March 5, 2014

[Book Review] Barbie: I Can Be a Ballerina by Christy Webster



I Can Be A Ballerina is a Barbie book that casts Barbie and her friend Teresa as ballet students who, over the course of a few pages, somehow manage to rise to professional dancers. I have a few gripes with this.

First and foremost, do young girls really need to be assured that, yes, they can enter a career so traditionally feminine as ballet dancing? I don't mean to say that the Barbie franchise shouldn't be writing books that appeal to the ballet fans of their audience; it's just that I would have expected a line called "I Can Be..." to focus on jobs that, you know, the expected audience (little girls) might not realize that they are allowed to pursue--i.e., careers and hobbies that don't fit the traditional man versus woman gender expectations (of the ambiguously U.S. culture Barbie operates within). So I certainly hope the Barbie: I Can Be line-up also has installments that focus on careers that little girls might not so easily envision for themselves: STEM jobs, political careers, traditionally masculine professional sports, the military and law enforcement, etcetera. (As a side note, when you come at it from this perspective, this book would really make more sense if it was Ken: I Can Be a Ballerina.)

The book also--as far as I am aware, not being a dancer myself--misrepresents what it actually takes to be a ballerina; here, it's all sparkles and practice, practice, practice! until you are inevitably handed a job; in reality, it's an extremely competitive sport/art that involves years of training toward a relatively short career that will put one's physical and mental health at great risk.

I Can Be a Ballerina is a reasonable book to get your son or daughter if he or she is in a ballet obsession phase, I suppose... but if he or she is genuinely interested in pursuing it as a hobby or career, please educate yourself and the child on what it's actually like to be a dancer. Glittery, frilly tutus and sparkly tiaras might be all there is to it in Barbie's world, but families who invest their time and money into it are going to find a reality that's quite different. For any parents who think they have a budding ballet dancer on their hands, I highly recommend reading Suzanne Gordon's Off Balance: The Real World of Ballet.



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