Most little girls love and play with dolls. Ask any lady what her fondest childhood memories are and playing with dolls is sure to come up at some point. Barbie, Cindy, Bratz…dolls are an essential part of little girls’ childhoods and whether we’d like to admit it or not, shape who they grow up to be. Some girls aspire to be doctors after playing with hospital kits, while some aspire to be ballerinas. Some, however, play with dolls and aspire to the pretty.
Dolls aren’t human, nor do they pretend to be. Their bodies are disproportional and aren’t built for functionality. Their features are exaggerated and overemphasized at some point. There are different types of dolls but all have a similar trait: perfection. You don’t see pimples, rolls, cellulite, scars, stretch marks or any of the many things that appear on a human woman’s body on these dolls. The dolls are slim yet curvy, tall yet small, relatable yet out of this world. With perfect (plastic) skin, makeup that hardly rubs off, perfectly flattering clothes and they ever-present smile, these dolls are little plastic supermodels. In real life, almost no one looks like a supermodel.
Some would argue that these dolls give little girls unrealistic expectations of beauty. After all, the dolls are supposed to be a representation of real life and by giving this to the girls, we are telling them this is what they are supposed to look like. On the other hand, some argue that most people are able to distinguish by a certain age between dolls and real life. Others say that they weren’t influenced by the dolls they played with as kids. It’s a tricky topic as the same argument could be made about magazine covers, music videos and any other form of media that depicts the female form.
The decision to give little girls perfect-looking dolls to play with is almost never done in order to tell them what to look like. They are given as playthings and not much else. However, the effects of the dolls on some girls’ self-esteem and self-image cannot be ignored. What do we do then? Ban dolls? Burn them? Only give girls raggedy-ann dolls?
No, what we do is talk to young girls. As young as possible. Talk to them about their bodies and body image. Dolls might tell them indirectly that they are imperfect and so it is up to us to tell them directly that they are beautiful. In their adult lives, they will see symbols of perfection everywhere: in the models in magazines, on the billboards, on television. Worse, they will grow up and see living, breathing people who look perfect. The problem is not inherently in the dolls themselves and the solution is not in banning the dolls, but in banning body shaming and negative thoughts on body image.