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Thursday
Feb162012

Barbie and McDonald's Happy Meal Disaster

I didn't really need another reason to dislike McDonald's. I have so many already. Same goes for Barbie. But a few days ago, an e-mail landed in my inbox from my friend Sarah from sarahcasm. "Have you seen this Happy Meal box?", she asked. I hadn't seen it, but sadly, it didn't surprise me.



This isn't the first time that Barbie has teamed up with McDonald's. They've been a regular pair over the years. Last time, Barbie was working at McDonald's. This time, she has different career choices in mind, but she is sending some pretty nasty messages along the way.

What does this Happy Meal Box say?


If you read the fine print on the box, it is about careers. If you just look at the box (which is what most people will do and is all that much of the Happy Meal eating public -- i.e. not yet literate children -- is capable of), you get a different message. You see a little girl of colour dreaming about being one of five almost identical blond, blue-eyed, unrealistically proportioned white women wearing a lot of sparkly pink. Even if you read the big, bold text without getting into the fine print, it is still telling this little girl that if she dreams really big, she can be just like Barbie.

A few years ago, Renee from Womanist Musings wrote about the damage that Barbie dolls do to girls, especially girls of colour:

For any little girl, a Barbie Doll is a complicated gift because it is so completely unrepresentative of female bodies.  Barbie is one of the mothers of negative body images.  This is compounded when the child in question is Black.  When a Black girl is given a Black doll with Eurocentric features and straight hair, what does it teach her but that she is not beautiful.  Because beauty is one of the few sites of female power this can be extremely damaging.


She goes on to talk about an initiative to re-tool Barbie dolls with black features, instead of just taking a white Barbie and painting it black (as Mattel has done with the existing black Barbie).

These identical and unrealistically "beautiful" (in quotation marks because it is not my definition of beauty) Barbie dolls shown in a variety of different careers also send a very specific message to girls. I wrote about this at Care2.com after attending the Women's World conference in Ottawa in a post called Are Women Groomed to Choose Oppression?:

Nathalie Elaine Meza Garcia, a political scientist from Colombia, talked about Barbie. Her presentation, Imperceptible Fundamentalisms: The Perfect Woman and the Multiple Roles of Barbie, examined the ways in which Barbie tries to break away from the patriarchy while still leaving her oppressed. The Barbie slogan, “We Girls Can Do Anything” is intended to be a feminist slogan. However, there is a hidden inconsistency in this. Women are able to enter into new spaces and break glass ceilings, but they still have to be beautiful, nurturing mothers, good homemakers, and doting wives. Essentially, women have demanded the right to do anything that men can do, but they have not shed any of their old roles, duties or subjugation in doing so.


For me, this new Happy Meal box is one more reason not to take my children to McDonald's. But what message is it sending to the thousands of children who will be staring at this box as they munch on their fries (or their apple slices)? How will those children both internalize that message and share that message with the rest of society? One of the things I am increasingly aware of is how peer influences affect our children and how the negative messages that other children receive in their homes and environments creep into our lives and impact our children too.

As a society, we need to demand better. Not just for our own kids, but for everyone's kids.

Note: The photo was taken by Sarah. She has generously offered to make it available for sharing. I've put it on my flickr account with a creative commons licence for that purpose. Please feel free to share on your own blogs.
« Delicious Black Bean Brownies | Main | A Disney Vacation: Magic or Not? »

Reader Comments (85)

Ug, and did you note that the little girl is totally make-up-ed up?

February 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMo

I honestly don't see the problem with girls having a Barbie. I lived in a place with a 98% African American population, so as a child all of my friends were African American. They all had Barbies. They all also never had body issues and thought that they were beautiful. I lived with some of them for awhile, so I got to know them pretty well. I had both white and black barbies. I never tried to make my body like them or think that because I didn't have a non-existent waist and double D's I was not beautiful.

Yes, Barbie has a multitude of careers, but what leads you to believe that she is promoting that in any career women still have to be nurturing, good homemakers, and doting wives? I honestly never felt that way about my Barbie. She was just Astronaut Barbie, Cook Barbie, ect.

Honestly, most of the kids eating a happy meal or playing with Barbies are 3-7 years old. Did you ever stop and think about the "subliminal messages" Barbie was sending at that age? I know I didn't. I never noticed that she was disproportional, or that all ethnicities of Barbie had the same features, or any of the other grievances that people have until much later...once I was done with Barbies and Kens. Barbie was just another doll that went on different adventures. When she was Astronaut Barbie, she didn't have to fly home to make dinner or clean up the house.
It is the parents who criticize Barbie all the time in front of their kids or try to make their 3 year old aware of the different roles and duties of men and women. If the parents tell the kids constantly that women don't need to always wash the dishes, eventually they will make the connection that that is how society is now and that they are different for not always washing the dishes. If done enough, it actually reinforces those views.

Just let the kids be kids...they will deal with all the issues that we have in their own time.

Side Note: I played with Barbie all the time and I have no set expectations of gender roles. Actually, my boyfriend is the one that does the dishes. :)

February 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMary

The point of subliminal messages is that you don't stop to think about them. You just internalize them.

February 16, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

At first thought, I want to agree with Mary. I know most people do agree with her. I had barbies, and I of course never remember thinking about barbies perpetuating the oppression of women... I was a kid. BUT I know that I have issues not only with body image but with men in powerful positions, particularly middle aged, middle class white men. I have no obvious reason to have these issues- my dad was a reasonable, compassionate man. I don't have any traumatic experiences with oppressive men. I'm not saying these are linked to owning a Barbie, but my point is that we all have issues, and most of us don't know where they came from. So the whole "I did _____ and I turned out okay" argument never really flies with me.

Furthermore, I do not agree AT ALL that telling your kids that girls can do anything makes them more aware of gender roles. Society tells (and tells and tells and tells) our kids what gender roles should be- and I don't blame media (other than toy companies, barf), which is far more sensitive about gender roles than other parents and family members who, for example, feel the need to sexualize my 5 year old by teasing her about having a boyfriend if she admits she has a boy for a friend, who tell my son that pink is only for girls and that all boys have to shoot guns (hello midwest...), and who say things like "little girls don't do that" and "he's just doing that because he's all boy." Am I supposed to ignore the messages that my kids get from everything else they are exposed to? If I don't tell them that they can do anything, who will?

February 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBrandis

I think what concerns me most is how women are portrayed as having more value if they have certain careers instead of being mothers, wives, or home-keepers. Regardless of what a woman chooses to do, she is usually ALSO a mother, a wife, and having to maintain harmony within her home through menial tasks like house chores. I personally don’t find it empowering for women to degrade the very necessary and important activities that happen within the family unit because it is by having a healthy and functioning home environment that women (and their families) are able to exact positive changes in the outside community. Working women and men still have the responsibility to be supportive spouses and dedicated parents regardless of their career choices; that does not exempt them. A negative backlash from the push for women to enter the workforce is that it is at the cost of a healthy family environment if balance is not maintained. Regardless of if women choose to not stay at home and raise their kids, the children still need emotional guidance, a safe and comfortable place to live, healthy food to be cooked and served, and quality time spent as a family.

What really makes no sense is that women also have to be glamorous while doing all of this, as if being 'dolled' up is far more important than being good at whatever activity they choose to do. I think the message that no matter what girls choose to do or be , they are expected to be pretty while they do it (and pretty according to very rigid beauty standards) is also damaging. Not everyone can or even wants to be tall, skinny, and of course blond and to portray successful and happy women as having to look like that sends a very skewed message about a girl’s worth.

February 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterWolfmother

I think there is another side of this story that needs to be discussed. I recently met a women who told me about her dislike for Barbie. She has a 3 year old daughter that is slightly bigger than most kids her age. Her mom was concerned that Barbie might make her feel bad about her size because of the unrealistic proportions, so she sat her daughter down with the Barbie and started having a conversation with the doll: "Hi, I'm Barbie and I'm ugly. You don't have to like me because I look different than you." Then she proceeded to pound Barbie against the table. I was completely shocked that this mother told me the story without an ounce of shame for the violence she was teaching her daughter. But then she went on to say: "Oh, you might not have to worry about this issue because you look like Barbie." Needless to say, I won't be hanging out with this woman again.

I completely agree that Barbie propogates an unrealistic image of women in our diverse and ever-changing society. However, I think we have a responsibility for how we react to the negative forces of media and commercialism. My daughter is half-Peruvian (caramel colored skin and brown hair) so she has very little interest in Barbie. She asks me to buy her dolls like these: http://qewar.com/ because they look like her (and they align with my philosophy that the child's mind should be left open for imagination). However, I also don't berate her for picking up a Barbie doll, liking pink, wanting to look like a princess, etc - all things that arguably reinforce the idea that women are subordinate and/or different from men. As we continue this conversation, I hope women are also aware of the negativity we send to each other through relational aggression (e.g., underhanded comments like the one I received in the story above). There are women that look like Barbie (some naturally, some with help), so we should also be conscientious about reverse discrimination. The poster in question may ring true for some little girls and not be a problem. Hopefully we can be inclusive of all sorts of bodies, colors, roles and praise women for doing the best with what they've been given.

February 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAimee

I couldn't of said it better myself, Mary. Some people just need to complain about something. Perhaps they are the oppressed ones? If they spent as much time encouraging their daughters and building their self esteem as they did criticizing Barbie, they probably wouldn't "internalize those subliminal messages". Kids don't notice that stuff - unless you point it out to them.

February 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJodi

My daughter likes Barbies, she likes pink, she loves princesses. If she hated those things, maybe I wouldn't care what message the industry that constructs them is sending to girls (and boys). But because she likes them and because other girls like them, I would like to see them be more responsible in their messaging. I don't berate my daughter for her choices, but I do gently talk to her about my concerns and also talk about and model what I think is important in life. I would never use violence to get my point across to anyone, especially not a child.

February 17, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I guess I should go and wake up my daughter at 10pm and build up her self esteem instead of writing a blog post. My bad.

February 17, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I agree with you Annie that the happy meal is sending negative messages. I think it's important to note that not only does it send negative messages to young girls, but it also sends the wrong message to young boys. All of the marketing out there that is directed towards young girls is also seen by the future men of our society. What message are they (subconsciously) getting about a woman's role in society? The same happens with the marketing for boys that is seen by the future women of our society.

Having said that, I disagree with part of the quote that you posted:

"Essentially, women have demanded the right to do anything that men can do, but they have not shed any of their old roles, duties or subjugation in doing so."

Why should women shed their other roles? Feminism for me, it isn’t about demanding to be equal to men in every aspect of society. Sure, women can do almost anything a man can, however as women and mothers, we have a unique contribution to make that is different from what a man can contribute (just as men have their own unique contributions that are different from women’s). That unique contribution should be valued and integrated into society without forcing women to reject their own biology.

In trying to conform and be accepted into a patriarchal society, women have learned to ignore their natural instincts for mothering. Those who are still able to hear their instincts are not supported in trying to follow them, and this creates a lot of stress.

Why are we as women so desperate to ignore our own biology in order to fit into an outdated model of what society should be? My idea of an inclusive society is one where mothering is valued for the profound impact it has on our children. Women would be supported and possibly compensated in their choice to stay home, but also supported and included in the workforce if they choose to return to work. On-site daycares, flexible scheduling, dedicated pumping rooms for mothers who are nursing, etc. would allow women to maintain the closeness to their children that is so important for their development, and yet still remain as an active part of the workforce. Many of these things (aside from the pumping rooms obviously!) would be beneficial for men as well. If more attention was paid to looking after the human needs of employees we would have a much healthier and more productive society.

February 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFleur (NurturedChild)

I don't think that women need to give up mothering or release that identity. However, I do think they need to stop trying to be all things to all people all of the time. In way too many families, women are working full-time, doing almost all of the housework, doing almost all of the child rearing, often caring for their parents and/or in-laws too, and finding time to stay beautiful. The men go to work and have leisure time. This isn't the case in every family, of course. But statistics do show that on the whole, women are doing a lot more work than men are. Women don't need to reject their biology, but perhaps men need to do the dishes, clean the toilets, and prepare the school lunches.

February 17, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

That is absurd. Advertising to children is a multi-BILLION dollar business. Of course we should pay attention to what the media, corporations and such are doing! It would be a great disservice to our children-both our boys & girls- to not see stop and see what is going on. We should not ignore the messages (be them positive or negative) and the impact they can have on our children. As their parents we have to pay attention and filter through all the crap because they are young and cannot do it for themselves.

The whole point of this type of advertising is that kids aren't going to notice it but if you bombard them with the same images, the same messages 10 different ways every day? It will absolutely, without a doubt, begin to shape the way they look at themselves and see the world. Now are all children greatly affected by these outside influences? No. Some children have support from family, friends, education etc. to fight the onslaught of awful influences---but that is not the norm unfortunately for most children these days.

February 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSol

I know you don't feel that women have to give up mothering Annie. :) And I completely agree with you that women need to "stop trying to be all things to all people all of the time". I thankfully have a husband who is very involved in the house and with the kids, but I know that many people don't. I think the biggest problem is that society sees no value in mothering, doing housework etc. I really struggled with being a stay at home mom for quite a while. I was used to being in the work force, and after my first child was born I struggled with the fact that I wasn't living up to the "supermom" stereotype. (I've written about it here: http://blog.nurturedchild.ca/index.php/2010/11/29/expectations/ ).

If mothering (well, parenting because I think a lot of this applies to dads too), were actually valued and changes were made to accommodate mothers in the workforce (or support them to stay home), then I think it would take the pressure off of women feeling that need to be everything to everyone.

February 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFleur (NurturedChild)

Absolutely. I wrote about that here: http://www.phdinparenting.com/2009/05/18/feminism-fathers-and-valuing-parenthood" rel="nofollow">Feminism, fathers and valuing parenthood.

February 17, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Great post Annie, thanks for sharing. I think that post actually brings us back to Barbie and marketing to children in general. How often do we see boys portrayed as nurturing in media or marketing? Almost never, and many people find it uncomfortable when young boys choose to play with dolls (as an example) instead of action figures. The marketing that our children are exposed to every day perpetuates the patriarchal society that both men and women struggle in today.

February 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFleur (NurturedChild)

I just don't eat at McDonald's and neither does my child. Problem solved. Also, what's wrong with being a "nurturing mother, good homemaker, and doting wife"? Must we all be shriveled feminist shrews?

February 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMrs Rochester

What about mowing lawns, fixing things, changing lightbulbs, cleaning lint traps...there are alot of traditionally-male (? not to me, but...) things that never get mentioned here. Also, lots of times (and this is myself included) women have too high standards or this sense that men can't do anything right and so they take it all on themselves. In addition, I've read it reported (and again I tend to do this) that men don't count hanging out and playing with the kid as "work" but women often do. Overall, I think men and women tally things differently and this adds to the disparity. Of course, in many cases women DO do more...so, just DON'T then...

February 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMrs Rochester

1) My kids don't eat at McDonald's either, but they are influenced by other children. I didn't buy Barbies for my kids, but they were introduced to them at friends' houses, at playgroups, and later at school.
2) There is nothing wrong with being a nurturing mother, good homemaker, and good wife (I'll take out the word doting there, because it does have a negative connotation). There is, however, something wrong with the expectation that women who do choose to have a career ALSO have to do all of those other things, while men do not. I answered this in more detail in response to Fleur already.

February 17, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Each family is unique, but statistically valid surveys have shown that on the whole, women are doing more than men (even when you do count mowing lawns, fixing things, changing lightbulbs, cleaning lint traps and playing with the kids).

February 17, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Yes, I see you did respond to that with Fleur. I guess to all these sorts of issues with the Barbies, the princesses, the McDonalds...I have never felt an affinity for certain aspects of mainstream culture and have always considered myself somewhat of an outsider or bohemian. Maybe it comes from having hippie parents, or something. But, my tack with all this is creating a within-family counter-culture rather than bemoaning or thinking you're going to fight this crap. The fact is most people love it and/or don't care. The companies cater to "most people" and how they can make money. I teach my child that we don't eat at McDonald's because the food is garbage and they are part of senseless killing of millions of animals. I teach her what a "real" woman is by being one (and this doesn't mean accepting being overweight and unhealthy as is so often misconstrued.) We teach her that men and women both have to contribute to a household because she eats my husband's cooking every other day and she sees him doing his own laundry....I could go on and on, but you get the picture....

February 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMrs Rochester

I agree that modelling healthy choices in the family is essential. But I do also want to minimize negative influences in society. If I tell my daughter that she is beautiful no matter what or that beauty doesn't matter or whatever, but she is then ostracized, left out, or not given opportunities because she doesn't conform to society's standards of beauty, then my words/modelling is only of minimal help to her.

February 17, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

This is a very interesting conversation that I am enjoying following. I have always taken issue with Barbie for all the reasons you mentioned.

This isn't about Barbie for me, though. When I saw this Happy Meal box, I didn't even register it was Barbie at first - I saw a little black girl daydreaming of being white. The box clearly says "I Can Be..." This is troubling because 1) she can never be white and 2) why should she want to be? Images are powerful; that is why we use them. What are the implications of this image and how are images like this processed by children of colour - especially if they are fed them, repeatedly?

I don't know if this imagery was the decision of McDonalds or the "I Can Be..." campaign, but it disturbs me that someone chose it. For the sake of my kids and others who struggle with their racial identity and what it means in society, I'd like to see this box taken out of rotation.

February 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

I would say the most egregious thing is the race issue. Would it have been that hard to make the Barbies brown? There is something sad about a beautiful little black girl dreaming of being white.

February 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMrs Rochester

[...] her point of view in regards to a recent Happy Meal box photo that was sent to her by a friend.  Here is the link.  Go look at the picture.   Seriously, go do it.  I’ll [...]

Love does not keep score.
I found in my own life, and my husband is pretty good about doing things, that keeping score is pretty poison to a marriage. My advice: let it go. Your home does not have to be perfect. Pick the things that MUST get done. And unless you're 50 or 60 years old, there are many guys in your marriage/dating field that should be on board with pulling their weight. You picked your guy. Why would you pick someone who dumps everything on you? Speak your mind and let him know you need help. All the kvetching online about it isn't getting his dirty clothes off your bedroom floor.

February 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMrs Rochester

To be clear, I'm not talking about MY guy. He does more housework than I do. I'm talking about society more broadly.

Honestly, I think a lot of women put everything on themselves, because that is what they've been conditioned to do (that was my initial point). They either pick guys that they have to "take care of" or they are accepting of not getting his full support because they are trying to live up to some superwoman ideal.

February 17, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Actually, Jodi and Mary - there are several studies that suggest that these messages DO harm young women and young men. Watch the documentary "Tough Guise" to see what happens when we reinforce notions of maleness or femaleness. Another great documentary is MissRepresentation. Just because you believe that you suffered no ill affect from playing with Barbie doesn't mean it's not there.

February 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterStephanieMZ

Yes, I didn't mean YOU personally. You seem like a take no bullshit kind of gal, obvs. Still, even your explanation about OTHER women, though, is all about THEM. They choose to take it on. THEY have the superwoman ideal. At some point adult women just have to be as strong/smart or whatever as you and I and just say no to all that and stop being all "society puts all this pressure on me" wahhhh! Just don't play the game. Simple.

February 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMrs Rochester

I think I must be megalomaniacal ; ) because at least until my kid's a preteen, I really do believe that I can GREATLY shape what influences her. And by then, she will be steeped in it (my way) and will also have the critical thinking skills to decide for herself, intelligently, what she wants to embrace or eschew.

February 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMrs Rochester

Mrs Rochester - Most parents believe that...but it's crazy how the brain works. Kids internalize things in ways we can't begin to understand. So you can TRY to do those things but that doesn't mean they happen.

February 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterStephanieMZ

I endorse this comment. Yes.

February 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMrs Rochester

Wow...holy psycho mom you talk about there. Scarrrry!
"we should also be conscientious about reverse discrimination" yes...I am SO TIRED of hearing people talk about "real women" with the implication being that if you're not a size 12or over you're not "real"...size 0s can be "real" too...I'm not even thin or especially beautiful, but I hate this meme

February 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMrs Rochester

I agree the contrast of the black girl/white Barbies is troubling. I'm amazed that no one questioned the development of this Happy Meal campaign before it went to market.

Beyond that though, I'm not sure that I think Barbie alone is the only problem. There are all sorts of images being peddled to girls, especially about dressing in more provocative ways that aren't at all being peddled to boys.

Oh, and I think the quote you shared about women not shedding any of the old roles is really interesting, and something that many women struggle with.

February 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAvril

Seems slightly naive to believe that you, as a parent, can completely shield your child from any of society's influences, and it's also narcissistic to say that you alone should be the sole influence on your child's thinking. I might not agree with many of the messages on this blog, but I do agree with the sentiment that as humans, children should be respected for their own thinking, attitudes, and beliefs. THAT is what allows children to develop critical thinking and analysis skills. Otherwise, children become indecisive, anxious drones who don't know what to do without mom's help, and who are, ironically, being oppressed by the people who care for them.

February 17, 2012 | Unregistered Commentershasta

I grew up with Strawberry Shortcake dolls and even though I am short and kinda chubby, I surely didn't aspire to be this way because I had Strawberry Shortcake dolls as a kid. Barbie is a toy. I never thought and don't think she represents anything other than Mattel. She is "a child's play thing," like Mr. Potato Head and Etch-a-Sketch. I am sorry, but assuming kids think she is a role model of some kind is humorous to me. Unless you present your child with a Barbie and say, "this doll represents the ideal woman," it is nothing but a toy to a kid. It's plastic, its head pops off, the eyes look funny when you squish its face, it has funny angled feet and you can spin the arms, legs and waist all the way around. And as far as the race thing ... the "little girl of colour" appears to be at least partially Caucasian, so I don't think black Barbie's are any kind of solution for a mulatto child who may not feel black or white. Just saying ...

February 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKandes

re-read...I qualified this alot...said til pre-teen years, said GREATLY (not completely)...I can absolutely not buy her Disney branded princess stuff or fast food, though...my kid is actually somewhat more "butch" than I would necessarily have or expect, but I love it, that's her...I got her Barbie-like dolls when she was younger mostly for fine-motor and I wanted to give her a chance to choose the "girly" route if she wanted, she didn't...admittedly I buy her mostly blocks and art supplies but I have bought her non-branded girly things and she doesn't go for them...all that to say I am not uber-controlling but really don't think it's that hard to shape a preschooler's world, if you're at all paying attention

February 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMrs Rochester

Anyone who doubts that media has influence needs to only do a quick search through Google scholar to find study after study that documents this both quantitatively and qualitatively. It is not that little girls grow up to want to be a plastic toy - but that they grow up to believe in a certain type of beauty as being "better."

I have no idea how old those commenting are - but I'm 33 and my parents had liberal TV watching policies. Things are different now. Our children get exposed to images at much greater rates than when I was a young child.

February 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterStephanieMZ

I agree. I think many kids DO understand that these are toys, and that they don't represent anything in particular other than that toy. They are characters intended to stimulate imaginative play or maybe to help kids discover things they like to do. Sure, toy manufacturers like to align marketing tactics with real-life desires and ideals ("Play hairstylist!", "Be an artist!") but if kids see the same thing over and over again, that seems to speak more to branding and brand awareness than personal identification. I understand the point made before about socialization and subliminal messages, but those are unavoidable, no matter the source or the source's intention. And honestly, I don't see this ad as a black girl dreaming of being white. I see it as a black girl wishing she had a Barbie to play with which is a whole different thing).

February 17, 2012 | Unregistered Commentershasta

I'm older than you, and I'd agree that children get exposed to more advertising and questionable images than when I was a kid.

This is in part because of things like the internet and more homes having cable TV, and multiple TVs to watch.

I'm thinking that there were questionable things back then, but I wasn't as clued into them. One thing that would come to mind is commercials that follow a formula where a medication is being advertised and a woman will say "My doctor recommends...". The doctor is invariably a white man. Same sort of formula for toothpaste, etc. Or the woman will say my husband is a dentist, and he recommends XYZ product.

I think though that in general we allow our children access to media so that they are more exposed. It is a fine line.

I don't think Barbie is quite in the same category of plaything as an Etch a Sketch, as someone else mentioned. I don't think Barbie alone is some sort of tipping point, though.

February 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAvril

I don't want to get into a discussion about connotation and denotation, but I cringed at the use of the word mulatto.

Whether or not that girl is part white is a matter of speculation. My brother-in-law has 2 black parents and light green eyes. That said, it's not about that specific girl - it's about all the girls of colour who relate to her.

You touch on the heart of the matter - navigating racial identity is complex, especially if someone doesn't feel they belong in any racial category. An image of a child of African descent or mixed heritage, daydreaming of being white is problematic and only confuses the issue.

There are many alternative images that could have been used.

February 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

In this case, Barbie/McDonald's are specifically attempting to position Barbie as a role model through their "Barbie I Can Be" campaign. Humourous or not, that is what they are trying to do here.

With regards to the race issue, I'm not suggesting the issue is black and white (pun intended). I would advocate for greater diversity in the images that are shown to our children and to society at large, especially when presenting something as a role model.

February 17, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

There is a thought bubble over her head that says "i can be..."

February 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

I wasn't aiming to suggest that you were controlling, and really it sounds like you're letting your child participate a myriad of activities with countless themes, which is awesome. I do the same with my daughter. Kids will always be influenced by their parents, but they're also going to be interested in other things, no matter what you say. It's part of human development, and your previous post made it seem like you'd shame your daughter for making "bad" decisions once she's older. Doesn't sound like it now, though.

February 17, 2012 | Unregistered Commentershasta

And refers to the vocations listed, not the fact that Barbie is white! Pretty sure that most little girls understand that no matter how hard they try, they're never going to be able to change their race!

February 17, 2012 | Unregistered Commentershasta

Yes, I agree that the campaign here to position Barbie as a role model, but I wonder if it's more due to consumer backlash about needing role models? Toy companies want to sell toys, and creating a pseudo-role model message works. I would doubt that the execs really think that Barbie - a toy - is a role model.

February 17, 2012 | Unregistered Commentershasta

You might think so... but it just happens that last night I watched a documentary called "Make Me White" about the skin-lightening industry.

Sure, it refers to vocations - in scrambled letters! You have to be an advanced reader to figure that out. I am familiar with the "I Can Be..." campaign and I people working on it. I know the intentions weren't malicious, but the implications are there.

I have a 3 year old who, some days, self-identities as white and other days, self-identitifies as "brown like Diego." There is no question in my mind that he would notice the image on that Happy Meal box and try to make sense of it. No question.

February 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

I saw "Tough Guise" in college. I thought it was really interesting. One of things that stood out to me was the size-progression of weapons being wielded by manly hero figures. There's a shift from Humphrey Bogart with a revolver to Sylvester Stalone as Rambo with multiple giant machine guns. Our culture gets so accustomed to these images over time that we fail to remember or imagine a world that's any different. I played with Barbies and really loved them, but I still believe that products like Barbie have harmful effects on children.

February 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNatalie

Mulatto? It is a label, and any label can be offensive depending on who you speak with. I don't necessarily like being labeled "white." My skin is certainly not white, more of a light peachy pink, and that term has negative connotation of being oppressive and intolerant, but if someone calls me white, I understand ... it is just a label that society has given for a person with lighter variations of pigmentation. They don't know how else to refer to me. I won't cringe or get my panties in a bunch, but I certainly get an uneasy feeling when a group of people with darker skin than me refer to me as a white girl. My brother is mixed or bi-racial (some don't like those references, either) and has referred to himself as mulatto, so based on my experience with him, it is OK by him, which I take as a stamp of approval from a person who is what it refers to. If you are mixed and prefer not to be called that, because you associate it with something negative in your ancestral history, I apologize for using a term that you are uncomfortable with. I get to the point where I don't know what terms to use because they become all become inappropriate or out of fashion at some point. I have always heard "person of color" was derogatory and am not real comfortable with hearing someone use that, but it seems back in vogue, so I give up. You are you and I am me, none of us are what we appear to be.

February 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKandes

I had a lot of Barbies when I was a little girl and never really compared myself to IT, I actually changed IT according to my own imagination, shaved the hair and pulled the legs out. I think the "comparing me-to-others" comes later in life and usually embodied with real people, mostly peers. And I think the issue is more about "being different" than "try to be like a doll". I mean how many dolls are out there with different shapes and sizes, if a mother only buys Barbies to their child, well that's mom's fault, not Barbie.

I think little girls get the most important examples from their own mothers (and peers), not from barbie Dolls.

February 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSofia

These are good points. I gave all my Barbies Annie Lennox haircuts. The dog chewed Ken's head and we used a piece of foam for that. Dog also chewed a Barbie's leg and we named her McFootley. Good times!

February 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMrs Rochester

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