What can’t Barbie do? One creative woman has turned the iconic doll into a breastfeeding advocate – maybe she can be a role model for girls.
It’s about time that Barbie reflected what real women and womanhood looks like — and that includes breastfeeding!
Barbie dolls, sold by Mattel, were designed in 1959 by a mother who wanted to open doors for her daughter, both in terms of her toys and her dreams:
“My whole philosophy of Barbie was that through the doll, the little girl could be anything she wanted to be. Barbie always represented the fact that a woman has choices.” ~ Ruth Handler
At the time, only baby and toddler dolls were available to children in 3D form. Pretend-play with adult themes were limited to paper dolls. The original Barbie doll was a tough sell in the early years, but has now been Mattel’s most profitable line for much of the last 55-plus years.
Technically called a fashion doll, Barbie is and continues to be popular among children. Many versions have been released over the years with an array of wardrobe options, doll houses, and other accessories.
But Barbie is not without controversy. The doll’s ridiculous dimensions have been accused of influencing body image ideals for girls, including raising the risk for eating disorders. In the same vein, boys who played with or watched their sisters play with Barbie dolls could just as easily internalize the concept that women are supposed to look at a Barbie doll — when in actually, its thought that only 1 in 100,000 women match Barbie’s proportions, and this doesn’t include women who purportedly suffer from “Barbie syndrome” and undergo plastic surgeries to become a Barbie in real life.
Regardless, I can imagine that Barbie dolls have been successful in broadening the horizons of children through the decades, considering that back in the 1960s, expectations of women were rather narrow. Among the various versions of Barbie released over the years have been dolls representing career women in more than 180 traditionally male-dominated professions, such as firefighters, astronauts, health care providers, game developers, and and scientists.
But never a breastfeeding mother.
Perhaps Mattel felt that putting the spotlight back on mothers in the home would undermine its emphasis on career women? Or maybe Mattel’s executives just never thought about a breastfeeding doll, but it’s apparent by the response that Betty Strachan — doll artist and owner of All the Little Dolls in Brisbane, Australia — has received for creating a Barbie look-alike that simulates breastfeeding, that Mattel may be missing the mark.
Betty is currently sold out of her Barbie look-alike, “Mamas Worldwide Barbie,” that she created to represent the real mother: breastfeeding and without all the make-up that the real Barbie is known for. Her breastfeeding mother doll looks about as real as real can get in a Barbie.
“A woman’s body is an incredible thing. It sustains and brings life over 9 months, but it doesn’t stop there. The act of breastfeeding continues to sustain a child from birth into toddlerhood, sometimes beyond, and these breastfeeding dolls have been created to celebrate breastfeeding in an educational and comprehensive way for children.” ~ Betty Strachan
She also makes Barbie look-alikes that are pregnant, sport tattoos, and depict same-sex couples, and represent adoptive mothers.
Betty’s work almost makes me want to rethink my stance of not purchasing Barbie dolls for my children to play with — though as tempting as a breastfeeding doll is, I don’t think I could bring myself to buying one until we get to the point of a Barbie or look-alike made to body proportions that are actually realistic.
Despite the body dimension issue that Barbie dolls have going on, I like the idea of using a hugely popular toy to not only continue normalizing breastfeeding but also soften the tone of mommy wars. Girls don’t have to grow up to be either one or the other: We can choose to be both a career woman and a mother, and creating a breastfeeding Barbie truly showcases just how much choice women now have. We can choose to work outside the home, or not…to stay at home, or not…to work from home, or not…to be a mother, or not…to marry, or not…and any of these options can be fulfilling and give dignity to a woman. This opportunity for choice is what was important to Barbie’s inventor nearly 60 years ago, and Betty Strachan is filling in the gaps that Mattel has left behind.
Photo Credit: All the Little Dolls/Etsy