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The "Real Barbie" Debate

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This week after the new “Real” Barbie went viral (even though it has been on the internet for quite some time now), people have asked me what I thought of it and it’s representation of “Real” women. So rather than repeating my answer over and over again, I’ll try to address it as best I can right now even though I’m sure it will yield quite a few hateful comments. But hey, I’m a woman. I can handle it.

Firstly, I will address my own story and experiences because it is the only way I feel I can adequately express my view and for the understanding to be clear.

I grew up on Long Island and from as far back as I can remember I played with Barbie DOLLS. Now I am capitalizing DOLLS because it seems as if people forget that these are not real life standards of what a woman is. I was taught from a very young age (my mother is to be credited for that and is a subject I will touch on later) that they were just a tool in the game of “Make believe”. In the same breath, I’d also like to mention I also played with G.I. Joes just as much and often together with any DOLLS I had because as I stated before, they were simply tools of “make believe”. I can confidently say that I never once looked at a Barbie and thought “This is what I want to look like when I grow up”. I just shuffled them around, changing their clothes and played house in my mini Barbie house suitcase. 

Now onto the topic that will probably make many of you balk when reading this, but please do me the favor of reading it through to the end and then cast your judgments.

At about 12 years old, after being quite a petite child, I experienced a massive growth spirt- changing me from a 5 foot tall preteen to a 5’ 8" teenager around my 13th birthday. But oh no. It didn’t stop there. I continued to grow and by the age of 14 I was 6 feet tall. I was a lanky, couldn’t control my limbs and thin as a stick kind of girl. Initially what was frustrating for me during that time was that because I was still growing into my body, sports- which I have played all my life- became a bit more difficult because frankly when that growth spirt hit, my body took time adjusting to it’s new found length. However, I played on and eventually found control over this long frame I was given. My awkward years were something to behold because they were just that. AWKWARD. Although my parents are considered “tall” for their time (both about 5'8"), it didn’t compare to the offspring they created- I am 6 feet tall, my younger brother is 6'3" and my older sister is 5'11". 

As you can imagine, I towered over just about everyone and no matter what or how much I ate I stayed at the same weight just filled with muscle from playing every sport I possibly could. My height and frame gave me advantages that I will never deny- I could run faster (longer legs), jump higher during a lacrosse face-off (thank you long arms), among a number of other advantages that if you care to ask me about I’d be more than willing to speak on.

Basically, we were genetic freaks of nature in it’s truest form. But from that which was given to me through genetics, I experienced the downside to what I now see as a gift. The whispers (I should say gossip really) about whether or not I had an eating disorder which attributed to my body being what it was became something I heard, and still get questioned about today and I’m 29 years old. But I laughed it off for two reasons. These are the reasons why:

1. I have many different body types in my family ranging across the board. I saw in my every day life that people were more different than me than alike and through what I attribute to good parenting on behalf of my parents, they NEVER put any VALUE or PRESSURE on any of us EVER to look any other way than what we naturally were. We are who we are and whoever didn’t see that was more of a reflection of themselves not being able to accept that fact.

2. I knew myself. I knew that my body type, however uncommon it was where I grew up, I knew that I was healthy and wasn’t ever on a diet to maintain a slim frame. Again, this is self confidence through my teenage supremely awkward years was a testament to my parents and what they saw of value was not what you looked like, but rather your intelligence. 

I was by no means immune to the scathing and untrue statements made about my body. In order to stop the questions, I would wear two pairs of jeans over each other to school. It at least at the time allowed me to blend in a bit when in hindsight at 6 feet tall, that was never going to happen.

Back when I was a teenager, we didn’t have Facebook obviously, but we had something quite similar on the internet- a forum created by someone at school where people would anonymously bash people called the “Slam Book”. I can remember getting a call one day from one of my closest friends saying “Uhh Kelly, I hate to tell you this but someone wrote something about you”. Since it wasn’t something I checked normally, this time I decided to take a look with my friends just happening to be by my side that day. All it stated was, “Kelly Mayo is anorexic”. I’m sure to the shock of my friends, I started rolling with laughter. I knew myself and it didn’t matter to me what someone said about my appearance because clearly whoever wrote that didn’t know me in the first place. If they did, they’d never would have posted it as it is and was completely false. I had one great friend try to defend me on the forum but I asked her to stop which she so kindly did because I feel the best way to shut down an untruth is not give it any more fuel- and the fuel would be me or someone else defending myself over foolish comments created with malicious intent. 

This topic is something that to this day I am asked about. Even by doctors. I kid you not. Only when I pull up a picture of my family and they see that in fact we are actually built this way (the most telling image is of my brother and I who look almost identical despite being nearly six years apart is the quickest way I’ve found to end the conversation). 

Now that you know a bit of my backstory, I would like to talk about this “Real” Barbie and also address the ever present “Real women have….” that circle the internet on a daily basis. 

The new “Real” Barbie is anything but real as far as I’m concerned. Now before you get yourself into a typing frenzy over that statement, let me also state that the original Barbie and all of the changes it has undergone throughout the decades since its introduction are not “Real” to me either. THEY WERE AND ARE JUST TOYS! Why as women do we feel the need to have a doll that perfectly represents them? If someone so badly wants to have a doll represent their bodies then please, feel free to contact me because I know some great sculptors who can create it. In addition, why aren’t there people up in arms trying to change the proportions of G.I. Joes because last time I checked, I didn’t see a majority of men ripped like the toys are.

In some convoluted thought process through the creation of this doll, we are only perpetuating another falsehood of the female anatomy and alienating those who don’t fit that mould either. 

Onto the relentless images of “Real women have this” or “Real women have that” that circulate the internet and are posted and reposted as if it does more good than harm. It does not. None of them do. Either side of the spectrum it is something that will make one person feel better and make another ashamed of themselves. So here is what I think about real women:

Real women have curves

Real women don’t have curves

Real women have breasts

Real women don’t have breasts. (Last time I checked, a woman who has had a mastectomy and no longer has her breasts is still a real woman.)

Real women have ovaries and a womb

Real women do not have ovaries or a womb because cancer or genetics have left them without it. They are still real women.

Real women have long hair, short hair, no hair

Real women have light skin, dark skin, olive skin, medium skin

Real women are tall

Real women are short

Real women are average

I can make this list go on and on for days, but what is a real woman? To me a real woman is one who empowers, lifts up, is strong emotionally and physically in ways that are unrivaled by our counterparts, supports, cares for, fights for, listens to, gives to, is comfortable in her skin, is on her journey to being comfortable in her skin, loves herself and practices loving others, a stay at home mother, not a mother, a working mother, a working woman, a wife, a girlfriend, single, a friend, a warrior. Again, this list could go on and on because just as every one’s body is different, so is every woman and I wouldn’t even attempt to cover everything that women are.

What I hope can be taken from this extraordinarily long post is that, what makes a “Real” woman has nothing to do with appearances. It is who you are as a person that makes you a woman. So please women out there, accept and love the body you are in regardless of it’s shape/size/color etc. If you are a parent, explain to your child as my mother did about what is a DOLL and what is the difference between them and reality. Ladies, we’ve only got one body and one life. Let’s live to enjoy it and stop thinking and believing the grass is always greener.

With love to you all,

K

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