Life In Plastic, It's Fantastic - The Barbie Debate


My Facebook feed this evening has been filled with a groundbreaking image - a Barbie doll with a little *ahem* junk in the trunk gracing the cover of the prestigious Time Magazine accompanied with the hashtag #TheDollEvolves.

Definitely a controversial move for Mattel, and most of the posts on my newsfeed have been accompanied with messages of praise and rejoice. I, however, am unconvinced that this is a step forward, especially where feminism is concerned.

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I am a proud feminist. I don't ram it down people's throats, but I do speak up when I feel I need to and this happens to be one of those times.

So let's get a few things clear here. What is Barbie? Or rather, who is Barbie? To me, Barbie is the girl with the most cake. She literally has everything, and we're not just talking the Dreamhouse and pink convertible. She has degrees, doctorates, loads of friends and so many lifeskills I think even Mattel has lost count. So we're not just talking the material things here - I aspire to be like Barbie because she doesn't let anything get in her way, she knows what she wants and she goes out and gets it! (Or rather, Mattel find out what she wants from their market research and do their damndest to make sure she gets it!)

So why has this clearly imaginary super-woman fallen foul of the body-image debate? Surely it's quite clear that what Barbie represents transcends the limits of the real world. She is all encompassing, representative of whatever you want her to be representative of. You like dogs? So does Barbie! You like surfing? So does Barbie! You want to go to college and study for a degree in medical science? So does Barbie!

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And I feel that this is represented in her body shade too. Nobody looks like Barbie. Nobody. A few years back a news story emerged with an image of the mutant Barbie would be if her measurements were applied to a real-life human, complete with fun facts about what living with this body would actually mean, such as being physically incapable of lifting her head and not having room for all of her vital internal organs. Such body goals!

And the doll itself was based on a German doll called Bild Lilli, who in turn was based on a cartoon character. A caricature of a caricature of a caricature. Dollception. I guess what I'm trying to say is that Barbie was never meant to be representative of humans and the fact that her shape cannot physically exist in a person surely means she is the perfect shape - one so absurd and cartoon-like that nobody could (or indeed should) ever hope to achieve it.

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So what is upsetting to me now is that the body image debate is one so permeative that it has ended up being boxed and sold. Even more upsetting and frustrating to me is that it is being sold in the name of feminism, equality and forward thinking, when in reality what it does is get young children thinking about their bodies when they buy a Barbie instead of all the cool stuff she can do.

Mattel feel they are being progressive by offering more realistic and achievable body shapes. I believe that by giving Barbie-buyers a choice of body shapes Mattel not only highlight the issue of body image (and by reacting in this way basically agree that this is indeed an important issue for children to be concerned with), but also create an even more unrealistic perception of body image by literally giving them a choice.

Your body can now be one of three shapes and you'd better have a good think about which one best represents you! Before you could be one of no shapes, because Barbie's body shape was so impossible to achieve that even asking the question was absurd. And what do you do then if, god forbid, you DON'T fit one of these 'realistic' shapes Mattel have so lovingly crafted for our convenience? It's a hell of a lot more problematic to create dolls with 'realistic' body shapes that some people may be and some may not over a body shape that nobody has because you've now literally created a world where some people look like the doll and others do not. Surely that's so much worse than nobody looking like the doll? Or am I missing something here?

Have you seen this on your newsfeed? What do you think? Leave me a comment below, I'd love to hear what everybody thinks about this!

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