Every little girl has her own favourite doll. But when dolls look like high street fashion models, it is time to have a second thought before buying the toy. These dolls do more harm than good as they should never become an obsession.
Reema and her husband Atul are worried. Their 4 year old daughter had been hankering after a Barbie doll, just like the one on television. Though they personally did not think that a mature fashionable doll was an ideal plaything for a 3 year old, they gave in and bought her one. They thought she would soon get bored and look to other age-appropriate play things. Instead, her obsession with the Barbie doll and Barbie's clothes increased. Very soon she wanted another one 'with glittering nails,' just like the one her friend had.
The concept of a doll has always been one of a toy with whom a little girl can identify with, play with and even make her imaginary friend. When Barbie was first introduced, the idea of a fashion icon for a doll did not go down very well with parents the world over and because it was priced on the higher side it became the 'status toy' for teens and pre-teens. Before long, thanks to aggressive advertising, every little girl yearned to possess one or add another to her collection. This obsession with the Barbie doll, her clothes, accessories, kitchen and other sets can easily cost parents over a thousand rupees. The money factor aside, not many parents are comfortable about the whole Barbie concept.
Firstly, most toys have their own limitations and age-appropriateness, which serves as a general guide for parents while selecting their youngsters' playthings. So a baby will like a squeeze toy, but a toddler will like something more adventurous like one with moving limbs. Yet Barbie is something clamoured by all children right from the age of two. But how can one fix an age to Barbie when most young girls seem to possess one, and there is nothing written on the packaging to guide you or lay down the law? Is it okay for a girl of three to play with a physically developed doll, when she herself is so young and has yet to understand her own body? Barbie's body becomes an object of fascination, and children constantly dress and undress her.
Secondly, when a child progresses from simple squeeze dolls to one with fluttering eyes and moving limbs or a talking doll, the transition is mostly in an age-appropriate manner, which is healthy for the child's overall development. Here, the Barbie defies all conventions. Barely has a baby got bored with a rag doll, that she seeks a Barbie.
Reema and Atul gave in to their daughter's desire, thinking that like every other toy she would soon outgrow her fascination and move on to another toy. Logically that is what ought to have happened, but what we find is an increase in fixation, which gives way to obsession. One can attribute it to various factors like the denial of the parent when the child wants to have a dress or high heels like her Barbie. An uncomprehending child often gets obsessed with the very thing she is being denied. This tends to harden the resolution of a typical wilful little girl, and what transpires is a battle of wills with the Barbie at the centre of the issue. Improperly handled, the Barbie becomes an obsession with a little girl. She dreams of looking like Barbie when she grows up, and of finding a man like Ken. And if these dreams fall short, she starts developing self-esteem issues. Looks and a figure like Barbie's are unreal, and young girls start developing unreal expectations from a very young age.
When the daughter begins to take a sudden interest in clothes and accessories, it is deemed normal and part of development. But when she throws up a tantrum about wanting high heels like Barbie, or begins keeping tabs on Barbie's changing styles at a very young age, it calls for some conscious thinking on our part. The child can understand that she cannot have what the lady in the movie is wearing because she still very young, but it is difficult for her to comprehend why she is denied what her doll, whom she identifies with, is wearing.
So why invite all the heartache and battle of wills? I'd say we should explain to our children that the Barbie is for older girls who have outgrown their squeeze dolls and rag dolls, and that she can have her Barbie when she is a big girl! Meanwhile, shower her with love, affection and other dolls. Keep her creatively occupied, so she doesn't feel the lack of Barbie in her life!