One of the best-selling toys our culture has produced is the ever-pretty Barbie, by Mattel. As the father of a former young daughter, I have experienced first-hand the playing, dressing and accessories that Barbie brings to our world. It was a positive time of fun as well as social exploration and learning. When my daughter became a teenager, I remember when she decided to remove her Barbies from her bedroom, and it was a strong and sad moment for me. I felt that I should have spent more time sitting together with her, combing Barbie’s hair and play-acting adventures in the safety of our home.
But one of the finest compliments my daughter ever gave me was saying that when she was growing up we made her feel that girls can have any career — that there was nothing a girl couldn’t do. When she got to university she said she was surprised at how, even in our modern equality-sensitive world, there are many young women without the foundations for success.
While some people are not keen on Barbie’s pink color scheme or her stylized body, I prefer to focus on the positive aspects of sharing, community and fun that Barbie-land brings to children. While there is little doubt that daily life rarely achieves the idyllic stylings of a doll’s world, Barbie and her friends provide frameworks for children to explore the concepts of beauty and community, of careers and possibilities.
As adults we know that life can be hard, but we keep on trying to make our world better, both for us and our children. We come to appreciate the more subtle and fleeting moments of beauty in our world, and rejoice when we reconnect with the happy times of our youth.
I recently visited Toys-R-Us, a Mecca for parents seeking to start or augment their own Barbie-land.
A man had just arrived, and as he looked around at the cavalcade of pink my heart reached out to him. He pulled out his cell phone, knowing he was in over his head, and wisely called his wife or sister to help him.
He was part of a centuries-long chain of dedicated parents and caregivers who want children to have not just fun, but a time of peaceful wonder, discovery and beauty — to know possibilities and to not feel limited by anything. We want that for children, whether we had that in our own childhood or not, because that is what we want for ourselves.
So when someone says “Stop and smell the roses” I often think of them as pink roses, and I remember the joys and possibilities of Barbie-land.