Mattel approached me to be part of their ‘Dads Who Play Barbie’ campaign, and I was happy to do so. As the stay-at-home dad of a little girl, I am well versed in playing dolls with my daughter (though only a couple of them are actual Barbies).
Mattel rectified her lack of Barbies – for the purposes of this campaign, they sent my daughter a mystery box of 4 new dolls, to highlight the range of Barbies they now offer.
She received a scientist, a vet, a footballer, and a musician. As well as varied careers, they were also of different body types and ethnicities.
I was pretty impressed with these. None of them conformed to the traditional skinny blonde fashion doll. The closest was probably the football Barbie, but then her doll had far more points of articulation than normal and was an athlete instead of a fashion model. The body type of the Vet was probably the closest to the traditional Barbie shape, but then she is clearly of Asian ethnicity.
These varied types of Barbie are a great jumping off point for imaginative play, and I’m guessing that’s one of the points Mattel want to stress.
The other aspect of this campaign is obviously how we as dads engage in playing with our daughters. To that end they have a promotional video, with what they say are real dads, playing Barbie with their daughters.
While I laud the aims of the video, I do find it problematic. The dads in the video all state they have a different set of interests to their daughter’s – football, motor cross, etc. They also talk about being a man’s man, or being into boys stuff. The implication is despite this, they still engage with their daughters playing dolls – on their terms.
But I don’t think this is how us dads should engage our daughters. We need to bring some of ourselves into the play too. To use the examples in the video – why not involve their experience of sports, or other things they see as ‘boy stuff’.
Because it isn’t ‘boy stuff’ – I imagine it’s stuff that’s just as relevant for girls. As dads I think one of the great things we can do for our daughters is to present our experiences and interests as something relevant to them.
I tend to play with my daughter on equal terms. I am very conscious that as she doesn’t have a sibling, and she is missing out on that experience of compromise, negotiation, and working with others. So I don’t simply acquiesce to her demands when we play, much like a sibling wouldn’t.
As part of this, in my history of playing dolls with her, I’ve always been keen to introduce the imaginative aspects that interested me as a child (and adult) – exploration, heroic quests, super powers, and the like – and this is something that is now part of her play.
Here’s my take on the #DadsWhoPlayBarbie campaign. It’s a great development from Mattel to recognise and empower Dads to play dolls with their daughters. It’s something many of us do anyway, but for those who don’t perhaps seeing more of us doing it will be enough encouragement to do the same. It strengthens your mutual bond, and her confidence in understanding the world.
But I hope dads don’t get the idea that they need to suppress their own ideas for the sake of what they think/assume is appropriate play for girls – don’t ignore your interests. Introduce themes and ideas that are yours. Help your daughter expand her mind with your experiences. You may love tea parties and playing schools. You may also love exploring alien planets and and having super powered adventures. The fundamental of imaginative play is using your imagination.
So don’t forget what you bring to the table as her dad, and help her expand her imagination with your own.
We were provided with these dolls by Mattel for the purposes of engaging with the #DadsWhoPlayBarbie campaign.