2.20.2016

The truth about Barbies, bodies and blame

Today was a fabulous Saturday. I was actually sitting here perusing Facebook because we'd already done a jillion things in the morning and I thought, "eh, it's OK to kill some time on social media for a few minutes, we've accomplished a lot."

And then I saw an article about the new line of Barbies coming out. They've got good-ole-fashioned regular Barbie (with a whole new assortment of hair, ethnicities and activities to choose from), petite Barbie, curvy Barbie and tall Barbie. If you haven't seen the new models, take a peek at the photo below, it's one example of each one side by side, but keep in mind you can find them in all sorts of different skin tones now, with moles, bright red hair or even shorter, edgier hair.


Now, here's the thing. Some of you might be thinking "hm, big deal, it's a doll, who cares," while others, like me, are thinking "hey, this is a pretty forward move for Mattel to make, good for them." Seriously, that's what I thought. I thought, wow, cool, they're expanding their options, and left it at that. Well, I was going to leave it at that, until I clicked on the comments below the article, because I guess I'm a glutton for punishment, that or just sheer stupidity. 

Before you stop reading, let me throw this out there. Yes, I'm a feminist, yes, I've read probably too many books on the topics of not just female body image, but male body image and emotional stunting. So I'm not just a bra-burning (I can't burn that, I NEED my bra), armpit-hair-growing (more power to ya if you are!), ready to point the finger at everyone else and cry wolf, type of feminist. I'd like to say I'm a modern feminist, which in my opinion, means I think there's a whole hoard of reasons I've got a fucked up body image, ranging from my own head to all those crappy teenage magazines I read as a tween. 

Here's the problem with the comments I was reading. While there were a few "hey, cool, new Barbies," statements scattered about, for the most part, more of them read like the following: 
"Great, you've ruined Barbie by trying to be politically correct, once again,"
"We're too sensitive. What's next, super heroes with beer bellies and cellulite?"
"I never thought about Barbie's body while playing with them. I just thought they were pretty."
"It's the parents job to PAY ATTENTION to their children and to instill the right values. Not some doll."
OK, I get it, and to some degree, I can see where people are coming from. Of course we don't want to perpetuate an unhealthy role model for children. We don't want them to think it's OK to be curvy. Right? No one wants a fat kid.

WAIT. WHAT?

No one wants to say it, no one wants to admit it, but that's exactly what they were beating around the bush about. If my kid plays with a chubby Barbie, they might think it's OK to be that way too.

Yeah, that's the thing about 'curvy' Barbie. She's NOT fat. AT ALL. She's got a thicker waist and a butt, good for her, but she's not equipped with back fat and a second chin. (And for that matter, so what if she was. While being overweight might be unhealthy, I can't argue on every overweight persons wellness or health, it's not the WORST thing a person can be. I can think of several things I'd rather my child NOT be; a killer, a liar, a criminal, a CRUEL human being).



So maybe you see where this rubs me the wrong way. The majority of people weren't complaining about there being different Barbies, I saw very few comments screaming "political correctness" at the tall or petite Barbie, but the doll with an hourglass figure, well, she's about to bring down the whole doll industry if you ask some people.

Which leads me to my favorite statements of them all; the ones that talk about how they played with Barbies as a girl and never paid attention to her body. Well ya know what ladies, GOOD FOR YOU. But I've got some news for you, not everyone who played with Barbies did so in complete and ignorant bliss.

From a young age I recognized there was something special about Barbie. Her shiny blonde hair, sparkling blue eyes, ample bosom, tiny waist and legs for days were something that I noticed, even at the age of eight and nine. Sure, I may not have been lusting after those things then, but somehow, when I closed my eyes at night during my preteen years, I dreamt of waking up one day and having that blonde hair, that tiny waist and those giant boobs. I mean seriously, all of my middle school friends and I wanted nothing more than a larger bra size. Maybe that made us shallow, maybe it made us immature, maybe you want to scream that our parents did nothing and allowed us to seek the wrong things. Maybe they did. But ultimately, we wouldn't know what to have lusted after, what to have secretly hoped for, without all those images and idealizations around us when we were younger. And truthfully, a parent can only instill so much confidence into their children before they stop caring what they think anyway.

So no, maybe Barbie didn't make me hate my body. Maybe it was the magazines I read, the ones that never called girls fat, but did proudly proclaim their "plus-size fashion sections" in bold letters. Maybe it the models or the actresses. Maybe it was the marketing and clothing stores. Maybe it was me.



But I can tell you what it wasn't: It wasn't my parents; they never once critiqued my body, in fact, my mother tried to get me to wear a two-piece bathing suit in my teenage years. It wasn't my friends; they came in all shapes and sizes, from petite to tall, thin to thicker, athletic to feminine. SO who was it then? Who failed me? Who let me hate my body?

Maybe you think I'm being dramatic. Maybe you don't see the bigger picture. Maybe you think I should just get off my lazy ass and exercise, eat better and lose some damn weight if I want to love my body. But that's the problem with having poor body image; no amount of weight, no breast size, no leg length will make me feel beautiful. In fact, achieving these goals simply acts as a catalyst for something new for me to hate, to fix.

Still don't get it? Scroll back up through the collages I've placed in this blog, pay attention to the photos I'm about to post. All of these photos range from the year 1999 (age 14) to 2015 (age 30). We're talking 16 years of life under my belt, 16 years of knowledge, a college degree, a softball scholarship, a hall-of-fame induction, a husband, two babies and countless ups and downs through life.

Do you want to know what all of these pictures have in common (other than my hair color NEVER being the same, ha!).

At the time every single one of these photos was taken, whether 15 years ago or 15 minutes ago, I FELT FAT. I felt ugly. I felt like I wasn't worth as much as a human being, simply because someone could point at me and see love handles. Someone could look at me and see that my thighs touched.

And the most absolute absurd thing of all? In all of these photos, I've never weighed the same thing. At 5'8" tall, I've weighed anywhere from 140-190lbs in the photos appearing on this post. And I felt FAT in every single one of them.

Again, maybe you think I'm being dramatic, maybe you think "now you just want attention. You just want everyone to come on and comment that you're not fat or that you're pretty," but truthfully, that's not what I want. That's not what poor body image is about. If someone telling me I was pretty was enough to cure it, I would have been rid of it long, long ago. Poor body image is something dark and twisty that literally stains the way you see every single picture, reflection or glimpse of yourself.

Consider for example this photo of me on the right, taken my freshman year of college during our spring break softball trip to Florida, where we crammed way too many softball games in a week's time. I'm on the right, this was pre-tattoo me. I weighed 145lbs. I remember, because it was the lowest I'd been since my sophomore year of high school. Guess what? I used to look at this photo and cringe (now, however, I'd kill to have that body and that metabolism)! My thighs were still too thick, my neck wasn't long enough and I had virtually NO curve. Do you know how hard it is to be a "curvy" girl without any actual curves? I was cursed with a short, wide torso, so even at my smallest weight, I never got below a size nine over my gigantor-feeling hips.

But that was just college me right? All girls in college want to change something about themselves, right? "Poor body image" isn't really a thing, it's just an excuse to whine, right? Let's fast forward eight years, to when I was the mother of a rambunctious toddler and was getting up at the crack of dawn every morning to go to a spinning class, kickboxing class or just for a run.

I was determined to get healthy and feel better and I got down to 160lbs. I was pretty pleased with myself, albeit my still-size 12 jeans (what can I say? Childbirth did an even bigger number to my already big hips). I should feel proud and excited here, right?

When I look at this picture, I don't see my accomplishment. I don't see the joy in my daughters face. I don't see my pretty, long hair. I don't see my ample bosom. I see that tiny bit of pudge still protruding above my daughters head. I see that hard-to-get-rid-of pouch that I developed after each child I birthed. I see creases in my shirt that make me zoom in to see if I had upper arm fat or not. I see that short torso which makes it nearly impossible for me to have a curvy, feminine figure.

Still think I'm just wanting attention? Still think I should just get off my lazy ass and exercise? Eat fewer cupcakes?

The last photo is one that makes me the saddest, not because it's a particularly bad one, but because it displays how long I've loathed my body and how absolutely ludicrous it is to.

This was taken in 2012 (yes, the same year as the one above it). I was at nearly my heaviest, but would go on to gain about seven more pounds. And six weeks after this photo was taken, I would give birth to my 10lb, 3oz bundle of baby boy.

I was 34 weeks pregnant in this photo and I still didn't feel good enough.

The one time in your life people tell you it's OK to gain the weight, it's OK to have the extra cupcake, it's OK because you're growing a human life, I still felt fat.

My friends commented on my photo "I wish I was that skinny when I was pregnant." Or, "Oh you're so tiny!" But it didn't matter. I didn't see that. I saw my too-thick arms. I saw the stomach which now surpassed my bust, I saw my love handles, which now blended in with the butt I never had. I didn't see a glowing mother; I didn't see a happy, pregnant woman; I didn't see someone growing, nourishing and carrying a human life; I saw someone fat. I pictured the stretch marks polluting my stomach under my shirt. I pictured the tiny bit of flesh that just barely stuck out over my regular jeans I wore that far into my pregnancy. I saw ugly.

I'm now 30 years old and responsible for raising a little girl. I feel helpless in this battle we're going to be fighting, because even with an amazingly strong mother and network of friends growing up, I still loathed myself so much. Sure, I look back now on these photos and I realize how irrational I was being, how crazy I am. I'm a relatively intelligent human being; I realize all those thoughts are in my head. And at this age, I realize I'm generally the one putting them there.

But the question still begs answering, what put them there to begin with?

Maybe it wasn't Barbie. Maybe it wasn't the media. Maybe I would always feel this way even if I'd never been exposed to those things.

Maybe not.

But if you REALLY think Barbie doesn't have any impact on how a little girl grows up to feel about herself, then what's the big deal if they make one with a little extra junk in her trunk?

You also might like: