There’s a popular series of Barbie dolls called ‘I want to be…’, all based on careers for girls to aspire to be. It where the astronaut and teacher Barbie dolls fit.
I was thinking about these Barbie dolls some time ago and wondering whether the idea of a career doll is useful to a child’s imagination. I was actually thinking about my own dolls and costumes.
Thinking back to when I played with dolls as a young child I remembered that my dolls didn’t have jobs, instead they went on adventures. I would get the duvet off the bed and scrunch it into a heap (pretend mountain) making a little hole halfway up for a cave and a place for Barbie to camp. The play was of Barbie hiking to the bed and using rope (a shoelace) to climb the steep side of the bed up to the top and the final climb up the mountain to the cave where she would set out her few belongings from her backpack and settle down for the night. Or she’d go to the pretend beach and swim in the ocean bathtub. Imagination I had in spades.
My parents bought me the super duper Barbie camper which kind of ended the mountain climbs but then came long distance driving to the country of “Living Room” and of course, being a big camper Barbie took friends.
If this is how kids play (and I only have my own experience to go on) then is a career Barbie any use?
Let’s be honest, an 8 hour shift is no adventure and someone only focused on earning money is quite frankly, rather boring to be around.
Imagine being one of Barbie friends…
On a nice hot Saturday we all decide to go to the beach, because in imaginary land we all live near the beach. We grab our towels, costumes, lotion, beach ball etc… and off we go.
We run onto the warm sand taking our shoes off to feel the grains of sand between our toes and turn to our best friend to tell her how great today is going to be… but Barbie isn’t there! Nope.
Barbie of course is the sodding lifeguard. Of course she is!
Her day at the beach is sitting in a chair watching people have fun and the only excitement is having a whistle to blow at people. Boring. And yet, that’s what toy manufacturers seem to base our play times on.
What is this obsession with ‘being’ someone?
I remember hearing a wee anecdote about a teacher asking her kids what they wanted to be when they grow up. One little wise one replied, “Happy”. So much of life and our place in life revolves around a job title and we know, when we meet someone new one of the first things they will want to know is our job title. But is that right?
What if, instead of forcing our imagination into an eight hour shift with Barbie is… we changed our thinking with Barbie goes…
Barbie goes to school and instead of having to stand for hours on end in high heels teaching a gang of obnoxious kids she attended an art class, or learnt to ride a motorbike. Barbie goes to the beach and catches a crab, real adventures rather than eight hour shifts.
Saying all this though, I remember wanting to be a shop keeper as a child. I remember getting everyone’s shoes, lining them in a row and pretending to sell shoes. Later when I was old enough to have nail polish I remember pretending to have a job painting nails. I had a notebook that I had drawn nails into and painted them with my polish, and wishing I could have a job where I painted nails but who on earth would be daft enough to pay someone to paint their nails?
On the other hand I was also looking at the Lammily doll (www.lammily.com) an alternative to Barbie and her body size problems. I liked Lammily at first, or rather I liked that someone was offering up alternatives, but the more I look at Lammily the more I like Barbie. I know there are some folk out there (actually some are friends of mine) who think doll making isn’t art but I disagree. You need to be an artist to make a doll. Lammily though was made purely through mathematics.
A mathematician decided he would take the average measurements of girls and produce a doll based on those measurements. Great idea, but like I say, doll making is an art form not a science. Like all great brands Lammily also has a brand strap line, Average is beautiful.
So, Lammily comes onto the market, an average doll living an average life. Modern mummy’s flocked to buy the doll that wouldn’t make their child aspire to be skinny and long necked. Feminists applauded a less bimbo stereotyped doll. Her average life offers an additional pack of stickers to personalise your average doll. Sanitary towel stickers for when the doll gets a period, stretch marks (for when she’s had a baby or lost weight perhaps) acne stickers, bruise stickers (for when your average boyfriend punches you?) cut stickers (for when life is too depressing?)
I know, it’s not funny is it.
Whatever hidden message people think Barbie is flogging it isn’t shouting average. Be average, don’t stand out, don’t make a scene, celebrate being normal. Don’t make a fuss. Let’s be honest, we’re not average people, we’re all different so surely a doll shouting how being average is cruelty at its worst. You don’t want to be different, you want to be like everyone else, different is wrong.
Being an astronaut sounds fun. Getting to spend a year aboard a space station sounds like a great idea, but into the third week I’d be bored. Same old view from the window (do they get Netflix up there?) even the novelty of peeing in zero gravity will eventually wear off. But given the choice, I’d rather aspire to be an astronaut than average.