The Great Barbie Dilemma

The other day my daughter roped in my husband in getting down the Barbie box from the top of her closet and playing with her. I kept it on the top shelf because they are hard to dress and I’ve thought her too young for them; it’s a couple of my old Barbies, a ‘little orphan Annie’ child doll circa 1982, and a new Barbie that came with a hot pink Barbie BMW that my daughter received this past Christmas. My husband came away a little horrified at the new one in the tight minidress– I think may have been his first exposure to Barbie at close range. It turns out our daughter can dress them herself now for the most part. We hit the great Barbie dilemma.

I remember liking Barbie because I could do her hair; I learned to french braid on my Barbie dolls. I even made some clothes myself. Honestly, I’m not a fan of plastic/vinyl toys now as an adult but I understand the appeal of a somewhat posable doll with hair that can be brushed, styled, and dressed mannequin-like contrasted to the soft-bodied dolls she has with yarn hair.

I initially debated whether I should seek out a “Barbie replacement” that preserves the mannequin/brushable-hair appeal, like it seems American Girl dolls do for many families these days. However, American Girl is not an option for us financially-speaking, so I didn’t really look at them closely. I considered the Corolle Les Chéries dolls (another nonadult doll), but was disappointed at the lack of ethnic variety. For us, fair skin + blond is pretty much covered in every doll line, but I think every girl should have a doll that looks a bit like herself; so I considered whether it was possible for our friends to have a doll in the same line that looks like them.

There’s also a lot of consumerism associated with fashion dolls we wanted to avoid– and the American Girl line, while more child-like in appearance, is no exception. But, I feel like we already mitigate much of the consumerism by avoiding commercial TV in her life. Branching out and/or opting for a different doll framework altogether meant purchasing with an intention, grappling with what those intentions are, what is available, and what are the real repercussions of these decisions? I feel like I’m a bigger influence in my daughter’s sense of self than any toy, but I also don’t want to discount underlying concerns.

I also considered lessening the girls-gone-wild aspect of the new Barbie doll with a wardrobe that was more like what I and other women around my daughter actually wear. Most of the vintage clothes from my era had shot elastic and needed repairs here and there. There are definitely some nice Barbie clothes and tutorials out there. My husband, however, cannot get past the Barbie body– thinks they look too sexualized/unrealistic and it’s not something he wants to see lying around our house. I personally never recall expecting to look like Barbie– and I pointed out that I do not want the existence of breasts alone to be considered sexualized and taboo– but still, he still feels they send a subliminal message he doesn’t agree with. And, that’s hard to argue with that because I don’t wholly disagree myself.

So, we came to the agreement that we’d pack up Barbie and our daughter could have the “little sister” versions as a replacement, and, it being her birthday, I went off to Target… but I didn’t like any of them or their accessories. I figured I’d find a better selection online and went up the next aisle. In the next aisle they had Our Generation dolls, that look a bit like the modern American Girl dolls. I wasn’t feeling much love for them either. But, off to the side of those, they had a couple of Hearts For Hearts Girls dolls and I just totally fell in love with “Shola from Afganistan.” They are somewhat American Girl-style in that each doll has a story, but smaller at 14″ tall. Shola’s story is a bit heavy for a 4-year old (realities of war; the box does state 6+), but the part about her juggling in a traveling circus was coincidently appropriate being as my daughter’s birthday party was circus-themed: it was like a sign from God, lol. Anyway, the doll was beautiful and I brought Shola home. So, I think we’ll be going with as her “fashion dolls.” The whole family approves!

tea time with SholaBonus: the doll can stand unassisted! The only downside for me is the hair turns out to be more sparsely-plugged than I would have liked given my own love of hair styling. I feel like a little girl, lol. You could certainly put her hair in a single pony tail and braid it– even french braid it I think– but I’m not so sure pigtails would be attractive. I do not know how thick other dolls’ hair in this genre are rooted for comparison. I did find a seemingly thorough review of the doll I’d like to eventually get my daughter for Christmas, so Shola would have a friend (much like playing Barbies generally involves more than one doll). I definitely agree with the review that this is a well-made doll and perfect for my now four-year-old with room for play-growth. I’m not concerned or interested in doll collecting, just whether it is solid toy for my daughter(s).

I’m really surprised that I came across these dolls at my local Target of all places, but I never ran across them in my internet searches. My daughter likes that Shola has bracelets, earrings, and underwear, ha. She already wants me to make her doll a sleeping bag and a backpack.

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