Barbie fashions are child's play

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Bailey still likes Barbie dolls.

She has a drawer full of the dolls, most of them stretched out naked just waiting for our daughter to dress them up again.

Of course, they're barefoot. It's impossible to keep America's most well-known dolls in those tiny shoes which are always getting lost.

And with the doll-buying, holiday season already in full swing -- just look at all the Barbies stacked on store shelves -- parents must once again be pummeled with news stories focusing on the psychology of playing with dolls.

Sociologists say dolls play an important role in shaping a girl's values.

I'm not sure what that means when it comes to my daughters. It's hard to put much value in plastic, unless it's a credit card.

Becca, our sixth-grader, played with Barbie dolls for years. She prefers to teach her imaginary class rather than play Barbie tea party now.

But Bailey still likes Barbie and her fashion-fun friends, although she often manages to lose track of her dolls. Of course, even her own clothes have a way of getting lost in her bedroom.

As a dad, I don't worry about the doll playing.

In our house, there's no social significance to a pile of naked Barbies or a drawer of doll accessories.

Becca and Bailey have bigger dolls, too, the realistically clothed American Girl dolls that are outfitted for different periods of American history.

While those dolls carry historic themes, my daughters are more interested in the dolls themselves than in reliving history.

As far as I know, none of Bailey's dolls is a soccer player. But Bailey, who loves to play soccer, doesn't seem to mind if her dolls aren't athletic.

Our second-grader is more interested in the clothing accessories than the dolls themselves. Becca was the same way.

Both girls already know how to accessorize. They love to shop for clothes. But I don't think Ken and Barbie had anything to do with their love of shopping.

Growing up, I never played with Barbie or went shopping much. Of course, I had my share of toys for boys.

I loved to play with my plastic cowboys and Indians. In my bedroom, the Indians always lost.

It's not that I was trying to discriminate against American Indians, I just always identified with the cowboys who were the heroes on all those TV westerns.

While I enjoyed all that role playing, I didn't grow up to be a cowboy.

I'm not into where the buffalo roam. I don't ride or rope or carry a gun.

So I don't read anything into children's play even if those tiny clothes mimic fashion trends.

One of these days, Bailey will quit playing with Barbie dolls and all those other dolls that are camped out in her room.

I'm not ready for that to happen just yet. I don't want to box them up and store them in the attic like museum artifacts.

I like seeing Barbie and her friends lounging on the carpet by their plastic blue convertible, although sometimes it can make it difficult for parents to step around. But at least they don't make a lot of noise.

As a parent, I don't need the advice of experts to understand the social dynamics of Ken and Barbie and their friends who can often end up lost in a ton of colorful, plastic accessories.

Fashionable or not, it all comes down to child's play.

Mark Bliss is a staff writer for the Southeast Missourian.

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