This year Barbie is having her 50th birthday, and while Mattel is rolling in profits, praise, and some continued criticism, I plan on remembering my own Barbie the last time I saw her-drowning in a pool when I was 10. OK, I know that sounds awful and violent, but seriously, when I was 10 years old I threw a pool party with my girlfriends that we called the “No Barbie Party.” It was that age when we decided that we were too old to be playing with dolls, though I’m sure some of us continued to dress her up in the secrecy of our own rooms. We celebrated and signified our coming of age and growing out of dolls with a ritual that involved taking all of our Barbies and drowning them in my pool.
So while Barbie is celebrating her birthday and women are wishing they could look like that at 50 (or any age), I have my own critiques, criticism and nostalgia about this unrealistic doll that in many ways served as a quasi-role model in my life once upon a time.
The Barbie doll has undergone many transformations over the years, mostly so she more closely resembles the ideal female in our society, and the fact that she has become an oversexualized, shopaholic, anorexic gold-digger worries me. What message are we sending about our ideals and values with this type of “idealized” image? What message are we subliminally sending to the young girls of today that look up to Barbie the way I once did?
Barbie dolls are made with unrealistic body proportions-oversized breasts, nonexistent waistlines, permanently pointed feet for their high heels, and yet lacking genitalia below the belt (all except for her younger sister, Skipper, who somehow still managed to maintain some girlhood innocence). I don’t remember consciously paying attention to Barbie’s body type when I was a kid (although, I did notice there were no private parts!), I just wanted her clothes, the lavish dresses, her pink convertible, and her mansion. It was my younger brother who liked to undress her and look at her plastic boobs. So while I managed to escape any potential body image problems, looking back, I can’t help but wonder what effect this naked image of the female body had on my brother-or men in general.
I recently asked some male friends what they thought and all their answers were along the lines of I wish I could find a woman that looked like that… if only she could be real. I was shocked!! There was no room for reason in their imaginary fantasy. Despite explaining that if Barbie were blown up to life-sized proportions she wouldn’t be able to walk, stand, or probably even sit up, the crude remarks thrown back in response were that a woman like that wouldn’t even have to stand up… I’ll leave you to ponder that one.
Some people think that the Barbie doll is a harmless toy, but in an era when girls are becoming sexualized too young, women and teenagers are diagnosed with eating disorders in increasing numbers, and plastic surgery has become a norm, it is naive to think that Barbie does not, at the very least, reflect these problem. I only hope that when people are rushing out to buy the 50th anniversary version of Barbie for their niece or daughter they understand that they’re not just purchasing a doll, they are buying a symbol and sending a message. Is this a message that any of us really want to send? You will have to decide.