As I have been exploring the issues of body image distortion recently, I was struck by something my very own daughter told me. You might think that as a mom who fights for freedom from such torment as our self-identity crises that I would have a daughter completely free of issues. Right? Wrong.
I remember when Salome told me a couple of years ago that she felt like her thighs were too big. I was immediately yelling “No Way!” and praying up a storm. I am always careful what I say to her and Natal, my seven year old son, about my body and looks. We don’t criticise people for weight, shape, or size either.
Recently, Salome pulled out one of her art boxes as she was going to make a movie using her camera and tripod. She is a gifted artist and comes to life when tapping into her creativity. She loves filming and editing. In her box, I saw a self portrait she had done while taking a homeschool art class when she was eight or nine years old. Viewing it, I realised how much I never thought that was much of a self-expressive piece because she was blonde and light eyed in it.
I asked her why she chose blonde hair and light eyes and I assumed it was because her older cousin, Raylin, who she adores, is blonde and blue eyed. She easily admitted that she did want to grow up to look like Raylin.
And then she said this, “But it was mainly due to Barbie.”
Jaw on floor.
I remember when she was a tiny four year old, she would always pick out the blonde, blue eyed Barbies. I would suggest she get one that looked a little more like her with her dark skin, eyes, and hair. She would tell me that no, she wanted the one with blonde hair and blue eyes because that is what she looked like. This always puzzled me. I would ask her why she thought she looked like that when obviously she was the opposite. And she couldn’t tell us. She simply insisted that she was like Barbie herself.
Last night, I asked my almost 12 year old why she identified with Barbie in this way. It wasn’t a hard or forced or painful conversation. She said she remembered watching the Barbie movies, which she loved, and the dolls that looked like her were always in the background. So she always wished she could look like the blonde and blue eyed doll who did all the singing and was the main character. Oh, my little tiny Salome, if I could go back and tell you how you were the main character, I would!
Her words reminded me of a childhood memory. I was in second grade. We were asked to bring a gift to trade in our classes for Christmas. Girls brought girl gifts and boys brought boy gifts. There was a beautiful African American girl in my class who chose her gift which turned out to be a black “Barbie”. She didn’t want it. I asked her why. She told me she only played with “white” dolls.
Please hear me on this. I am not for or against Barbie. I loved them growing up. I loved my brown haired, brown eyed Bride “Barbie” that my parents brought me back from a business trip. I don’t remember being partial to the blondes or brunettes. I don’t think they contributed to my body image problems as some people suggest they might with their completely unrealistic beauty and body types. Then again…
Are we aware of, as parents, what conditioning our young children are receiving, especially through media?
I didn’t have a clue that tiny Salome felt sad in her heart about looking the way she did because she didn’t feel like a main character. And I wonder if my classmate felt ashamed for her ethnicity.
I asked Salome if she thought Barbies were a problem for her and if it would have been better to not have had them. She said, oh, no! I love Barbies. These days she makes them houses out of cardboard, paint, fabric, etc. She watches YouTube to learn tricks for their hair which still amazes me! She still loves the Barbie movies and can’t wait to watch them when the new ones come out. She likes her own dark skin and sun bleached ends of her dark hair. She loves makeup, fashion, and loves feeling set apart to be herself. She is embracing who she is. Oh, and she now loves Barbie dolls of all ethnicities.
So, I am on the fence with this one. She’s almost 12. I trust her heart on this matter for now. But, if I could go back in time and be wiser about what I thought was a “clean” and “sweet” video series, I might have played Barbies with her instead.
By Suzanne Bowen, Suzanne Bowen Fitness