Barbie looks fab for 50

I ran across a video this afternoon about Barbie. She’s turning 50. According to Brian Stockton of Mattel, when interviewed in Neuremburg during Barbie’s 50th birthday celebration and debut of their latest Barbie edition, she’s “always been a reflection of American culture”.

When I watched the video and heard the statement about American Culture, I thought to myself, “Well, that’s not MY culture, and I’m American.” I remember when I was growing up most of my dolls were “black” because there was no Eskimo-colored Barbie (or any other doll for that matter). There was no light brown colored dolls then. Today there is an Eskimo Barbie but she doesn’t look like an Eskimo to me. I never understood why she looked the way she did. The package showed her with a fur ruff around the hood of her parka. The box said Eskimo, and the clothes looked similar, but I felt no connection. She didn’t look like me or anyone I knew. Although, I also don’t remember feeling like I had to look like her, either. So, although some think that Barbie is part of American culture, I can’t say I feel the same way. I mean, what is “American Culture” anyway?

There is some controversy about Barbie and the role she plays in our society for younger girls. Jeannie Thomas, (you can read an article about her here) an associate professor of English at Utah State University, states

We tend to say it’s just play, but there’s often serious cultural issues in play.

So, when our young girls are playing with this doll who looks the way she does, there are bound to be some controversies over her appearance and what kind of influence it is having on our children. According to the article on Jeannie Thomas, “if Barbie were human sized, she would stand 5 foot 6, weight 110 pounds and have a 39 inch bustline”.

The messages about sex and gender roles Barbie may send her young audience may be tamer now than they first were. According to the book Forever Barbie by M.G. Lord, Barbie’s creator, Ruth Handler, based Barbie’s body on the shape of a different doll, a German doll named Lilli. Lilli was marketed as a 3-D pin-up bombshell for German men following World War II, and Thomas said Lilli’s messages of sexual availability were no secret. “The ads were all semi-risque,” she said, and “if you look at the old Lilli dolls-whoa!”

Messages about sexuality and gender roles are only the beginning when it comes to Barbie controversy. The real problems most anti-Barbie people have are with her messages about body image.

This is just one of the many issues brought up in the fight against (or for) Barbie.


3 Responses

  1. I just read the same article in the latest Newsweek. I was talking to my husband and I commented that I had Barbies as a child and never did I strive to look like her. I remember styling her weird plastic hair, then setting her afloat in a sandbox volcano along with half-melted GI Joes. It is sad to think of a little girl living in a family that allows her to be dissatisfied with herself. I see young women sauntering about who do look like a living Barbie and it makes me cringe. Where is the soft belly and wind-blown cheeks? Where are the pores and veins? Do they peel their foundation off at night and cry??? They are the only ones who think they are not pretty enough. I am scarred and round. My body changes daily. I have nothing to hide and nothing to “make up” for. I am strong and beautiful, and Barbie, you had nothing to do with it.

  2. I’m not sure if I’m stunned or not to learn that Mattel was able to produce “Eskimo Barbie” with a straight face in 1981… But it raises the question of whether “Barbie” is supposed to be a single character or an array of phenotypes. I’m genuinely confused about this. if Barbie is a single doll, how could she “become” Yup’ik? If Barbie is not actually a single individual but is instead a multiracial array, what does that mean?

    It’s all so confusing, and I’m momentarily grateful that my daughter loves Thomas the Tank Engine more than anything else in the world…

  3. I was never totally enamered with Barbie. I did have some yes, but it was more because it was odd for a girl my age not to have a Barbie when everyone else I was around did. I do remember getting a Navaho Princess barbie. I was living in Utah and knew an actual Navaho princess. The Barbie wasn’t as beautiful, kind or authentic as Jodi, the Navaho whom I knew. As a child, and still as an adult, I always question the impact Barbies have on young girls who idealize this doll! Growing up, I never understood why this doll was so popular because I was never able to find a person who was the model for Barbie. I still can’t, except for those few women who have exceptional height and were also augmented by plastic surgery. This partly makes me consider why so many people I knew growing up were saving their piggy banks for plastic surgery and boob jobs instead of ice cream, an outfit, or college! I think many people share my concerns about what this image is doing to the young girls of our society.

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