Me, I'd give her the dolls and be happy I didn't have to pay for them. And on the upside, at least they're somewhat ethnically diverse nowadays and you can buy a good selection of Barbie-sized doll clothes on the cheap at garage sales and thrift stores. I'm not a huge fan of Disney or the Disney Princess thing, but I don't think they're inherently evil, either. My daughter always invents her own adventures for her dolls.
We were actually at my parents' today and my mom appeared with a box and said, "Guess what's in here that used to be Mommy's?" And of course it was a box of barbies and other dolls. And DD glommed onto them instantly. I was put out because I kinda thought she should've asked first.... for one thing, I just got DD a new dollhouse for Christmas and it isn't big enough for Barbies!
but mostly because I'd already decided I didn't want to invest in dolls who are so darned hard to dress just yet. Fortunately DD was satisfied to leave the actual Barbies with Grandma as long as I let her keep my old Strawberry Shortcake dolls, which also seem to have had a small wardrobe to play with (and are smaller and cuter, with kid-like bodies).
You'd be surprised at how long this play can last -- we had our neighbor's 11 year old son (going into 6th grade) spend a ton of time at our house last summer with my 9 year old ds. One of their most frequent games was: Stuffed animals! And this 11 year old is heavily exposed to media and video games that I'd never let in my house -- so it just goes to show that imaginative play is really very robust!
We have those dolls you are talking about along with a giant bin of Barbie's.
DD is 7 and sometimes plays with them. She likes to have them and is VERY drawn to princessy and sparkly pretty things.
I feel that discouraging this stuff would just make me have to say no all the more often.
She also has a box of Kelly dolls which I love. They are all little girls with different skin and hair colors. She has probably played them the most.
I dont have the problem with the Barbie's being too thin, pretty, or unrealistic. Doll makers make what sells. Pretty dolls sell. Children and adults are attracted to beauty. Who is going to make an unattractive doll? Dolls are fake; kids know that.
I played with Barbies. They are not what made me think I should have big boobs. The boys made me feel that way when they called me "mosquito bites".
DH grew up playing action figures who all had giant muscles and super powers. He didn't care if he had big muscles and I think once he was 5 he realized he couldn't fly.
I can kind of understand what the concern is but I don't think a doll is going to make a girl think that is how she is supposed to be shaped. I think our culture is going to do that whether we can stop it or not. I think if there is plenty of talk about the importance of being kind to others and our selves and healthy living .....about the inside of a person being what counts, that will be the best prevention against our DD's thinking they have to look like an airbrushed model.
Also, I would much rather my DD playing in her room with Barbies if that makes her happy and use her imagination, than watching all the trashy TV shows that her class mates watch.
As much as the princess nonsense irritates me, DD likes it. The dolls are pretty. She likes to look and be pretty. It's not going to cause her to grow up and think she is inferior to men or woman with big breasts.
There is only so much you can protect them from the way they are going to take in the world. Communication and guidance are important.
At 3, you can confiscate the dolls, but when they get older it gets harder.
I would write my neighbor a note thanking her for the gift, telling her you are going to save them for DS for when she is a little older, and then donate them. Maybe you would prefer to keep them until she is older. I don't think those dolls give a young child a healthy body image.
I loved barbies as a kid, and yeah, I really do think they warped my ideas of what a woman's body should like. Living in Los Angeles doesn't help.