Pop Culture

Barbie, Bikinis, and Body Image

The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition came out this week. If you’re like me, you’re gearing up for several weeks of cringing at the same photos of basically naked, airbrushed, underweight supermodels appearing in the media repeatedly for no real reason except “sex sells.”

But this year, SI has given us a new kind of cringeworthy: Barbie, with her hair perfectly fluffed, her swimsuit perfectly cut, her feet perfectly buckled in risqué stilettos, and her impossible figure stretched across a glossy page published for 36-year-old men seeking soft porn to gawk at.

Yes. That happened. A doll marketed for 3- to 7-year-olds is all mixed up between layers of real, objectified, female skin.

Why? Oh, haven’t you heard? Barbie’s “#UNAPOLOGETIC” now. She doesn’t care what people say about her, with her impossible standards of beauty and her materialism. In the face of real criticism about her effects on body image, self esteem, and young girls’ physical and mental health, she’s decided to go the sexy route. Because that makes sense.

Because teenaged boys and middle-aged men browsing their annual not-quite-Playboy should definitely be thinking about the health and wellness of young girls while they “read” about this year’s biggest swimwear trends. And they’re definitely going to glean a new understanding of an “#unapologetic, strong, and independent” new persona for Barbie, too.

Makes sense.

There are few things that frighten me more about parenting than the task of overcoming pop culture—especially today, when every aspect of media is chock full of garbage and every man, woman, and child is berated with it 24/7.

Diaper changes, late-night feedings, and tantrums I can handle. I haven’t been there yet and I know those won’t be pleasant rituals, but all parents endure them and the best ones learn to find humor in it all. I think that, with my husband’s help and a little faith, I can do that. But the responsibility of out-screaming, so to speak, the messages our society sends our children is a truly intimidating one.

When we’re repeatedly told that casual sex and good looks offer more life experience than commitment and human connection, we’re in trouble. I want my daughters—and my sons—to know that they’re worth everything. Their value isn’t determined by their fondness for vulgar music or their propensity to break rules or their skills in any physical endeavor whatsoever. I want them to know that their goodness is in their personalities, their intelligence, their hearts, and their faith. I want them to be loyal without being called “naïve,” committed without being called “desperate,” and generous without needing to give their bodies for someone else’s concept of “fun.”

Our children should be given the chance to understand what beauty really is. They should be taught that sex is the ultimate expression of love and unity—not a means to just anyone’s (or their own) pleasurable end. Our daughters should be treated like sisters, not objects—and they shouldn’t need to starve, Photoshop, or berate themselves to meet an unrealistic, societal “requirement” of acceptance. Our sons should know that they are whole people, not hormone-driven animals, and that they can and should be appreciated for the real gifts they can give those around them.

I recently heard the phrase, “We complain about society, but we are society.” That’s the honest truth. And I hope we all think about it deeply. How can we influence those around us to make this world a better place for our children? How can we change the way we behave so that we begin and end every pursuit with love, not selfishness, lust, or ignorance?

It takes a village to raise a child. I hope I’ll surround myself with the right one. And I hope you’ll help me do it.

Praise to Blossom