Stereotypical stereotypes


When my daughter was born, people showered her with the color pink. Pink shirts, shoes, shorts, pants, dresses. She was born with a thick head of black hair that fell below her ears and was in her eyes by the time she was two months old, so she even had pink hair clips. Although I'm not a fan of the color pink I got used to seeing it everywhere. I accepted it as my fate, at least for a time.

As willing as I was to give in to the pink epidemic, one parenting decision I would not budge on was to not allow my daughter to have dolls, Barbie or otherwise. My decision was equally purposeful and highly criticized, but I held strong in my determination to maintain a doll-free household.

Those who felt sorry for my daughter--who never asked for a doll, by the way—would receive the same response: Barbies create a negative body image in young girls. This fact has been substantiated through scientific research.

Repeated exposure to the doll causes 5- to 7-year-old girls to express dissatisfaction with their own bodies.
— Dittmar, Halliwell, & Ive (2006)

I remember being nine years old and wondering why my thighs were so much rounder than Barbie's. I thought a tiny waist, big boobs, and long legs were how everyone was supposed to look and since I didn't fit that image there must be something wrong with me. I also thought my clothes should come in a big portable closet, which I actually sill think would be pretty cool.

And don't get me started on the Ken dolls. Letting little girls think that a man's junk is simply a small bump on his crotch is so far beyond wrong I have no words. Talk about confusing! I'm not saying make them anatomically correct, but there must be a better option.

As for dolls, I completely reject the idea that just because she's a girl my daughter must play with dolls. I'll admit there may be pre-determined genes in boys and girls to make them gravitate toward different types of play, and I did not stop my daughter if she chose to play dolls at her friend’s houses. I just refused to have them in her every day life. 

I worry that making girls think they must be nurturing only serves to make them feel like a failure if they are not. And I feel that little girls who play with dolls are being taught they should be mothers. What if they don't want to be a mother? Will they feel like less of a woman because they have been told their whole lives they are supposed to want babies?

None of us knows the best way to raise a child; all we can do is go with our instincts and hope for the best. How we parent, as with many things in life, is personal. No one should be judged poorly for raising a happy child, even if you disagree with how that happiness is created.

You may think I took this stereotype too far in the opposite direction; I'm okay with that. It doesn't bother me if you see value in letting little girls play with dolls. All I know is not letting my daughter have dolls was important to me and I would not let any amount of pleading or criticism from outside sources sway me from that decision.

I want my child to know she has options. She can get married or not get married; have kids or not have kids. Find a girlfriend, a boyfriend, or live alone with five cats. My only wish is for her to find her true happiness. I don't ever want to box her up in a stereotype and make her feel like a failure if she doesn't fit into that frame. Instead I want to encourage her to follow her spirit and see where it guides her.