The ‘Barbie’ Trap: Don’t Let Outer Beauty = Inner Happiness

By Vanessa Schenck

A couple days ago my good friend emailed me about an ad campaign for a new doll hitting stores for the holidays. And, surprise!!  The doll is … drum roll, please … a skinny, blonde-haired girl! And that’s what my friend wrote in her email, “Really? Another way to say to our girls that beautiful equals being skinny and blonde?”

Now, I hear my friend. After all, I once played with my skinny, blonde-haired doll. My choice? Barbie. The two of us were BFF’s.

This is the part where I tell you I’m Italian. Well, half Italian.  As in: hips, dark eyes, dark hair. And not just dark hair, we’re talking dark curly hair.  I remember as a young girl walking through the mall and having strangers stop me to ask where I’d had my hair “permed.”  This was the early 80s.  Flat irons, Brazilian Blowouts, Blow-Dry bars … not invented.  It was rough!

Rough because my Barbie had long, straight, perfectly coiffed blonde hair.  And, truth be told, I wanted it.  I wanted her hair and her life!  She was beautiful, she dated Ken. Had the Country Camper.  A convertible car.  And Barbie’s house had an elevator, people!  Barbie had it all.  And, if I could just get myself some flowing blonde locks, beauty and happiness would be mine.

A lie?  Yes. But this isn’t news. Many people smarter than me have attacked poor Barbie for the “Beauty Ideal.”

Spoiler alert: That’s NOT what this article is about.

Truth is, at this point there are dolls out there for just about every girl’s eye-color/hair/body!

Exhibit A:  Say hello to Lammily.  Lammily who?  Well, she’s touted as “real.”  Specifically, what Barbie would look like if she actually had the measurements of an average 19-year-old woman’s body (based on CDC data). But here’s the thing.  Knowing you can buy a doll that’s “realistic” isn’t the magic formula to make you feel good about yourself.  If I could have waved my magic wand to make my curly dark hair blonde, would that have made me genuinely happy?

Um, no.

And how do I know this? Well, because I did actually wave that magic wand and make my hair the color of Barbie’s. Oh, yes I did.

For years I had coveted Barbie’s shade of sun-kissed awesomeness, and there was this tiny part of me (okay, maybe not so tiny) who believed true perfection in all its forms would be mine, if only I had blonde hair.

So, one day during my lunch break I did it. Bleach was poured. My eyes burned. I could barely breath. My scalp itched. I sat there as my Italian heritage was washed clean.

Ciao, Bella!

When they spun me around in my salon chair, I gasped. Who was that? But I put a smile on my face and celebrated the blonde. Although, walking back to my office I experienced a feeling of uneasiness.  I was confused. Weren’t my new golden locks supposed to make me happy?  Why wasn’t I feeling beautiful?  What was missing?

It took me awhile to find the answer to that question, but eventually I did.  What was missing was ME, believing I was beautiful just how God had made me.

What was missing was my inner voice saying, “Vanessa, that brown curly hair? Beautiful!  Those hips? Awesome!”  What was missing was me speaking words of encouragement and support for who I truly am.

True happiness, I learned, isn’t tied to hair color. Or being skinny. My thoughts are what determine my true happiness.

And, this is the important part: I choose my thoughts. A doll doesn’t. 

Nor anything or anyone else.

As soon as I changed my self-diagnosis from “not good enough” to “more than good enough,” that’s when I could honestly describe myself as happy.

Here’s the thing. When I was a little girl being BFF’s with Barbie, no one taught me how to empower myself through the words I chose. It never would have occurred to my parents that Barbie could be dangerous to an unprotected mind.  And who could blame them?  It was a different time, and I fell into the trap of thinking: Outside Beauty = Inside Happiness.

So, fast forward to me being a Mom.  My main focus with Julia, my tween-aged daughter, is to teach her that what she says to herself is incredibly important. My job is to help Julia learn ways to love her authentic, beautiful self.  After that, she can play with whatever doll she likes!  Barbie.  Lammily.  Bratz.  Monster Dolls.  It just doesn’t matter.

Once my daughter knows how to positively embrace who she authentically is, nothing — no doll — on the earth can erase it.

Recently I went to Oprah’s “Live The Life You Want” tour.  I believe Oprah knows a thing or two about empowerment, and I saw it as the perfect opportunity to introduce my daughter to some incredible women.  As her Mom I wanted her to know her thoughts and words create her happiness, and who better to tell her than Oprah herself.

The first night it was all Oprah, all the time.  She spoke to the crowd of thousands in New Jersey on a warm evening in September, alone.  She spoke about her childhood in rural Mississippi in the 1950s, and ultimately, how she became Oprah, the woman we now know her to be.  This is what she told us: “How you speak to yourself matters. What you say to yourself is what you believe can be possible.”

After that first night ended, as we were walking back to our hotel, I turned to my daughter and asked, “Well?  What’d you learn?”  And you know what she said?  “I loved it, Mom!  I learned I can be anything I want to be.  I just have to believe in myself.”

Thank you, Oprah.

And not just Oprah is sharing this truth.  There are many.  Pam Grout, a New York Times bestselling author, tells us the same thing. In her book E Squared, she writes specifically about words and the power of your thoughts. Pam even tells us about the word “abracadabra.”  It is, she says,  “an Aramaic term that translates into English as, ‘I will create as I speak.’”  No wonder the word “abracadabra” has survived the ages. It’s the perfect word to describe the eternal truth: What you say determines your reality.

There is no one better at explaining this concept than a man named Trevor Blake.  He wrote a New York Times bestseller called Three Simple Steps.  He also teaches an online course called “The Physics of Success” (yes, I’ve taken it more than once). Trevor teaches us that how we react to the ongoing negative thoughts and images in our heads (“I don’t like my hair!”) is the determining factor of our happiness.  React positively, and you’re good.  Negatively, not so much.

He points to quantum physics to help us understand this truth. Specifically string theory, entanglement and what scientists call “the observer effect.”  What does this teach you?  That everything (and I mean everything) is energy.  What Trevor does so brilliantly is help you understand how to visualize positive images and speak powerful words to create your ideal reality.

 Everyone — Trevor, Pam, Oprah — they all prove what every child, in my humble opinion, should be taught in elementary school: Your thoughts and words have actual, measurable energy.

And that energy is turned into matter.  You create the tangible stuff in your life (good or bad) by first having the thought of it.

What does all this mean?  Simply, we are in control of our own happiness.  Our reactions to whatever is happening in our lives, the words we choose to speak, that is what determines our bliss.  Trevor calls this “positive reaction.”

Barbie’s blonde hair?  As much as I thought it would make me happy, it didn’t. But at the time, how was I to know any better, what I saw was what I saw — a skinny, blonde girl (with an elevator!) having all the fun.  No one was there to teach me Barbie’s fantasy life had nothing to do hair color.  That, I had to learn for myself.

Which is my point. My daughter, your daughter, our girls (our boys too!), they deserve to know what so many of us didn’t as kids. Happiness is a choice you make for yourself.  It’s a choice you make every single second of every single day.

Being happy means YOU are choosing positive words and thoughts in reaction to whatever is happening in your life.

As I was writing back an email to thank my friend for sending me the ad campaign for the new doll, I had a funny vision pop in my head.  I was thinking of all the young girls who are sure to receive one for the holidays. My vision was of a warning label on the doll’s box. It read:

“Playing with this doll may cause you to experience all kinds of crazy thoughts about yourself and your life.  Maybe that you need a certain hair color to be beautiful.  Or a convertible car to be happy.  But please know, the key to living a happy life starts with positively reacting to whatever is happening in your life.  Saying and believing happy things.  So, before you take your new friend out of her box to play, look in a mirror and proudly state your belief: ‘I am beautiful!  I am fabulous! I am lovable, bold and fearless!’ After that, by all means, have a wonderful time playing with your new friend.”

Lisa Barr, Editor of GIRLilla Warfare:  Readers – here’s the chance to take Trevor Blake’s online course, “Physics of Success” at a major discount.  His course, a roadmap for living a happy life, usually sells for $299.  Enter the promotion code, “vanessa” upon checkout, and you will receive a $200 discount for a price of  $99(and, just saying, all that money goes to finding a cure for cancer!). http://www.physicsofsuccess.net/apps/webstore/products/show/5460673

Vanessa Schenck will soon be launching a lifestyle brand for Tween girls called TIA Girl Club – an online community-based retail store providing girls an encouraging and supportive place to shop, play and discover their authentic voices. You can find Vanessa on Twitter at @VanessaSchenck or more information about TIA by visiting the website: www.tiagirlclub.com



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