I’m down with Barbie

18 Apr

Meet Beautiful and Bald Barbie:

According to NPR, “Mattel decided to make the doll after a campaign by Jane Bingham, a survivor of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in Philadelphia. She started a Facebook group with her friend called ‘Beautiful and Bald Barbie’ (http://www.npr.org/2012/04/06/150149099/barbie-and-her-toybox-pals-go-bald-for-a-cause).

Jane’s mission in having a bald Barbie available to kids? “I don’t think it will ever make [losing hair for medical reasons] really normal, but to be accepted and to be seen as not scary or strange,” she says. “That’s what really we want to show—that children and women should not feel ashamed and have to cover up their heads.”

I appreciate Jane’s realism. Whereas many well-intended diversity initiatives seek to pretend that we’re all the same! and it’s OK to be different! the movement behind Beautiful and Bald Barbie recognizes that medical baldness isn’t normal (and none of us hope that it will be). At the same time, abnormal doesn’t have to be bad or scary. And simple exposure (both to medical baldness and to a different way of adults reacting to and interacting with it) can shift kids’ experiences from shame to “What’s your problem? This is Barbie.”

As a result of the Facebook campaign, Mattel has “announced it would make a few of the dolls and donate them to kids experiencing hair loss in cancer wards and hospitals.” The toy company went on to explain, “We made the decision not to sell these dolls at retail stores, but rather get the dolls directly into the hands of children who can most benefit from the unique play experience.”

Victory for Team B&B Barbie? Yes, and…

Jane wants the bald Barbies sold in stores, right next to all the old school tressed Barbies, stating, “A big reason that I even started this… I thought of all the children who have a family member who are going through hair loss and how many children would benefit from this. And as of right now, none of those children would have an opportunity to have one of these dolls.”

I’d love to see these dolls on the shelf. Beautiful and Bald Barbie’s debut in stores would make Mattel’s gesture less about charity to a few targeted, disadvantaged kids and more about inclusion. Restricting Beautiful and Bald Barbie to sick wards inadvertently reinforces the message that bald is weird, wrong and shameful: it’s only for sick people. Meanwhile, Jane’s point is that kids everywhere are impacted by medical hair loss, whether their own, their mother’s, their aunt’s, their family friend’s or their friend’s sister. So it’s not just a question of making a few bald kids feel better; it’s about helping all kids who have or will in the future struggle with what to feel, think and do when they’re confronted with medical baldness. It’s about redefining norms for everyone in our everyday lives.

And we’re getting there: in addition to B&B Barbie, bald Bratz and Moxie Girlz dolls are on the way, too.

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