Turning heads with baby dolls

Tue, Nov 20, 2012, 00:00

DAD'S LIFE:The elder girl never gave a toss about dolls. She went through a brief Bratz phase that worried me, what with all those oversize lips and bouffant hair, where is a dad to look? But the younger one, all she ever wanted was to be a mammy. An action mammy.

When she was only a little bigger than some of the models in Smyths, she was grabbing for them. By the time she was three, her shelves were full of babies in various states of undress, their black eyes looking down at me. Pleading, beseeching, just gimme a break, please. Just one day without being pulled apart, dragged from room to room and left for dead.

These babies weren’t for show; they lived full lives. She put them through the mill. Yes, she played the mammy, if the mammy was a full-on tank commander in battle mode and her offspring a crack unit dropped behind enemy lines. She wasn’t the most creative with names, most had monikers assigned based on when she had received them.

Hence, we had birthday baby, Christmas baby and summer baby, almost like she didn’t want to humanise them fully with a proper handle. She may have felt more uncomfortable doing what she did with a ‘little Carly’ rather than a barefaced, anonymous, Easter baby.

Then the dogs arrived, a couple of miniature real-life dolls, placid enough for her to do with what she will. The dogs got dressed in each and every outfit she possessed, were tied into carriages and prams and marched everywhere with her. At one point she spent time developing a hitch to tow carriages from her bike so she could transport her dogs/babies at speed. Thanks to the dogs, the dolls got the peace they craved.

Breast milk baby

And I am grateful to the dogs, because it means I don’t have to face into the possibility of public reaction to her nursing the new ‘Breast Milk Baby’. Probably while strolling through town with a couple of further dolls paraded alongside in mini-buggies.

What’s this? A breast milk baby? Yes. And it does exactly what it says on the tin, the missus tells me with a scowl. Ooh right, I scowl back. That’s a bit, I dunno, oooh, isn’t it? Yeah, she says, just, I dunno, and she creases her chin back into her neck.

The Spaniards came up with this. Apparently it’s flying off the shelves in mainland Europe but the Yanks are taking exception to the whole idea. Lots of “I wouldn’t expose my child to something like that” comments being made online. “That’s just weird” and “It’s the same as those bras for young girls who don’t need them.”

Eh, it’s not. So today I’m grateful to the internet (as well as the dogs) for reminding me how mentalist we can all be about boobs. We chuck dolls at our little girls from the moment they can grasp that these cooing pieces of moulded plastic are miniature versions of themselves, ply them with accessories that should fire any card-carrying feminist into a bra-burning frenzy, have them change nappies and stick bottles in gobs. Then balk when they mime breastfeeding the things.

Sexualising children

Why? The whole controversy in a doll-size tea cup seems to stem from the fact that young children may be suggesting either that they have boobs or may have boobs at some point in the future. Like, what, half the population of the world? And that by raising this doll to their chest and simulating feeding, this doll is sexualising children from a young age.

So there’s no problem with Barbie having an ergonomically impossible body, or with Bratz looking like surgically engineered transgender hookers, or with the philosophical and societal implications of teaching our kids gender specific roles from the outset. But there is an issue with our kids, when playing mummies and babies, recreating the natural feeding process.

I get it. I did the initial “ooh, that’s not right’” but I was more confused than put off. On reflection, I can’t imagine a more normal step for a kid playing mother and child than to attempt to feed the baby. My fear is that someone else, someone who probably encourages their kid to wear hair extensions and pad a bra with tissue paper, would make mine uncomfortable doing it.

This isn’t about sexualising children, this is about adults passing on their own discomfort with their bodies to children. Why would anyone want to do that?

We’re a dumb lot really. If I had boys I could entertain them by having them maim and mutilate for endless hours with Assassin’s Creed III, but because I have girls I have to worry about body image when playing with a doll. Daft.

abrophy@irishtimes.com

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