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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