Overthinking childhood, or Body by Barbie…

I noted with passing interest last week that apparently now Barbie will come in many shapes, colors, and flavors. That’s well and good, I suppose. What Mattel does with their flagship product is really of very little interest to me personally aside from the fact that the “news” report of this “dramatic change to a beloved toy” triggered a bit of a wander down memory lane.

Growing up as a boy in the early 1980s, I didn’t play with dolls, but I did play with an inordinate number of what some marketing executive cleverly labeled “action figures.” For their diminutive size, my GI Joes were all basically caricatures of Charles Atlas. Sure their plastic molded hair and facial features were all a bit different, but there they were, these 4-inch tall super men with their outsized biceps and chiseled good looks. I had a shoebox full of the things and yet somehow even as a child it didn’t occur to me that in order to be a successful adult that I’d need to look like a damned GI Joe.

Maybe it was a function of the time in which we lived, but I don’t remember spending any part of my childhood enamored with the cult of body image. It simply didn’t matter that my toys didn’t look much like me – or much like anyone else for that matter – because, well, they were toys. We played with them without benefit of (or need for) deep psychological consultation and analysis. The fact that it’s even a discussion today leads me to wonder if it’s the kids who are troubled by their toys or if they’re just reflecting back the fear and loathing of their parents own insecurities.

To listen to the media, we live in an age that’s apparently driven by body image. The modern man, right along with his female counterpart, is even beset by eating disorders and longing to cut just that one more pound to be “perfect.” I seem to have missed the boat on that. As a kid it just wasn’t something I thought about. As an adult I’d frankly rather be fat and happy than thin and miserable.

We were a generation of kids who were allowed/encouraged to play with pointy sticks and rocks and we all (mostly) turned out to be reasonably self-assured and productive members of society. I’m not a fancy big city psychiatrist and I’m certainly not a brilliant advertising executive, but it feels a bit like maybe we’re overthinking this whole childhood thing just a little. Fortunately I get to leave that fight for others and focus on the important things bulldog skin conditions and the endless pursuit of a better dog food.