Dr. Sarah (00:02):

Ever wonder what psychologist moms talk about when we get together, whether we’re consulting one another about a challenging case or one of our own kids, or just leaning on each other when parenting feels hard. Because trust me, even when we do this for a living, it’s still hard. Joining me each week in these special Thursday shows are two of my closest friends, both moms, both psychologists, they’re the people I call when I need a sounding board. These are our unfiltered answers to your parenting questions. We’re letting you in on the conversations The three of us usually have behind closed doors. This is Securely Attached: Beyond the Sessions.


So you may know that the Barbie movie comes out tomorrow and Barbies are everywhere right now. So this seems like the perfect time to address a listener’s question about this topic because I have a feeling there are a lot of parents wondering the same thing. It’s pretty straightforward. Julia DMed me and asked, do you think I should let my daughter play with Barbies? Oh, I’m so excited to get into this one. I think my thoughts might surprise you and I’m curious to hear what you guys have to say too. But so before we dive in, just a reminder, if you are listening on Apple Podcasts right now, if you could go ahead and scroll to the bottom of the podcast page and rate and review securely attached. That would be such a huge help. Or rate the podcast wherever you stream it. Your support is how we get the word out and allows us to keep helping us guide more parents just like you. Okay. Emily, your daughter’s a little bit older now, but did you have Barbies in your house? Do you have Barbies in your house?

Dr. Emily (01:41):

We don’t have Barbies in our house. We actually just don’t have a lot of dolls in our house. We’re we’re coming from a boy mom household. So that’s actually an interesting question is how much does this come from the outside or the inside of these families? Yeah, we don’t, but actually you might be surprised that I’m not fundamentally against Barbie. I think the concern that pops up for a lot of us, or for me in my sort of background in Barbie, is an unrealistic view of women or an unrealistic view of body image. And I think it’s a conversation starter. I think it’s like there’s nothing wrong with having a conversation about differences in body types at a very early age. And I think that that can happen in the context of the toys your kids have. So I’m not like a snay on all things that potentially might be evoking difficult conversations.

Dr. Sarah (02:47):

Yeah, I mean for me, I will say I went into it, first of all, I have also, my oldest is a boy, and so I had this mindset originally I was like, no, my daughter going to play with what the toys we have. There’s really no gender in toys and I’m just going to let the toys we have fly. And my daughter, you guys know my daughter, she is very, very certain of what she likes, which is interesting to your point, Emily, of where is it coming from, right? Yeah. I sort of had the plan of being like, well, she just can play with the trucks and she can play with the blocks. And most of the toys I got were very intentionally anyway, so whatever, she’ll be fine. And at two years old, she said to me, in her, she goes, where are my jewelries?


Where are my princess dresses? And I was like, what? Have you need those right now? Okay. Alright. It was coming solely from her. And she’s also, I mean, so it’s not like she’s getting it from peers either. Just it was, and if you know her, that is who she is, is she is a princess on the inside and everything about what she wants in the world is. And it was really interesting to me actually to see how truly organic that development was. And surprising frankly. So she really wants and has been asking for Barbies for forever. And I originally was like, oh, I don’t want to do this. I’m worried. I’ve heard all these studies that suggest that kids who play with Barbies have, like you said, distorted perceptions of what bodies should look like. And I’m curious if you, Rebecca, I’m very curious too what your thoughts are on this.


But I mean, first it was the slow creep first. Her babysitter bought her one and I was like, eh, what am I going to do? I’m not going to make her give it away, not taking this doll away from my child. And she loved it and she played with it a lot, right? Following their interests leads to longer play. And then she’s getting Barbies here and there as presents and eventually she’s just like, well, I’m really wanting this ice skater one, can I get it? And I was like, yeah. And I have no, I’m, she is so happy. Like you said Emily, it’s like a conversation starter allows us to talk about things when it makes sense too. Not forcing her to talk about body image stuff because she’s playing with Barbies, but when it comes up, it makes sense. What do you think Rebecca?

Dr. Rebecca (05:31):

I have a few thoughts. First of all, they come up with a line of Barbies a few years ago that was theoretically more realistic because I remember being quote, I was on some TV clip about that.

Dr. Sarah (05:44):

Oh really?

Dr. Rebecca (05:45):

And I can only imagine that they didn’t do that well. Cause I haven’t heard anything about them since.

Dr. Emily (05:52):

I think what happened is that American Girl does it very well and they really embrace differences. So as a parent, we didn’t do a lot of this doll stuff, but when my daughter was sort of a little interested in babies and stuff, we were more interested in American Girl because they have physically disabled dolls. They have different, the whole different, you can get a doll that represents you and with no big deal. It’s part of their whole system. And so I think Barbie probably didn’t do it as well because it’s not as well known. But I think they probably were trying to get to that same representation matters place which I…

Dr. Sarah (06:35):

But if you do someone who’s currently purchasing Barbies, because this is what my child is demanding of me, I have been surprised and actually pleasantly surprised. If you go down the toy aisle and you look at the Barbies one, I remember getting a Barbie and open, they come with 50 million pieces of plastic stuffed. There’s so hard to unpackage. So I’m Mattel tell if you’re listening, please make it easier to get these Barbies out because it’s annoying. But I was surprised, pleasantly surprised by the body shape of the Barbie that my daughter had gotten at CVS. It was thicker, just more proportionate. It didn’t have skinny, skinny, skinny arms. It wasn’t like a plus size barbie either. It was just a regular mermaid Barbie, I think.

Dr. Rebecca (07:28):

Yeah, I think they changed them.

Dr. Sarah (07:31):

I think that they have, and I think they’ve like, to your point, Emily, the diversity piece and the different abilities, yes, they have. I think they’ve done a good job of representation, obviously both from a cultural standpoint, but also, I mean I guess when we were kids, Barbie had every job and it wasn’t just like…

Dr. Rebecca (07:49):

No, but do you remember Math is Hard Barbie, the Barbie, that you would press her, that she could talk and she would say, math is hard. And it was like,

Dr. Sarah (07:58):


Dr. Rebecca (07:59):

And it was whole controversy. Google it right now. I mean I will.

Dr. Sarah (08:03):


Dr. Emily (08:04):

But that’s sort of my feeling about Barbie to exactly your point, Rebecca. But I’m like, I don’t know that. I think it’s requires more thought than that. But that is the stigma that I have Carrie around Barbie is I’m like, oof. I don’t know if that’s a good thing. And I think maybe that’s what our…

Dr. Rebecca (08:22):

Back to the original question because I just want to chime in on that. And I have a boy household too. I have two sons, although boys that are into Barbies, rock on. It just happens to be that neither of mine were or are though they were into baby dolls. But I was super into Barbies. First of all I would do is undress them and have them have naked pool parties in my sink. I love that.

Dr. Emily (08:47):

I love hearing that about you.

Dr. Rebecca (08:50):

And second of all, I just have a very, very, very high threshold for banning any kind of toy in my house. I, it comes up much more often. I don’t know if we want to go there in this conversation, but around guns, let’s say. And I think there’s a way to be thoughtful about toys that we purchase and why and how and again and start conversations. But I think the idea of saying we don’t allow this in our home because we are trying to shape our kids’ thoughts accordingly is a much more dangerous place to go. Then we follow our kids’ interests and we have meaningful conversations about why and why we do or why we don’t buy a lot of a particular kind of toy or why other kids have some kind of toy that we don’t. And if you just ban it, it’s first of all not realistic because kids see them and then they just want to go to their friend’s house that has all the barbies.


I just think it’s a very shortsighted way of thinking that we have in all kinds of ways in this country of if we don’t pay attention to it, it goes away. It’s just not how these things work. And I think for talking to parents who are listening, I think I would just generally recommend a really cautious approach toward this idea of we absolutely don’t allow X, Y, or Z in our house. With some obvious exceptions of course, but it’s just not something that I think ever is effective or yields, as you said, Emily originally kind of open conversation and communication about really important issues.

Dr. Emily (10:41):

Yeah, I guess maybe listeners are wondering how do you put that into perspective? How do you initiate a conversation probably to weigh out some of these worries maybe we have about the body image stuff? I think that’s probably a big part of the question. And then I think being curious with your kids and having, just talking about things without judgment, following their lead and exploring why they like a toy, what is it about that toy? And openly having those conversations is a way to just address that a little bit. Because I think it’s always fascinating to hear why a kid is gravitate, why a kid gravitates towards something. And it might be an unexpected thing. And it’s interesting to follow that.

Dr. Rebecca (11:34):

But I also think it comes up in other, it’s not just Barbie, right? And I’m frankly a little bit more didactic about it. When my kids read, particularly my older one who’s nine comics, I’ll say like, Hey, what do you make of the fact that every time there’s a female character, they’re wearing tights in a bathing suit? Why do you think that is? Or I’ll say, have you noticed that every female character in this comic has really big boobs? Does every woman that you meet have boobs like that? No. What do you think about that? And then I’ll get a little lecturing whether he hears it every time or not. But again, it’s this idea of, well, these comic books started out as Mark and again, and he’s listening and probably zoning out. But if I say it enough, I think it’s important. And I, I’m not going to ban those comics or I’m not going to pre-reading he reads or everything he watches for whether it’s gender stereotypes or racial stereotypes. But if I see it and if it comes up, I think it’s important to just comment on to help our kids become more educated consumers of media. Because if every time you see a female character, they’re invading student types and you don’t realize that that does impact your ideas of women or your thoughts about women or objectification. And I think it’s okay to point those things out. And again, my vote would be to kind of point it out and be open about it as opposed to just banning it.

Dr. Sarah (13:05):

And I think there’s a lot of research. There is a lot of research. I mean, they’ve done studies that show the girls who play with Barbies specifically, or I saw another study that was just sort of general, very thin dolls. They can impact and lower a. So I think we have to be mindful of the fact that there, it does have an impact.

Dr. Rebecca (13:28):

Yeah, but I imagine it’s correlation. And I mean there’s no way it’s shown in the research to be causation and to the extent that the models include other predictors or that they’re ruling out, they’re whatever the statistical term is. I’m not remembering in the moment for not, I want to see socioeconomic status. I want to see what other toys they have. I want to see parents’ attitudes. I want to see parents wait, I want to see parents’ ideas of women. I want, I mean, there’s so many things.

Dr. Sarah (14:00):


Dr. Rebecca (14:01):

Potentially correlate with who’s playing with Barbies or how much or how many hours does it matter? How many hours Does it matter what other toys? If they’ve done those sorts of real elegant research studies. I’m not saying they haven’t, but I want to see them because just saying that they’re studies that correlate playing with Barbies and self-esteem to me doesn’t say anything useful.

Dr. Sarah (14:28):

That’s fair. That’s totally fair. I think, so there are a couple other studies that I was looking at before this episode. One was that a study where five to eight year old girls were show just shown pictures of Barbies and then pictures of objects kind of like that weren’t dolls and that the girls did show decreased body esteem for after seeing barbies and the more neutral objects. Again, to your point though, which I think is an important one, is what is correlation? What is the difference between causation and correlation? Because people are listening and are not necessarily trained in reading research and are getting most of their research from blips, from articles in the news, but not actually reading the research studies. Can you clarify the difference between correlation and causation for the people listening? Cause I think it’s an very important distinction to your point.

Dr. Rebecca (15:24):

Sure. I’ll use my favorite professor’s example mean. So correlation just means that two things are connected, they’re correlated, and causation means that one causes the other. So if you look at two things that are connected, either one causes either A, causes B, B causes A, or a third thing causes A and B. So the example that I remember learning in college was looking at baldness and heart failure. And you could say that baldness and heart failure are highly correlated. A lot of people that have heart failure, let’s say men are also bald. So then you can think to yourself, well, does baldness cause heart failure? We know that’s not true. Does heart failure cause baldness also not true? Actually there’s a third thing which is age that is likely responsible for both heart failure and baldness. And so whenever we hear that two things are correlated, connected, we have to think, okay, so does playing with Barbies cause girls in particular to have a bad body image, does having a bad body image cause girls to play with Barbies, which is another possibility?


Or is there some third factor or factors that are potentially responsible for both? Let’s say having a mother with a history of anorexia hypothetically. And again, I think what to be educated consumers of research, we have to be able to look at these studies and see if they’re taking into account all of the different possibilities that may be there. Because oftentimes researchers have an agenda, or I shouldn’t say that, I should say marketers of research have an agenda. They want to communicate something. And when it’s an obvious example like baldness and heart failure, it’s so clear, it sounds so silly to us. Of course baldness doesn’t cause heart failure. That’s the craziest thing. And Lord goes, heart failure doesn’t cause baldness. But when you look at something like body image and girls playing with Barbies, it can get confusing. And so you have to actually take a moment to be critical about it in your own mind and look at the studies and look at what they’re taking into account and what they’re not taking into account because they can be misleading.

Dr. Sarah (18:10):

Yeah. Okay. So let’s say we’re going to sort of posit here, and this seems to be kind of a consensus among the three of us that the yes, there are, you can acknowledge there are studies that show that self-esteem and playing with Barbies perhaps may be correlated low self-esteem specifically. But what are some of the other variables that might be causal in that relationship that you think would be helpful for parents to keep in mind that might be more important than the decision of whether or not to let your DA child play with Barbies? Because for me, some, we’ve talked about some of them, but already, but maybe we could do a quick short list. But for me, one of the big ones is having sort of messaging around body positivity and body acceptance completely unrelated to Barbies and completely unrelated to doll play, but just in our family in life as a general atmosphere.

Dr. Emily (19:08):

I also think one of the things that kept coming to mind when you guys were talking is that, so as we know, I have two older boys and a younger daughter. And since this movie is coming out, that song by, I think it’s by Aqua the Bar, I’m a Barbie girl in a Barbie world. My kids are singing, my boys are, it’s catching as a pop culture phenomena. But if you hear the ly, I remember being stopped dead in my tracks when I heard the lyrics because one of them is, you can brush my hair, undress me everywhere. And I was like, whoa, we need to talk about this. So I think the other piece, Sarah, to your point is, and your point too, Rebecca, is like there’s no one thing, and I think you don’t have to be alarmist, but saying, I remember saying to my kids, I’m not sure how I feel about that line. Let’s talk about that a little bit, right? Because there’s this, I mean, that’s an old song I believe.

Dr. Sarah (20:10):

Yeah, h my gosh, that was out when I was in high school, I think.

Dr. Emily (20:11):

But it sort of carries that Barbie stigma of totally I’m this dispensable female that you can do anything with. And I think that’s the thing that makes it a conversation with your kids because we don’t want to just be like, oh, it’s just a song, it’s just an old song and we can sort of zip past this without addressing it. I really felt that. I feel like those are opportunities to be able to have those types of discussions because my kids are like, it’s just a song mom. But then it normalizes some of those sort of concepts that I don’t support as a value for my family. So I think it’s about catching, not just looking at the studies to your guys’ point, catching these other opportunities to have these conversations and introduce your values in a different way. And it doesn’t have to be super threatening or scary. It can just be an exploratory conversation and sort of corrective in some ways.

Dr. Rebecca (21:08):

Well, and I’m also hearing very clearly, Emily, that you did not say, we will no longer be listening to this song in my home.

Dr. Emily (21:16):

Correct. Yeah.

Dr. Rebecca (21:17):

And I think that’s really important too, to my point earlier about that kind of idea of banning and there are some songs you would say that about. Sure, there’s no question that if I heard a song with racial slurs or that sort of thing, I would say We’re not listening to this and might they go listen to it somewhere else? But I would still feel like it’s important for me to say that in our home we’re not. But having a thoughtful threshold about these things and to being intentional and thinking about your goals is important. And it sounds like for that song, it wasn’t at that point, but it was at the point as you said, of making sure it didn’t go unmentioned.

Dr. Emily (21:51):

Yeah, because I think band, to your point, and to my original thing, which is conversation starters, how we can’t keep them in a bubble. We’re not going to isolate them from all these images, but we can even from a young age, address this. Rebecca, your comment of math is hard not perpetuating that females can’t sustain good math in science careers. And I think just dispelling, not just letting them go untouched, sort of talking about that and dispelling some of those, what we would otherwise think is normal. We don’t want that to be normal. We don’t want to just relax into, it’s not that big of a deal. We want to address some of those things.

Dr. Sarah (22:40):

And you can’t really address them if you never allow them in, if you keep everything that is controversial or complicated or even potentially damaging completely out of your child’s life.

Dr. Emily (22:56):

And also for my boys.

Dr. Sarah (22:58):

Like what are you displacing? Yeah, but for everyone, what are you displacing these opportunities for reflection? And in closing, I’ll direct listeners to go back and listen to an episode that I did with Dr. Miriam Steele. I thought I’ll put it in the show notes.

Dr. Rebecca (23:17):

Sorry, I thought you were going to say you were going to direct them to go listen to the Barbie song.

Dr. Sarah (23:22):

You can do that too. Maybe without your kids in the car you, it’s an earworm though. You’ll be singing it all the time if you do that.

Dr. Emily (23:31):

Oh, my kids are singing it all the time. It’s nuts.

Dr. Sarah (23:33):

It’s a very catchy, so I was super popular when we were kids and for reasons, probably less about the lyrics and more about the sort of catchiness of it. But I mean actually when I was younger, I probably didn’t even really listen to the lyrics. And now it’s so funny also total tangent, but how many times are you listening to songs that have come back in Come Vogue now from when we were kids and listening to the lyrics and being like, oh yeah, that went over my head. When I listened to that as a kid, I did not realize it was about whatever that was. I feel like as a grownup and my kids are now listening to some of the songs I listened to a lot when I was younger. I’m like, oh, hold on. I didn’t realize this song was about that. Does that happen to you guys a lot?

Dr. Emily (24:17):

It happens to me with a lot of language based stuff in songs, right? I’m like, oh, we really have to be thoughtful about just out to this.

Dr. Sarah (24:31):

Okay, so just to circle back, to finish my thought, I will direct you guys to go back and listen to the Miriam Steel episode that I did on There’s two, there’s like a part one and a part two, part one’s amazing if you want to know everything about it, the research attachment, it’s really good episode. But part two, she talks about her sort of current research that she’s doing right now at the New School for Social Research on the generational transmission of body image from a mother to a child. And she looks at how the attachment system, I don’t remember if it mediates or moderates that relationship, but basically the more secure the attachment, the less negative body image gets transferred. So if a mother has a really poor body image, they’re more likely for their daughter. The studies on mothers and daughters specifically, although they’re looking at it in other genders as well right now.


But the more likely a mother, if a mother has a low body image, the more likely her daughter is to have also a low body image. However, if there is a secure attachment relationship, which has nothing to do with body image, but it’s just present, the higher, the less impact the mom’s body image has on the daughter’s body image, which I thought was really interesting because, and I think one of the reasons, and we kind of talk about it in that episode is because one of these features of secure attachment is also high reflective functioning, and it’s likely that high reflective functioning capacity to be able to and reflective functioning if people aren’t familiar with that, is our ability to imagine the inner world and the intentions of another person as well as of ourselves. So to kind of go into our own self and be reflective and to go into some of someone else’s mind and be reflective of what their experience might be.


And so if you have secure attachment, you’re more likely to have higher or reflective functioning, which might be a buffer against sort of taking in a parent’s low body image as something that you kind of adapt without thinking and sort of accept as your own metric and rubric for how you see your body. So it’s very interesting because I think it sort of supports this idea that the Barbie isn’t the problem. How we think about how talk about just ourselves and also Barbies with our kids may actually be more important. And building that ability to be reflective and say, well, does this body look like my body? Is that good or bad? Is that neutral? Can I think about this? Versus it just kind of being completely outside of our awareness and our thought processes at all. So that might be, if you’re like, who, this is interesting, I want more, I would go to that episode and we’ll tag into the show notes. It’s easy to jump to. But thank you guys so much.

Dr. Rebecca (27:31):

Thank you. This was great as always.

Dr. Emily (27:34):

Thank you. I know, I think this is a great episode. Thanks for having us.

Dr. Sarah (27:39):Thank you so much for listening. As you can hear, parenting is not one size fits all. It’s nuanced and it’s complicated. So I really hope that this series where we’re answering your questions really helps you to cut through some of the noise and find out what works best for you and your unique child. If you have a burning parenting question, something you’re struggling to navigate or a topic you really want us to shed light on or share research about, we want to know, go to drsarahbren.com/question to send in anything that you want, Rebecca, Emily, and me to answer in this new series Securely Attached: Beyond the Sessions. That’s drsarahbren.com/question. And check back for a brand new securely attached next Tuesday. And until then, don’t be a stranger.

✨We want to hear from you! Go to https://drsarahbren.com/question to send us a question or a topic you want to hear us answer on Securely Attached – Beyond the Sessions! ✨

117. BTS: Is it okay to let my daughter play with Barbies?