"All little girls play with dolls" is a stereotype we're slowly inching away from. Gone are the days where pink is for girls and blue is for boys (although truth be told, my favorite color is pink, but not because I'm a girl, because it's the BEST COLOR THERE IS). Parents, and girls themselves, are demanding more from their playthings than skinny Barbies in mini skirts and high heels, whose professions all revolve around home-making and care work. Clearly, there's nothing wrong with either of those—they're both super honorable professions—but we want to be teaching little girls that they can be ANYTHING, not just three or four preordained professions that have been deemed socially acceptable for women by Mattel.
Admittedly, when I was growing up, I sometimes played with dolls. My Barbies, however, lived in a weird and wild world. Being raised as an only child, I was told every day that I could do anything and everything—and so I did. I imagined my Barbie's pink convertible as a race car and her as the driver; her vacation trailer was a soup kitchen; her huge white steed was a police horse, and I'd often have her scissoring the other Barbies rather than smooching with Ken. It was a wonderful world my Barbies lived in, and I think due in part to the fact that I wasn't always playing with Barbies. I had a box full of Legos where Star Wars characters and Pirates lived together in fantastical palaces of my creation; shelves full of books with facts about animals and the human body, as well as a myriad of puzzles and other craft oriented games.
Limiting girls to just dolls creates a warped view of womanhood, and as someone who often willingly chose to run a fake art gallery out of my own bedroom and charge parents and visitors $2 per "art" rather than sit around brushing a doll's hair, I found that as a child—and indeed growing up—I saw a lot of things very differently from the girls I knew who played exclusively with dolls. So for all you out there who grew sunflowers in the back yard, wrote murder mystery stories on lined paper or choreographed dances for Kylie Minogue, you might find that you approach things a little bit differently than the doll girls.
1. They have much healthier body image
Dolls have a distinct and idealized beauty about them. They tend to be overwhelmingly white, bug eyed, and unattainably thin with inhuman proportions. When you're not surrounded by dolls all the time as a child, you get to see other examples of beauty. For instance, the heroines in the books you read, the Planeteers, or even the regular bodies of the women around you, like your family and your teachers. Limiting a girl to dolls limits her idea of feminine beauty to something profoundly misleading. It's a simple but powerful equation: If you don't spend your childhood staring at one, very specific, highly unrealistic type of female body, you're less likely to hate your own body for not looking like that.
2. They have an unlimited view of their career potential
As I already mentioned, dolls are generally pretty restricted in their careers, although to be fair, recently they've started to branch out a little. When I was a kid, Barbie was a nurse, a personal shopper, a dog walker, or a bride. She was never a doctor, a business owner, a vet or independent really in any way. She always had the crappier job if you imagined her profession in a hierarchical progression, if that makes sense; She wasn't the boss. Ever. And like I said, there's nothing wrong with those jobs. I was raised to believe that all work is honorable. But we teach little boys through the toys we give them that they can be anything. We give them science kits for experiments, tool kits for building, blocks for engineering. We never say, "You're the assistant", we always say, "You're the boss." Girls who only played with dolls were never exposed to this kind of subconscious bolstering of their ambition—and girls who weren't limited to the handful of options lazily cast towards them were able to dream of bigger professions, and perhaps see feminine capability as more boundless than dolls would have you believe.
3. They have scars—because they had adventures
When you didn't spend your childhood holed up in a room playing dolls all day, you were more likely to venture outside into the sun. Girls who weren't beholden to their dolls were the ones with scraped knees. They were the kind of girls who, rather than dressing their dolls in the latest high heels, were climbing trees, catching bugs, and planting gardens. Although that doesn't necessarily go for dolls only; you could say the same for any indoor game (like video games, for instance). Dolls also breed a certain sense of propriety in girls. They instill a sense that it's better to be quiet, clean and pretty than to have an adventure. Did you ever see a Barbie with a scar from falling out of a tree while playing pioneer? Definitely not. Barbie did not do that stuff. Boys have all sort of toys marketed towards them that involve playing outside, whereas even outside toys for girls (like pink cubby houses) are weirdly geared towards staying inside.
4. They're more likely to love reading and learning
5. They're infinitely more creative
When you only play with dolls, you're somewhat limited to imagining things within the realm of human possibility, for these tiny, fake humans to act out. Sure, you could get super weird and surreal with your dolls, but the simple act of looking at an anthropomorphic figure automatically sends the signal to a young brain that you should stick to replicating the human things you already know. Turns out, when you branch out beyond that, you find out that so many things can be glued to so many other things to create so many more wonderful things!
When your world doesn't revolve around dolls, you're forced to be a bit more creative in the way you play. The most creative being when you have nothing, and have to imagine the ground around you is hot lava to avoid at all costs as you return the golden chalice to its rightful underground owners, the peaceful ground elves. There's also the creativity where all you have is your grandma's first aid kit and a teddy bear. What I'm trying to say is, always having something solid in front of you limits your scope of imagination. Dolls can only do so much. Without dolls, however, possibilities start to become boundless.
6. They wait until later in life to care about sex—which is a good thing
There's something nice about being able to hold on to childlike naiveté about sex for as long as possible. Dolls are often hyper-sexualized, from their ridiculous bodily proportions to their provocative outfits and even sexualized roles as wives, mothers, and naughty-looking nurses. Barbie, for instance, even has a built in boyfriend. What five-year-old girl needs to be considering boyfriends? Basic knowledge about birds and bees and where babies come from is fine, but sometimes dolls can preemptively force sexual awareness on the girls playing with them. Women have their whole lives to be confused and dumbfounded and disappointed by sex. Why start so early?
On the other hand, girls who did things other than play with dolls as kids were too busy ruling imaginary empires, and rescuing their younger siblings from dragons, and growing those weird, gross, cool geode rock things from kids. And in the end, these are the girls who grow up to have the healthiest, most awesome sex lives of all—because they didn't start thinking about it when they were kids.
Images: Getty Images; Giphy (6)