Why Barbie girls still rule the world

IF you could choose absolutely anyone in the world, who would be the perfect role model for your daughter, or niece? Or your BFF’s girl child, or a colleague’s pig-tailed pre-schooler?

Now, take that towering woman of substance and pit her against the choice of a real life, pint-sized 21st-century madam and prepare to be shocked, depressed and wrinkled, since clearly, like me, you are a relic from a bygone age.

It was my wise sister-in-law, Carole, who started it – me thinking about women I admired when I was small and who should, then, obviously be the type of person admired by my clever, emancipated seven-year-old.

The only rule, Carole says, is it can’t be a family member; but that still leaves a million chicks from school, educational TV programmes and classic novels which captured your heart and spawned a hundred sequels.

Before the age of 10, I wanted to be Jo from Little Women, or Anne, from Anne of Green Gables. Karin, a famed Cape Town poet and my friend (I love saying that in the same sentence), loved Pippy Longstocking and, of course, also loved Jo, as she was a writer.

I also liked Liewe Heksie, but never for her looks alone. She could ride a broomstick. Oh, and Maya the Bee, because for an insect, she had cool golden curls and rescued lots of other insects from certain doom and horrible boys.

Innocent, heroic, still fabulously feminine, these aspirational heroines were the ideal platform for reminding me a wasp waist, stiletto heels and fat lobola alone doth not a successful woman make.

So, boosted by Carole’s canny question, I experimented on Samara.

“You read books, watch TV and play educational computer games,” I said.

“Ja,” she replied, showing her robustly deep powers of conversation and emotional intelligence.

“If you could choose one girl character from all the books and programmes and stuff that you’ve read and seen, which one would you most like to be – or which one is your favourite?”

I felt nervous, but confident that she’d give it some thought. I had also promised her an ice-cream from Lettie at the Butcher Shop, which sells the biggest and best ones for bribery.

She didn’t need much time. “Barbie!” she said and smiled because it must be the right answer, right?

There it was. Years of progressive parenting down the hole, every child development article I’d written or read reduced to the leavings of the world’s biggest-selling blonde bombshell with Botox lips and idiot lover Ken.

“‘But WHY?” I mewled, thinking that perhaps I’d misheard, or she’d find a way to dig me out of a well of parental guilt and failure.

“Mom. Why are you asking? Okay! Okay! Stop looking at me like that! I like her because…. um…. well, she loves animals and she’s got a dog for a pet.”

I felt better. Barbie is no talented, ambitious, tomboy Jo, but what the hell? My daughter admires her empathetic values and latent ability to become a vet.

So we went to get ice-cream, buoyed by the fact that my daughter had escaped the million-dollar clutches of global evil and sexist toy marketing.

“When I grow up,” Samara said, dribbling chocolate on her new top and deciding that truth tasted good, “‘I do want to be Barbie. Because she’s so fashionable. That’s actually why. Her clothes are so cool.” Clearly, I will always be a nerd. End of story.

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