I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I signed up to fulfill the Christmas wish lists of two children through Aid for AIDS of Nevada. One of the children is an 18 month old. Pretty easy to shop for - clothes, socks, potty - those were the items on her list. Well, the other child is an 8-year old girl. I am happy to say I was able to get everything on her list except two - shoes and skates. I would have been happy to buy this girl both, but I really needed to know something about her foot size. The contact at AFAN wasn't able to tell me anything about size so I decided to go with the other items on her list - including Barbie.
Perhaps you are thinking - "What the heck is a slightly crunchy feminist doing even considering buying a Barbie for anyone?! What kind of message does Barbie send to girls other than they should try to live up to some impossible standard of feminine beauty? It's just a form of societal indoctrination that contributes to young women hating themselves for not living up to some standard perception of feminine beauty." - Yeah, I kind of thought that too for about 10 seconds.
Here's the thing though. This girl specifically put Barbie on her wish list. This is what she wants. This is what would make her happy.
Who the heck am I - some white, comfortably middle class, able-bodied, thin, stranger up to her eyeballs in privilege - to tell her what she should and shouldn't want to play with?
I don't know anything about this girl. I don't know if she is white or black, thin or heavy. All I know is that HIV/AIDS has impacted her life, and that her family is in economic hardship so that they have sought help with providing Christmas gifts. And I know she wants a Barbie for Christmas this year.
So I walked down the Barbie isle.
One I decided I was indeed going to buy this girl a Barbie I had a whole new bag of worms to deal with - choosing a Barbie for a girl I had never seen. Is this girl white? Black? Hispanic? Shouldn't I choose a culturally appropriate doll for her? Being a clueless privileged white woman, I can't help but think that giving a white, blond doll to a black girl is in poor taste at best, and insulting and demeaning at worst. I have no desire to send any messages to a little girl that she is somehow other, or not the default, or otherwise different from what our society deems beautiful by giving her a blond Barbie. There are enough other forces in the world that I'm quite sure are bringing that message home and I certainly don't want to be a part of that if I can help it. On the other hand, if she is white and blond herself, she might very well specifically want a blond Barbie who looks like her.
So, not knowing this girl's heritage, do I get a Barbie with white skin or black skin? Blond hair or black hair?
Wanting to do the right thing for this girl, and struggling with the privileged white woman's dilemma of having no idea what the right thing is, I saw something that struck my eye that I thought might suit the need at hand - a fairy Barbie. Fairies can be anything! They can look however you imagine them to look! I wish I could say this fairy had pale blue or green skin. She in fact does have white skin. She also has purple hair and purple wings. Perhaps this is as balanced as I could find? I did see one white-skinned brown-haired Barbie - almost naked in a bikini swimsuit - PASS!
I think this Barbie looks pretty cool with her matching hair and wings. I hope I made the right choice. I hope my girl will unwrap this gift, along with the other items I got for her, and have a happy, merry Christmas.