Thursday, February 04, 2016

Wouldn't you like to be a Barbie, too?

Back in 2012 on the now-defunct but always fun and clever blog site Chick Wit, I wrote a post about Barbie. I have a somewhat not typical relationship with the polarizing 11.5" of plastic in that I never really saw the problem.

I mean, I get it as a grown up woman that this doll looks rather like a tarted up and sexualized version of a woman, a caricature of unrealistic proportions. But as a child, I never looked at Barbie as a goal, as society's idea of who or what I should become.

She was a toy; not a real person. As unreal as my Raggedy Ann doll or my Mrs. Beasley. I separated fantasy from reality and played with my dolls, creating doll worlds for them to inhabit.

The older I get, the more I see what the fuss is about... kind of. I mean, yes, to an adult, Barbie is an impossibly feminine version of a woman. Completely unattainable. But that doesn't make me feel like anyone is trying to make me attain that image.

Last week, Mattel announced a new line of dolls—Barbies with a variety of shapes, sizes and colors. Okay, still limited, but more of a reflection of the world. I applaud this decision as I hope it's a way to try to diversify the doll's identity, offer kids a broader range of dolls to play with. And when you consider other doll lines, such as American Girl and My Generation dolls, the trend is to offer a range so girls can find someone who looks like them.

After our move, my daughter started playing with her Barbie dolls again. I think it was out of comfort—she might be too old for dolls (according to some), but these old friends have been there for her for a long time. She even named one of them Laila, after her BFF from the old neighborhood.

I took the kids to the store after the holidays, Christmas money burning a hole in their pockets. They trolled the aisles looking for stuff they couldn't live without, and we ended up in the Barbie aisle. Instead of the row after row of homogeneous faces, we were greeted by a variety including one that looked like her.

She was still drawn to the face she was comfortable with, the ubiquitous blond-haired, blue-eyed Barbie, but I pointed out to her—this one looks like you do. That brought a smile. You could bring her home to play with 'Laila.' That sold the doll.

After we watched the news story about the new dolls Barbie was introducing, I asked her if she would rather have one of the tall or petite or curvy dolls instead of the classic dolls. She wanted a petite doll, because it looks more like she does now, at age 11.

I don't know what this says about how the new range of dolls will or won't be accepted, but I do know that we'll probably hear more about it this year.

Below, my post that originally appeared on ChickWit in 2012.

Those tiny button eyes say
"I will cut a bitch."
Defending Barbie
My daughter, like many typical girls her age, has dolls. Lots and lots of dolls. This one particular doll she has drives me a bit nuts. Impossibly long legs. Impossible to attain figure. Huge, limpid eyes and pink cheeks. Idealized hair. A wardrobe of short skirts.

Barbie? No. Lalaloopsy. There’s been this Barbie bubble that rises to the surface every few years; we see Barbie’s measurements inked onto the skin of an actual woman, a life-size doll with Barbie’s measurements and even one that shows a Barbie-like doll with “real woman” measurements that the Body Shop used to great success in the 90s (my personal favorite). There is much clamoring about how Barbie creates an impossible ideal for girls to strive for; how the mere existence of Barbie damages a young girl’s psyche and puts her on a path of self destruction as she tries to reach this “ideal.”

The incredible Body Shop ad that used a
Barbie-like image to make a great point.
I say bullshit. Barbie is not new—I had Barbie (yes; singular. I also had a big family and we didn’t get to have a mountain of toys back in the day), a Western Barbie who wore a tight, shiny white catsuit and would wink her blue-shadowed eye when you pushed a button on her back. When the button broke, she more closely resembled Patty the Daytime Hooker from the TV show “My Name is Earl,” but that’s a story for another day. I also had Western Ken. They made quite a pair, two-stepping around the living room.

Did I have body issues? Do I still? Of course I do! I’m an American woman of a certain size. But a doll didn’t cause my body issues. It’s the boys that made cutting remarks behind my back (but still loud enough for me to hear), referring to me as “fat” when I was still in single-digit sizes and was far from it. Did those boys learn to think I was fat by playing with Barbies? Likely not--I blame the 1980s hair band music video subculture for that one.

I blame the real people who didn't think twice about passing judgement. I blame the magazines touting the latest diets (glorifying women who are thin and Photoshopping those who are not) and the stores that don’t sell my size of clothes and prefer to make me feel that in being more than others it really makes me less than.

Barbie causes body hatred as much as Ozzy causes teenagers to be devil worshippers. She’s an easy scapegoat. The majority of kids realize that Barbie is not a real person, she’s a toy, with toy features, just like Lalaloopsy. Or Polly Pocket. Or any other doll.

At left: A sampling of dolls from my daughter’s room. Two juvenile Barbie-types plus a full-size Barbie, a Princess Fiona (we call her butt-kicking Fiona—you twist her arm and she kicks) plus an assortment of Lalaloopsy (shudder), a Disney princess for good measure, a pony holding balloons (Real ponies? Do not do that.) a Polly Pocket and a Playmobil mermaid. Where did the legs go for that pink-haired diva? We don’t judge her—but I blame Jessie. She’s got crazy eyes, yo.


  1. It is so nice to play the doll with my daughter.

  2. Barbie is a great role-model. She helps encourage girls to go after their dreams and that they can be anything they want to be!