Banning Barbie: A Look at Iran’s Attack on the American Beauty

For the last decade, Iran has been down on Barbie.  Toy stores were banned from selling her, and Iranian children were discouraged from playing with or purchasing our genuine American girl for fears of the ‘westernization’ of Iranian culture.

This week, Barbie was banned.
Iranian police have swept into toy stores throughout the country and taken Barbie into custody, closing down the shops that were harboring the criminal.
Since Barbie was born in 1959, she has been an American symbol.  Her empire evolved over the years, and became an icon for American children.  However, American Barbie hasn’t been without her own controversy, and I kind of understand why the Iranians might be so interested in putting Barbie in the closet.  I know I was.
Many women feel that she is an incorrect and unrealistic image of females – of any age.  Personally, her curvaceous plastic body and painted on beauty queen smile always rubbed me the wrong way.  A child of the 70s, I didn’t grow up owning any Barbies-thank you, mom.  Naturally, when I had my own daughter I declared our house a ‘Barbie-free zone’. 
That lasted until about kindergarten, when it seemed as if every child invited to our birthday parties had visited ‘the pink zone.’  Barbie became the most popular gift choice of the elementary school set, so I instructed my daughter to thank them politely, and they went into the under-bed ‘Barbie box’.
I didn’t ban her from playing with them. If Barbie loving friend came over and wanted to drag them out, so be it.  The allure didn’t last, and shortly after the play date ended Barbie was boxed and returned to her proper place.  There were no tears or temper tantrums, and eventually Barbie was…donated.
I wanted my daughter to have her own images of what a real woman looked like, dressed like, and acted like.  My 5’2 body is more akin to Barbie’s little sister than any beauty queen’s.  My husband isn’t a beach-babe-surfer-type, although I do live in California.   I’m not the type to wear skin-tight clothing and heels to my middle school teaching job, nor do I drive a pink Corvette or live in a plastic palace.  And neither do my friends.

So the Iranian solution of ‘Dara and Sara’ as replacement to Ken and Barbie actually makes some sense to me.  I belive children and adults should have realistic role models.  The part that doesn’t make sense to me, though, is the militant banning and forcible removal by the Iranian police.  Haven’t they learned that which is unattainable often becomes more desirable? 

Maybe the police should take a lesson from this American girl.  Give the children role models that you believe in.  Banishment creates backlash.  Find a place for Barbie that keeps her within reach, but not too far away to touch. 
She’s only made of plastic, after all.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebookLinkedInPinterestGoogle PlusYelp

  1. When my kids were little, I declared our house gun-free. My sister had been murdered and I wanted no part of guns in the house. All gung toting toddlers had to check their weapons at the door. The end result of the ban was that ALL my son cared about were guns. It had become an obsession, at age 4. Finally we gave in and give him a Western gun and holster set for Christmas that year. Interest in it lasted about 5 minutes. He was never interested in guns again.

  2. Dear Jennifer,
    This posting makes the ultimate sense. And the comment by “Beve Sykes” proves just have wisely you’ve written. Wonder if any police officer in Iran reads American blogs????


  3. The Barbie doll has undergone so many changes. I even have a post coming up about Barbie. My two granddaughters have tons of the girls, and I have noticed the bosoms are smaller than the one I got back in 1959. I dug it out recently to check out the difference.

  4. Mama,
    I loved playing Barbie Dolls as a young girl, but NEVER thought this “perfect woman” represented me in any way whatsoever.
    Sort of like the Super Models of today…
    –I am still waiting for the larger boned barbie to rise up and kick thew skinny-big boobed barbie’s ass.
    x Haa

    1. Kim, you make a good comparison with super models. Fortunately you had the good sense to not compare yourself…but I fear too many girls grow up with the ‘super model’ body ideal in their brains-just look at the numbers of eating disorders we have today. I think you just came up with a new product – Big Boned Betty!

  5. I love this post and agree with you that making something unattainable only adds to the mystique. However, I have to confess that I loved Barbie growing up, but, I too grew up in the 70’s and had parents that had the nerve to want my sisters and I to grow up with a variety of choices and options. My daughter loves Barbie and I let her and use that love to expand her play and interests. Thanks, as always you make me think!!

    1. Kathy, thanks for your comment. I’m so happy to hear that there is another woman who played with Barbie and turned out ok. And with you as a mom, I know your daughter will be just fine, too!

  6. While censorship is not a good thing, I agree with you about reasonable role models. Barbie is not what a beautiful woman looks like. A beautiful woman looks small and large, short and tall, blonde, brunette, redhead or bald. We see this very frequently in education as well, trying to teach young women what it means to be beautiful has very little to do with outward appearance.

  7. I did love my Barbie as a young girl and yet somehow all my daughter’s Barbies and dolls ended up at the bottom of her toy box – never touched and in pristine condition! In fact, she let her older brother take one for some science experiment on mummification.
    However, if she lived in Iran …

  8. I completely get why they banned Barbie and at least they have replacements.. And I’m not good at predicting society and its behavior but perhaps banning would create a backlash only for the current generation. If the country is successful at keeping Ken & Barbie away for good, the younger folks might not even care about them. Hope I made sense.

    1. Anne, you do make sense. I think you’re on to something… after a few generations people might not even know who Barbie was! Of course, the internet has a way of keeping things alive now, sometimes long after they should be gone.

  9. And, as I said recently at Dee’s place, isn’t it about time that store mannequins were a more accurate representation of the local population. I have never seen a mannequin who wasn’t tall, impossibly thin, and pink. Not sure I know anyone who fits that mould.

  10. I played with Barbie when I was growing up and I allow my girls to play with her. I don’t really ever remember thinking I had to look like her because I knew she was a doll. I was actually much more influenced by the human female role models in my life more than anything. I do draw a line in the sand with the Bratz dolls and the Monster High dolls, which I realize completely contradicts my stand with Barbie. They are only dolls, not real, so why would it be a problem? I guess I just have a problem letting my girls play with vampire dolls (too dark) and dolls that are dressed like they should be standing on a street corner. I prefer tried and true…classy. But that’s just me. Thanks for getting me thinking though… 🙂


    1. Hi Rosann,
      Thanks for commenting. I’m glad that Barbie didn’t have a negative influence on you or your girls. I think it’s interesting how kids gravitate towards certain types of toys and activities, whether we like them to or not. I remember my daughter really liked Barney the purple dinosaur when she was little, and so many people were against him! It was a phase, she grew out of it and all was well.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge