The blog of photographer Kim Ayres

Death to Barbie

We have never bought in to the whole Barbie thing. In fact, our house has been something of an anti-Barbie zone for so many years, that it just doesn’t enter my head any more.

Until this week.

Meg has a friend, K, who she went to for tea last week. This was quite a big thing in some ways, because this was the first time that Meg had been invited round to one of her classmate’s houses for the afternoon. There’s always a slight concern for us – we know that Meg’s perfectly capable of behaving well, but we’re never entirely sure how the parents will react to her Down’s Syndrome. However, it all seemed to go fine, and Maggie and I breathed a sigh of relief when Meg was brought home with tales of having made their own pizza for dinner, along with lots of playing and dancing.

When I was walking with Meg out of the school gates earlier this week, K’s mum was there, in her car with her daughters, apparently waiting for us to appear. She leapt out of the car when she saw us, and with a beaming smile produced a Barbie doll. “Hi Meg,” she said, “you were having such a great time the other day, and we have a lot of Barbie’s, so I thought you might like this one!” K’s mum was holding out the doll, resplendent in a glittery dress, to Meg.

Well at this point you don’t really like to say “and what kind of role model do you think I’m going to let my daughter have? Don’t you understand that we are trying to create a society in which people of all shapes, sizes, ages and colours should be allowed to be seen as normal? Don’t you realise that society created all sorts of problems when it decided that the only acceptable form of beauty was that of a tall blonde with disproportionately large breasts and a waist the size of a skinny 9-year-old? Well do you? Do you?” Not if you ever want your daughter to go to a friend’s house for tea again you don’t.

The easy option at that point would have been to take the doll with thanks and tried to lose the thing later, but I also realised that if we accepted it then it would be almost impossible to explain to Meg later on why we didn’t think that having a Barbie was a good idea.

K’s mum turned to me and said, “I hope you don’t mind. Meg was telling us how much she loved Barbie and was going to get lots of Barbie stuff for Xmas.” Utterly untrue of course, but sometimes Meg will just come out with these things.

“I’m sorry”, I said, desperately wishing that Maggie had picked up Meg today and been the one to deal with this, “but I’d rather not take it.”

At this point K’s mum hadn’t a clue what was going on in my head and said, “Oh, she’s already got hundreds has she?” Her smile was still very warm and friendly.

“No,” I replied, trying to keep my smile as relaxed and friendly as possible, “we just don’t do Barbie.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” she said. Her smile was still there, but I was aware that none of her facial muscles had moved .

She was back in the car so fast, that I barely had time to say “I appreciate the thought…” before the tyres were screeching and the car was disappearing into the distance.

Sometimes it isn't easy being a Dad.


kats said...

oops ,but I'm glad you stuck to your principles.


Anonymous said...

Wow, you are brave! Don't think I would have the guts to do that. I admire your courage.

Unknown said...

Its sad sometimes that we have to choose between our principles and not offending another person. People oftentimes take this kind of situation as a personal insult, when that is not at all what it is.

Siddharth said...

what u did was cool kim.i mean u refused 2 indulge in a school of thought that thinks 36-24-36 defines what a woman should be.barbie represents a stereotype and u did the right thing.but considering ur daughter had bonded so well with that family maybe u should have taken the barbie and then told ur kid y barbie dolls stink.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Ash...
It's unfotunate you didn't get a chance to clarify that it wasn't a personal slight :( Moments like that are fast and difficult to navigate!

Kim Ayres said...

Kats & Stella - I don't think it was bravery so much as blind panic. At the heart of it I just knew that if we accepted the Barbie then the hassle we'd have with Meg for the next few years could be huge.

Asher - my fear is not so much that she feels she's been insulted, but that she feels embarrassed. If she's insulted, then that's her problem as an insult was not intended. But if I was in her place, embarrassment would be my overwhelming feeling, and I'd hate to think she might start avoiding us because of it. That would be to my daughter's detriment.

Siddharth - this is where your youth betrays you - any parent would be able to tell you that there is no way you would be able to talk a 7 year old daughter out of a doll once she's accepted it. The only way that we've been able to avoid it is by never starting. Think of it like a drug or addiction - it's much easier to cope with if you never begin.

Daxohol - the speed with which the whole encounter was over was scary. It's one of those moments where you're left standing on the pavement thinking "what just happened?"

BStrong said...

Hello, my name is Brian and my daughter Elli is a Barbieholic. She has been a user since age 3 and is up to one, sometimes two per month. Around holidays and birthdays she seems to sink deeper into the deep black hole, sometimes receiving 3-5 at a time, mostly from her friends.

It may not look like it, but I agree with you. Even though she enjoys playing with her Barbie’s my wife and I do a pretty good job at keeping things real at home.

K and her mom sound like wonderful people. Hopefully Meg will have more play dates that are Barbie Free.


Kim Ayres said...

Well, admitting that you have a problem is the first step Brian. Thank you for joining the group...

Jan Steck Huffman said...

she probably thinks its a "down syndrome" thing... ;)

I personally liked Ken better.

Lord Lessismore said...

Kim, I just wanted to say that I enjoy your blog quite a bit even when I'm not actively commenting. Even when they're not explicit, the BIG issues lurk in your every post. We kept our girls Barbie-free and are very happy about doing so. But it did result in a few of those messy moments when one of those "it's only a doll" perspective people ran up against our "it's only a symbol of everything reprehensible in society" perspective (which we tried not to enunciate...) And there are now times when I'm unpleasantly surprised at how judgemental my girls can sound when they talk about other kids and their love of mass consumable plastics. Have my 'values' become their prejudices?

Which brings me to your last line, to which I would respond, "sometimes???"

Unknown said...

LOL!!! We don't 'do' Barbie at our house either....and with three daughters that was a lot of returning gifts for a suitable replacement.

Too fun Kim,,,,,see, I believe in destiny and that is WHY you were to one to pick up Meg so you got to share the events with us is such a delightful way!

Kim Ayres said...

Mauzy - I think it's probably seen more as a weirdo thing ;)

Lord Lessismore - it's good to hear from someone else who's been through the same thing. My older stepdaughters (now aged 19 and 22) were brought up in a Barbie free zone, and like yours became quite damning of the "plastic perfection". However, I'm quite pleased about it as I dare say they could just as easily have had a backlash and decided for ever more to dress in pink.

But no, it's not always difficult being a Dad (he writes with his wife looking over his shoulder...)

Tara Marie - aha! So my true purpose in life is to keep you entertained for a few minutes each week, via my blog. Suddenly it all makes sense... ;)

Kim & Terri said...

I think that it's really cool that you stood up for your principles on this one, Kim. A neighbor gave my daughters some of those "Bratz" dolls on their last birthday and they are really kind of freaky. I don't know what's worse...freaky dolls or proportionatly unrealistic dolls. Thankfully they don't play with them much and I think my partner and I do a pretty good job of keeping them grounded in reality at home, too.

Kim Ayres said...

Bratz are not much better, it's true. In fact, the school has a book fair at the moment and we've given Meg some money to buy a book with the strict instructions that she's not to get anything with Barbie or Bratz in it. I don't hold out too much hope to be honest.

Miss A said...

Good for you - evil barbie.
I like the fact that the woman kept on smiling....

Kim Ayres said...

Hi Anne - welcome to my ramblings.

Yes, the fixed grin is always a bit of a giveaway!

Anonymous said...

When my oldest daughter was young there were plenty of Barbies in our house. It wasn't until she began comparing her self to the dolls that I began to realize just how freakishly odd their shape was, and how they affected my child. Then I began noticing that all their faces were basically the same, no matter what ethinicity they were. Reality is that all people are not the same, and I have yet to know someone that looks like a Barbie.

There are NO Barbies in our home.

I do not think that parent's who allow Barbies are all evil, yet I wonder what they may unsuspectingly be teaching their daughter's about beauty.

Other media influences are all around us, so it is not as if we can completely exclude our children from the reality that "beauty" at least in the eyes of the media, is rather superficial and shallow, based merely on how physically pleasing a person is.

Ironic because there are more people in this world that do not fit this so-called ideal image than there are that do.

Great response to the mom about Barbie!

Kim Ayres said...

Thank you for taking the time to comment, Rebecca, and welcome to my ramblings.

It is very reassuring to find that we're not the only people in the world who think that Barbie is not the kind of standard of beauty we want to hold up to our children.

BTW, I went to look at your blog, but although it mentions one on your profile, the link didn't go anywhere. If you don't mind me asking, what is your blog address?

Anonymous said...

Kim, I am at:

You have left me a comment that's how I came to you.

Not sure why my link on my profile isn't working, I will check it out and try to correct it.



Kim Ayres said...

Aha! Now it all makes sense! Sorry about that - I didn't make the connection.

Anonymous said...

I'm amazed that you were able to stick to your guns like that! I don't have any parenting experience to compare to (and don't have the youth excuse, either) but grew up in a Barbie-free house. Somehow, I don't remember it ever being a big deal; we just didn't have Barbie (and believe me, in the 70's-80's in the place I grew up, it was big). So I'm inclined to think that it is not traumatizing to the other kid's parents or to kids. I imagine it's just one of those things that becomes so normal when you've grown up with it that it feels like your parent is refusing to let you eat all of the Hallween candy in one go; you know you want to but also know it's a bad idea. And that's what your parents are for: steering away from bad ideas.

Kim Ayres said...

Another Rebecca - welcome to my ramblings and thank you for taking the time to comment!

Last night when I went to pick Meg up from school, I briefly saw K's mum chatting to someone else so said hello as I was striding past. Her return hello didn't seemed strained so I'm hoping that it means the incident is now past..

west coaster said...

I cannot believe that no-one has yet criticised your behaviour. It struck me as being simply cruel. From my perspective you were being blindly pig-headed.

Kim Ayres said...

Hello West Coaster - welcome to my ramblings. Would you care to expand on what you mean by saying that I was cruel? Are you saying that I'm being cruel to my daughter for not letting her have a Barbie doll, or are you criticising the fact that I didn't accept the doll from the mother and so may have embarrassed her?

I am open to criticism and would be interested in knowing what you would have done in that situation. Just blindly telling me I was cruel withut any further explanation isn't particularly helpful

west coaster said...

It's been a while and I'm not sure you'll even notice this but .. I'd like to apologise for my comment when you visited my blog after my previous comment here. Sorry.

Anonymous said...

hi kim,I know its been ages since that barbie story, but i just read it.that sounds so embarressing!i probably would've taken the barbie and hid it.poppy doesn't like barbie or bratz but she's still only 2!

Kim Ayres said...

Hi Layla - thanks for taking the time to comment!

Yes, this is one of those parental decisions that never occur to you until you suddenly find yourself in that situation :)

Anonymous said...

Dude, Barbies are awesome and so are Bratz! My husband jokes that he married a living Barbie because I'm a tall blue-eyed blonde with long legs and I love clothes and makeup. I think a lot of men are intimidated by Barbie because if she were a real woman, they'd be afraid of approaching her for fear she'd laugh in their faces.
Little girls love fashion and pretending to be big girls. Your daughter obviously loves Barbie, why disappoint her?

Kim Ayres said...

Anonymous - thank you for taking the time to comment - if you do so again, please leave a name so I can distinguish you from other anonymous writers :)

I have many issues with Barbie, one of which is it pushes and promotes a single idea of beauty - the tall blonde with a skinny waist and gravity defying breasts - which, let's face it, very very few people naturally look like.

I have no intention of helping my daughter to feel inadequate because she will never fit that image.

I'm not intimidated by any look of any woman - what her face and body look like are far less important than how she wears them.

If you are comfortable in your own skin, then I am pleased for you. I would like everyone to feel comfortable with who they are

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