The following is an expanded version of a posting I just made in response to Tracy Clark-Flory's article about the influence of Barbie(R) (TM) (C)
My amazing 13 year old daughter demanded Barbie when she was about 4. We gave in, and for a while she had a whole slew of the silicon vixens underfoot. He best friend's parents, by contrast, refused to let their daughter be sullied. The result of this admittedly anecdotal study with a two-person sample population: Barbie doesn't matter. They're both amazing, happy kids.
Maybe it was because we balanced Barbie purchases with Groovy Girl(R)(TM)(C) purchases. Maybe it was because we never once conveyed the expectation that our daughter would rely any less on her wit and intellectual achievement than her older brother. Maybe it was because, frankly, the Barbie doll is only a delivery system for an endless series of wardrobe ensembles. In any case, she emerged unscathed, with (so far) a very healthy self-regard. She knows she's smart, clever, and beautiful.
This wasn't an easy concession for me to make. My wife still remembers the 1,000-yard stare I returned with from a toy buying expedition (this was before we were parents, when I had been sent to a Toys R Us with instructions to buy a gift for a nephew) that had taken me through the bubblegum pink hell of the Barbie aisle. I felt like Kurtz, or the guy who went after him, in "Heart of Pinkness." (Well, that's what Conrad would've called it if he had had a niece.)
The problem probably occurs in households like Sarah Palin's, let's say, where parents don't provide countervailing influences to the increasingly quaint notion purveyed in certain quarters that a girl's best (maybe only) asset is her appearance. I don't worry about my son blowing up aliens on his Nintendo, either--he's read some good books and had any number of talks with me and other adults about why war is an atrocity and violence a disease.
Once a year or so ago the parent of one of my daughter's friends said that he was going to enter his daughter in some dumbass local beauty pageant. The offered was extended to my daughter as well--this parent would teach my daughter the runway sashay, etc.--and my amazing offspring responded, "I'd rather succeed in academics."
In your face, Barbie. All of the latter, by the way, we sold to a slightly creepy guy who came to our yard sale a few years ago.