When the late Ruth Handler conceived and created the first Barbie doll in 1959 (named after her daughter, Barbara), she was trying to come up with a simple toy that would resonate with preteen girls. The wife of Mattel’s co-founder and a savvy business woman, she quickly had a mega hit on her hands. Over 350,000 dolls were sold in the first year.
Amidst the fame and fortune, though, controversy has continuously dogged Mattel’s franchise brand. Even in its early years, parents protested the doll’s unrealistic body proportions. Critics argued that its busty dimensions and tiny waist encouraged young girls to diet and, in extreme cases, become anorexic. The company has made adjustments to Barbie’s figure, but through the years various other versions of the doll have stirred up people’s ire. Silkstoe Lingerie Barbie and Countess Dracula Barbie are recent editions that created a stir.
The latest controversy involves the limited release of Tattooed Barbie – a pink-haired doll with tattoos across her neck and shoulders. In a matter of days the initial 7,400 units sold out.
Mattel has stressed the fact that "Tattooed Barbie" is not being marketed to children. Nevertheless, in some ways, this ground has already been plowed. In 2009, Mattel released "Totally Stylin’ Tattoos Barbie." That doll came with stickers designed to be applied like tattoos.
This is a bit of an aside, but a colleague of mine recently took his five-year-old son to a Denver Nuggets game where Chris "The Bird Man" Anderson — replete with full body tattoos right up to his neck — was playing. "Daddy," the boy said innocently, "that man sure likes his stickers, doesn’t he?"
As a kid, I would see the occasional tattoo in Southern California, but my exposure was mostly limited to watching Popeye cartoons on television. I just assumed it was a sailor kind-of-thing. At the pool and beach this past summer it was impossible not to see tattoos up and down people’s bodies.
For perspective, insofar as "Barbie" goes, we’re still just talking about an inanimate doll. But I wonder if the energy surrounding the issue points to the broader question of how we as parents feel about tattoos and our children.
Here at Focus we occasionally receive notes and calls asking for biblically based counsel on the subject of whether tattoos should be permitted. I would encourage you to click here to learn more about how we respond to such a question. In fact, on this site you’ll find answers and suggestion to hundreds of common parenting questions. I think you’ll find that our experienced Christian counsellors provide wise, trustworthy and helpful advice — all free of charge.
For now, though, I would like to hear from you on the subject of tattoos. What do you think of "Tattooed Barbie"? Even more importantly, how have you handled the matter of tattoos with your own children? As the father of two young boys, I haven’t had to deal with this.
As always, your thoughts and perspective are appreciated.
This article was written by Jim Daly, President of Focus on the Family US.