A couple years ago, I was over at a friend’s house one day and noticed her little girl changing clothes on her Barbie, only…it looked like her Barbie was wearing a swim suit. I asked the little girl to show me her doll and sure enough it as “wearing” a bathing suit. My friend had taken a simple black sharpie and drawn a swimsuit on each of her little girl’s Barbie dolls so that they were never just left lying around “naked.”
Fast forward a few years and here I am I standing in the doorway of my kids playroom looking at all the fun toys they have. Josiah loves cars and blocks and especially trains. Addi really enjoys puzzles, whipping up something yummy in her kitchen, and playing with her dolls and her dollhouse. As they are getting a little older I’m trying, like every parent, to teach my kids to clean up toys when they are finished playing with them. We practice putting things back in their “right spot” a LOT! However, with Barbie dolls, it’s a little tricky. You see, they have these pesky things called CLOTHES that are easy to take off but almost impossible to put back on (especially for a 3 year old). Quiet often this ends up frustrating Addi because she can’t clean up “all da way.”
That’s when I remembered the bathing suits. I ran the idea by Addi and she was so excited. She told me she wanted one to have a pink swimsuit and another one to have purple one. I didn’t have anything but black sharpies on hand so I racked my brain and decided to go with fingernail polish! Talk about some fun color options!
Now, I’m sure some of you are already mocking me. “Painting a bathing suit on a Barbie so it’s not naked…what kind of prude is this lady?” Others might be thinking, “Wow, what a great idea.” First, let me remind you it wasn’t my idea but either way I think it is perfect for our family and it helps spur on conversation about some things we want our children to learn.
So, if you’ll indulge me, I would love to clear up some possible misconceptions you might be having and share with you a few of the real reasons why I decided to paint bathing suits on my daughters dolls.
To start, I’m not covering Barbie because I believe there is something shameful about the human body. That’s absolutely ridiculous and I believe just the opposite. I think God created us (males and females) absolutely beautiful. I am very comfortable talking with my children about our bodies and how we can delight that God made each person unique and special. My kids (ages 2 and 3) sometimes see me change clothes. We don’t make a habit of it, but if they walk in the room I don’t yell at them or cower into the closet. They have been known for busting into the bathroom when I’ve snuck away to use the restroom and have forgotten to lock the door. Addi saw me nurse Josiah until he was 9 months old and we are comfortable letting other moms nurse around us. They are still pretty young so we still let them take a bath together and during our potty training attempts we typically have quite a bit of “nakie” time. We definitely do not foster an atmosphere where the body is seen as embarrassing or shameful.
Now, please don’t misunderstand, we do value modesty in our home. We try to teach Addi not to show her panties when she is wearing a skirt or dress. We make sure they understand that they are not allowed to wrestle in the bathtub and we have a general rule that they can’t wrestle with friends of the opposite sex. I’m not going to go into any other specifics but the point is, I don’t feel they are going to learn much about modesty by looking at a painted swimsuit on a doll.
Instead, I plan to share with them our definition of modesty and how it differs from many people’s definition within our culture. Many people seem to think that if you are modest you either hate your body or are embarrassed by it. To me, modesty is a mindset about how we should use our body in the way it was created and intended to be used- for the glory of God.
Modesty begins with the desires of the heart. A woman should examine her motives and goals for the way she dresses. Is her intent to show the grace and beauty of womanhood or is it to call attention to herself? You see, we can be fully clothed and still demonstrate immodesty through our actions.
When a woman dresses in a way that draws attention to her body or acts in a way that tempts a man to lust after her, she wants to feel good about herself. She wants to feel admired and appreciated, maybe even loved by others. However, what many women don’t realize is that men don’t typically think, “Wow, she looks cute.” In reality, he is most likely neglecting to think about her as a person at all and is picturing her naked.
For a long time I still didn’t understand the significance of this or the depth of the problem. I believed that their thoughts were just longings (the way I long for chocolate on stressful days). In my mind, lust was their problem and I should not have to change how I dressed to appease their ridiculousness. However, upon having real conversations with men and asking lots of questions I realized it went much further that just a desire. Most men, when they are lusting after a woman, are not viewing her as a beautiful person created in God’s image. Instead they are seeing her as an object that can be the means to fulfilling a sexual desire. They are literally picturing having sex with the woman. This is why many times a man’s body will physically respond to images pictured in their head. I remember when I first discovered the truth about how most men think. I was disgusted with men. I equated their lustful thoughts to “mental rape.” Harsh words, I know, but in my mind, women’s bodies were being used for the gratification of another without permission.
I also grew in my understanding of scripture passages that speak to men about lust. Specifically, in Matthew chapter 5 Jesus himself says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Wow. So, if I dress in a way that tempts men to lust, and if they fall into temptation, I have essentially caused them to commit adultery. My heart became a little more heavy. Men could fall into sin because I was too selfish to make sure that my cleavage wasn’t highlighted by the style of my shirt or because I didn’t stop to see if my pants were cupping my butt a little too tightly. Yikes.
Now, thankfully there are Godly men out there who understand the depth of this issue and they strive to fight against lust not only to honor the Lord but also their wives (or even their future wives). Many Godly men take action steps like turning their head when an immodest woman appears in a movie, T.V. show or a commercial. Some rely on a passage of scripture they’ve memorized. Many make choices not to hang out with women who dress a particular way. It’s not that they incapable of simply appreciating beauty, but because of the fall, it’s natural for their thoughts to distort beauty into fulfilling a desire to feel pleasured. The fight for them is to see a beautiful woman and control their mind. This is just as hard as if I were to ask you to stop reading this paragraph. You can’t. Seriously, stop reading the words right now. You can’t, can you? It just comes naturally. You see, this isn’t a battle they can fight by themselves. Women have to help. The bible calls us to love others greater than ourselves. This means we need to help in anyway we can, even if we have to give up our slightly too revealing blouse that is really soft and comfortable or our favorite bikini that took us three years to find. This doesn’t mean we have to dress outdated or frumpy. There are women all though out history who have modeled modesty and class. Women like Eva Gabor, Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Princess Diana, Diane Sawyer, Katie Couric, Kate Middleton, and Jennifer Gardner. These are highly respected women who don’t use their bodies to gain power or influence over others.
In fact, many women really don’t understand that the attention they are seeking through provocative behavior and attire is actually destructive. It strips her of the ability to protect and guard her own body. We can’t protect the image of ourselves in someone else’s imagination. When we dress and conduct ourselves in a way that leads others to see our worth, that is how we gain more power and respect. So, we must ask ourselves daily if we want to be “appreciated” for our body or appreciated for our complete personhood (our thoughts, opinions, personality, emotions, intellect, and beauty). Modesty is not about completely hiding our bodies but more about revealing our dignity and honoring God.
Eventually, when my children are old enough and mature enough to discuss anatomy I plan on talking through he whole gamut of things that every young lady and gentleman need to know. I know eventually my little boy will probably point at the Barbie and identify her “boobies” but this no more surprising than the thought of him making farting sounds in the crook of his arm. Good conversations and opportunities for instruction are always upon us, right? The thing is, we must be willing to take advantage of these opportunities and not pass the buck to someone or something else. A few weeks ago I had a friend (a mother of four young girls) post on facebook about how sick she was about all the naked Barbies laying around her house. Her post included something along the lines of, “I’m just going to hot glue their clothes on so I don’t have to deal with it anymore.” I found this quite hysterical especially since I can sympathize with the battle. However, a friend of hers responded to her post by saying that naked Barbies were healthy for girls because they need to learn about true anatomy from somewhere. I about fell out of my chair when I read that. Really? Because the last time I looked Barbie’s body doesn’t teach anything about true anatomy. Does this lady not know how incredibly disproportionate Barbie’s body actually is? If this is where little girls are learning about true anatomy then someone needs to call up Mattel and start complaining that Barbie doesn’t have nipples, leg hair, etc. In my opinion, exposing our children to nude, unrealistic examples of a woman’s body should not be our chief approach to teaching them about their own bodies…ever.
Instead we need to talk to our children. Not just once, but all the time. Make it regular thing so that it’s not embarrassing or awkward. If you establish this early, your kids will feel comfortable to come to you when they are older and need your wisdom and advice. Of course, you must be cautious and use discernment about what they are mature enough to hear. Some lessons you can begin teaching even as toddlers. Pay attention to their hearts desire for attention and speak to them about not seeking approval from others.
I want to teach my daughter that she will never develop greater self-esteem by seeking attention (good or bad) from others. I’m hoping to teach her that our Heavenly Father created her in His image. That he knit her together in my womb. In this world her body will never be perfect, and neither will anyone else’s, so she has no reason to compare herself with others. Every person on this planet has flaws but God sees them as beautiful because He created them just the way they are. Barbies, on the other hand, are plastic images that we should never even try to compare ourselves with. I hope she will understand how unique and extraordinary she really is.
As a little girl, I want to begin teaching her that her body is special and, because it is special…it’s not for everyone. If everyone who joined the Army received a purple heart, that very distinguished honor would soon not seem as special anymore. In the same way, if she gives herself away to anyone willing to show her attention, she will soon lose confidence that she is beautiful and worthy of true love. I pray that she will have enough self worth not to seek attention from others. I hope that one day she will be married to a man who will love her for every aspect of who she really is and that he alone will enjoy her intimately.
In regards to my son, I hope that I can teach him to respect and honor women with his thoughts, his words, and his actions. I hope to see him one day pursue a woman who sees herself in the image of God and is choosing to honor the Lord with her body. I pray that both of my children will pursue purity of their hearts and minds.
So, in conclusion, I’ll finally answer the question, “Why did I paint my daughter’s Barbies?” Well…because I wanted to, I think it looks adorable, Addi likes it, and because I know it will spur on edifying conversations among my kiddos and I.
Be very careful, then, how you live--not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is.
1 Peter 3:3-4
Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight.
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.