by Justin Holcomb
Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.
-1 Peter 3:3-4
Editor: this post originally appeared on Justin Holcomb.com.
American pop-culture has a rich diversity of icons, such as Apple’s Apple, Disney’s Mouse, McDonald’s Arches, Nike’s Swoosh, and Barbie, “the icon, the image, the ideal.”
Barbie’s maker and marketer, Mattel, bills the doll as a symbol of “girl power” showing that Barbie can go to college, explore the universe as an astronaut, enjoy the thrill of motherhood, and run the country as President. But there are some deeper consequences with Barbie.
“Barbie is small and so petite. Her clothes and figure look so neat…. Some day I’m going to be exactly like you. Until then I know just what I’ll do. I’ll make believe I’m you.” Shockingly, these words belong to the first Barbie jingle when she made her debut on March 9, 1959.
If Barbie’s 11.5 inch body were translated into a full-size frame at her original proportions, she would be 5’9” and have measurements of approximately 36 inches (bust), 18 inches (waist), and 33 inches (hips). She’d have to walk on all fours. Critics argue that this encourages young girls to hope to achieve an unrealistic, unhealthy body shape.
In 1965 “Slumber Party” Barbie came with a book entitled “How to Lose Weight,” which advised “don’t eat.” The doll also came with pink bathroom scales reading 110lb. This would be at least 35lbs underweight for a woman her height.
An Instrument of Shame
Barbie’s unreasonable figure conditions girls to have a misguided perception of the ideal woman’s body. The constant marketing of these ideals aimed for our little girls, through Barbie and tons of other pop-culture products, explains their attempts at conformity to an impossible standard. Perhaps this is why 80% of 10-year old girls now diet to control their weight.
They feel like failures when they look at a Barbie and can’t measure up.
Rather than being a healthy icon, Barbie stands out as an early instrument of shame in little girls’ lives. They feel like failures when they look at a Barbie and can’t measure up. That’s the opposite of what any parent wants for their little girl.
But ranting about Barbie is not the point. And we’re not advocating a militantly anti-Barbie campaign. Many little girls play with Barbies growing up, and doing so isn’t going to destroy their adult lives. But ideas can be subtle. And they have consequences. The ideal behind Barbie is just one example of the many things that can attack a girl’s identity and self-image.
The girls entrusted to us by God need to hear that through faith in Christ they are adopted into God’s family.
My point is to direct your attention to the desperate need for the application of the gospel to the young girls in our lives. This issue of identity is a significant part of the distorted self-image our culture bestows to girls. Cultural forces and marketing campaigns preach a cruel, harmful message of image and identity to young girls.
But as loud and dominant as these voices are, parents can have a louder voice. We possess the opportunity to demonstrate our love and dedication to the girls God has placed in our lives. But what does this look like? Here are 11 things parents can do to demonstrate their love:*
- Dads, don’t underestimate your influence on your daughters. Tell them they are beautiful before the culture convinces them otherwise.
- Moms, be aware of any distorted body image struggles, because your daughter learns lots about how to think about her body from you.
- Protect them as much as possible from exposure to content that is harmful.
- Learn about the media and pop-culture in your child’s life.
- Get beyond the “Just Say No” approach to culture.
- Make age-appropriate conversations an essential part of your relationship with your child.
- Encourage children to use art, play, and writing to process the images and other media messages they see.
- Counter the narrow stereotype of both boys and girls that are prevalent in media and commercial culture.
- Share your values and concerns with other caring adults—your friends, and relatives and the parents of your children’s friends.
- Help them learn how to interpret and engage what they see and read in culture.
- Love them unconditionally. See them as a gift.
Daughters of God
The girls entrusted to us by God need to hear that through faith in Christ they are adopted into God’s family. They are given the most amazing identity: daughter of God (1 John 3:1–2). God adopted them and accepted them because he loves them. They didn’t do and can’t do anything to deserve his love. He loved them even and especially when they were unlovable and when they feel unlovable.
*Some of these are adapted from chapter 5, “Helping Children Through the Minefields,” of So Sexy So Soon, by Diane E. Levin and Jean Kilbourne.
Justin is an Episcopal priest (serving as the Canon for Vocations in the Diocese of Central Florida) and teaches theology at Gordon-Conwell-Theological Seminary and Reformed Theological Seminary (from which he received two degrees). Justin serves on the boards of GRACE and REST. He has a Ph.D. from Emory University. Justin and his wife, Lindsey, live in Orlando, Florida, with their two daughters. He has written a bunch of books.