It’s Time to Think about the Messages Toys Send

Today is the first day that parents could pre-order the new Barbie that addresses concerns about the body image message sent previously by the ever thin and buxom Barbie of yore. The new Barbie comes in tall, curvy and petite. This follows last year’s addition of dolls with new skin colors and ethnicity.

My mom might have been a bit ahead of her time. She passed over Barbie and gave me Tammy, the Ideal Teen when I was a little girl. Tammy was a bit flat chested with more of a girl next door appeal than the glamour of a Barbie. She had flatter feet that fit into sneakers and not just high heels. Is that why I have always spent more time in athletic shoes than I have in heels? Who knows, but I was well aware of the difference between the two dolls and I was also aware that they each represented an ideal to strive towards. No wonder Mattel had to finally give way to parent’s concerns about the message the tiny waisted doll was sending to young girls. My mom’s choice let me in on her perspective about beauty and body image and likely influenced my own perspective.

My own three girls skipped over Barbie for an American Girl complete with her history book reflecting the period of time each doll represents. My mom was often the one who bought these dolls as well. I remember that she lit up as she wrapped one up for Christmas as though she was thinking this was more like it. She also liked the less lovely cabbage patch dolls and an all time favorite of hers and mine was Poor Pitiful Pearl.

A special family memory was the day we went to see Wizzo the Clown whose tagline was “who’s always happy, never sad? It’s Wizzo the Clown that’s who.” When I showed Poor Pitiful Pearl to Wizzo, he cried! So much for never sad. My doll seemed to break his heart. Did this doll help me to have more empathy or teach me that looks are over-rated? Or did my parents teach me this in other ways and the doll merely reflected this intention of theirs? I don’t know. I also don’t know if I should be concerned that my granddaughters are drawn to the Frozen princess dolls.

The changes in Barbie reflect that many people are wrestling with these issues and trying to get it right. Mattel has lost some market share and of course these changes are made in hopes of better profits. Whatever the motives, Barbie is changing with the times and parents are thinking about the message their toy choices are sending to their children.

These issues stretch to other toys as well from the games on your phone to the more traditional toys as well. In every generation, a ball remains a childhood favorite. There still exists a red rubber ball but some also have pictures of those princesses or super heroes on them. They all still bounce and can be thrown around but you are still voting for or against the image on the ball when you buy it or reject it. Does it matter?

Share the memory of your favorite toy in the comments or on the Exercising Values facebook page. My favorite toy wasn’t a doll or a ball. It was a red, white and blue bike. I guess that’s why it stays perched above the many other bikes in my garage. It wasn’t a Christmas or birthday present but a surprise that appeared on an ordinary day. Now one of my favorite days to remember.

Toys have power to influence, to teach and to create powerful memories. Is there a toy you could surprise your child with today that would teach something you’d like them to learn? Remember it doesn’t have to be expensive. Tossing a softball and a football with my dad the moment he arrived home cost him time and energy but very little money.

Remember to share your favorite childhood memory or at least take a moment to remember it and smile. Then decide how to bring that happiness to your child today along with a choice that reflects what you’d like to see your child aspire to be or do. Good-bye Barbie with the perfect body. Welcome all toys that teach children to believe in themselves and aspire to care about and for others.

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