Our barbies, ourselves: an exploratory study of girls' play with Barbieâ„¢
Ridalls, Tracy Lee
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Barbie has been a significant icon in mainstream Western culture since its debut in 1959. Adults have imposed their own visions of children's play, most of which were negative. At the same time their assessments of children's play were based on assumptions rather than on actual observations. This thesis explores the ways in which young (7-9-year-old) girls play with Barbieâ„¢. Through a unique methodology that incorporated open-ended interviews with the girls, role-playing with the dolls and a demographic survey completed by the parents, this study produced a window into the girls' world of Barbie. Beauty, dating, marriage, heteronormativity, male privilege, competition, power and agency emerged as significant themes which informed and structured the girls' play. The girls imagine themselves as the dolls, leading glamorous and exciting lives while at the same time imagining the dolls as themselves experiencing the girls' lives. Occasionally, the girls use the dolls to subvert mainstream ideologies but most often Barbieâ„¢ is used to reinforce the conventional notions of femininity which are inscribed onto the body of the doll as well as in the marketing strategies of Mattel. One unexpected finding was the centrality of the Ken doll to the girls' play which enabled the girls to practice heterosexualized romantic scripts (dating and marriage). The girls played with Barbieâ„¢ as a way of imagining their future lives as women in a patriarchal society. They see the benefits and rewards that can be acquired by becoming successfully "feminine". It became apparent that the girls were using their interactions with Barbieâ„¢ to balance the tensions and pleasures of growing up female in a patriarchal society.