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How Barbie Changed a Black Girl’s Life

Zoe Weil is a blogger for Psychology Today, and we share her blog posts here.

As a child, I loved Barbie dolls and crafting Barbie stories with my friends. Getting a new outfit for Barbie — especially when I could pick it out myself at the nearby toy store — filled me with joy. But I grew up on Marlo Thomas’ “Free to Be You and Me” and Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman, hear me roar …” so it didn’t take long for me to start questioning Barbie’s absurd high-heel-ready feet, disproportionately large breasts, and long legs, and her astonishing materialism that had subtly impacted both my self-image and my desires.

As a tween and teen during the 1970s’ second-wave feminist and nascent environmental movements, I felt as if I was waking up from the 1950s’ values of my parents. When my mother wanted to teach me to cook, I refused. She’d never taught my brother, four years older than I, so I sure wasn’t going to buy into the sexism inherent in her desire to prepare me to be a good wife who would cook the family meals. (Ironically, I wound up being the designated cook in our household, but my husband is the designated dishwasher and housecleaner, so I call it good.)

By the time I graduated from college, I’d gotten rid of the high-heeled shoes I’d worn to boost both my 5’1” height and my self-image, despite my mother’s objections. “But they make you taller,” she’d implored. I stopped wearing make-up, too, ignoring my mother’s comment, “But it makes you prettier.” By the time I was in graduate school, and a full-fledged second-wave feminist and environmentalist, I was busy deconstructing the sexist, consumerist messages conveyed by Barbie.

My colleague, Holly Rodriguez, 13 years younger than I, also loved Barbie dolls as a child, but the message she gleaned was quite different. Barbie changed her life.

psychology today