By Kimberly Gerry-Tucker
The word ‘tomboy’ was never in my vocabulary. I adored climbing boulders, collecting rocks, studying insects, and sitting in mud puddles rolling mud meatballs. I liked dolls too. I was no stereotype. I used to cringe when I was called tomboy. I was being a kid. No specific gender, just being a kid. And I wasn’t drawn to the color pink; any more than any of the boys I knew were drawn to baby blue. Is this affinity for pink… solely societal programming? Well, I was immune to that. My world was colored yellow.
I recall a long ago memory about colors; indelibly ingrained in me, from my grade school years, which I write about in my book Under the Banana Moon. Back then coloring books weren’t always tied into mass marketing with themed images of movie or TV characters. Early coloring books had simple relatable pictures of balls, dolls, and animals to color. They often depicted scenes of the stereotypical family too: Daddy with a briefcase, the little girl with her (long) hair and wearing a dress; the brother in his overalls climbing a tree. Of course, the Mommy wore her apron and often was cooking at the stove. You get the idea.
Being adopted, (I didn’t know that at the time) it wasn’t lost on me, that I was dark haired and green eyed. My mother was blonde and blue eyed. I was taller than all my cousins who were the same age as me. I didn’t look like anybody in the family. I didn’t ‘act’ like anyone in the family either but that’s another story (we didn’t know about autism yet either). I was coloring one of the “Mommies” in my book, specifically her neat Donna Reed style hairstyle, when my mother suddenly pulled the black crayon from my hand.
She said, “Why do you color all the Mommies with black hair? Why can’t you ever color at least one with blonde hair?” She shoved a yellow crayon my way; but I didn’t use it. I found another black crayon and continued. Black hair for all!
Being an only child and nonverbal so often, I could arrange Barbie dolls into situations. Out of their plastic mouths came my audible voice- as they communicated feelings to each other. Skipper was the best. Even then, I knew she looked….real, like people I actually knew. Except for the unrealistically colored shade of lemon hair she had; she was a doll I could relate to. I had Midge, Barbie’s “sister,” too.
From the website Medical Daily: “Imagine if Barbie were a real woman. According to doctors, her measurements would force her to walk on all fours…she’d be physically incapable of lifting her over-sized Mattel head. She could be nicknamed “The impossible Woman” with her unrealistic physical proportions… She’d be 6 ft. tall, weigh 100 lbs, have a 39-inch bust, a 19-inch waist, and the hips of a prepubescent boy.” (Mattel even made a toy bathroom scale frozen at the weight of 110 pounds.)
So what?! The company states they designed the doll to “look good” in clothes, that’s Mattel’s stance. ‘It was never intended to be realistic.’ Why then, as a child who was new to the world, with the world being new to me- was I drawn to Skipper with her flat chest and Midge with her freckles? Because relating is important.
In a CBS article on new diverse Barbies, Jim Silver, CEO and editor-in-chief of Toys, Tots, Pets and More, says: “There are people who are turned away from Barbie because they want dolls that more resemble themselves, more in terms of their body type and more in terms of their skin tones.”
My significant other Al, got me several newly designed Barbie dolls for Christmas. Look at this “You can be anything” Chef Barbie’s profile.
This was my body shape in my teens. Although I’ve never had what is called a gap between the thighs (Mattel needs to work on dolls with more realistic legs) -there is an actual scary obsession that many misguided young girls have about having thighs that don’t touch. Wow! Seriously, it is not encoded in most of our DNA to look this way! I was called “Toothpick” in high school and this was just one more reason to feel different. Imagine if I’d had this particular doll growing up? Just an ordinary, tall, somewhat slim-chested take-for-granted doll? The comment left me to infer I was inadequate or lacking in some way.
Here are some more I own; from Barbie’s Fashionista line:
A couple years ago, Barbie manufacturers decided that Barbie dolls need to be less Stepfordian. (My quote, not theirs.) That term “Stepford Wife” comes from a 1972 movie (location-Connecticut, where I happen to live) about ‘frighteningly submissive housewives in an idyllic Connecticut neighborhood who are robots created by their husbands,’ who must look and act a certain idealized way. So, around 2015, “Toymaker Mattel announced that the normally blue-eyed blonde “bombshell” is changing her look. The company added tall, petite and curvy body types to a new line of more ethnically diverse dolls,” reported CBS News correspondent Mireya Villarreal.
The very world we inhabit, is a miraculous biodiverse variety of living systems with myriad levels of biological systems, differing from the DNA level, and yet linked; symbiotic in so many ways. There is such a variety of populations and communities of organisms and the ecosystems to which they belong. Human beings are biodiverse and neurodiverse as well. In a world where the term ‘diversity’ is being spoken louder and louder (hoorah!) Mattel is remaking a toy that so many children spend so much time with- with a variety of skin tones, hair textures, body shapes (curvy, tall and petite), and hair colors (even silver).
“I actually think this is one of the most exciting times for the brand, broadening girls’ choices,” said Mattel President and COO Richard Dickson. “What Barbie looks like — her body type, her ethnicity, her career – this is all part of the evolution of the brand and what we believe is the right conversation around the world to have with kids today.” I agree! I can remember not too many years ago, walking through my local mall and seeing my first curvily shaped mannequin. I let out a whoop of “Yeah, about time!”
Victorian mourning dolls once helped children deal with high infant mortality rates of their time. Nowadays isn’t it more important than ever, in an age of selfies and the bombardment of idealized imagery and fame that is based on looks alone—to reshape the former perception of “unattainable standards” of beauty? It may seem like a small thing, but truly it’s bigger than that. Even boys need to develop an early world view that girls and women, that all people, come in every shape and size. Oh, I almost forgot! I have “Man-bun” Ken too. I’m a little peeved his hair is plastic and not more realistic, but it’s a start. When this hairstyle started trending for men, I was shocked at how many people poo-pooed it! Why did so many people think it “unmanly,” “girly,” or “ridiculous.” Are people so bought into “boys must look this way, girls must look that way” that they are blind to a bigger picture: Girls don’t have to look, behave or conform to societal ideals, and frankly neither do boys!