, back.
Last week, Mattel honored model and body positivity activist, Ashley Graham, with her very own Barbie.
This is literally the kind of honor I’ve dreamt of. Being the first in my extended family to become college educated, buying my own home, being successful in my career, getting married…nothing could compare to the feeling of Mattel making a Barbie in your likeness. Nothing. Of course I wouldn’t know how that feels, but I can only imagine (Read: Hi, Mattel, would LOVE a Barbie in my likeness! But like, me on my BEST hair day).
And when Mattel reached out to Ashley about immortalizing her with a plastic doll, she had just one request. Make sure her thighs touch.
Young me would have had one request her her Barbie, too.
Make sure her thighs don’t touch.
So thank you, Mattel, and Ashley Graham, and so many others out there who are warriors for women. Thank you for finally getting it right and showing young girls that whether or not your thighs touch or you are seven inches shorter than your best friend or you have crumbs in your bra at the end of a long night binging on snacks and Netflix, you are important. You’re an astronaut, you’re a teacher, you’re a veterinarian, you’re a Seaworld dolphin trainer (which we need to talk about because I saw Blackfish, and we might want to get you a new job). You have a super hot boyfriend. Or maybe not, because you’re super busy hanging out with Skipper and Midge, and even Theresa, I guess, because life after college makes it really hard to make friends and you should probably just give her a chance.
You are beautiful. You are worth showing off to the world.