Why Barbie Has Got to Go
There is no telling how many body, sexual and racial image issues people have had to fight against themselves and against society in general thanks in large part to the white-skinned, hour-glass framed, Ken-loving plasticized perfect little fantasyland model.
The Barbie franchise recently turned forty five years old, but you could never guess it by looking at her unchanged body! She still looks seventeen, tan, and damn sexy in her bathing suit…well, considering she’s just a six-inch plastic figurine, or is she? Author Kristin Weismann writes in the introduction to her book, Barbie: The Image, the Icon, the Ideal, “Barbie is the symbol of the feminine ideal which has caused women to perceive and recognize this figure in a personal light.”
I’m not sure who I feel most sorry for, the little girls who adore and admire Barbie as the super heroine of their dreams but will never fulfill those dreams; or for the forty year old women out there who learned the hard way that Barbie is actually going to the beachside home of that Ken guy from the club who drives the red convertible while you are definitely driving your ten year old Ford Pinto back to your one-room apartment on the wrong side of town. Alone.
Some people claim that Barbie is just a doll and that it helps children learn socializing skills. Yes, of course, Barbie is in fact a doll. And yes, Barbie does teach children important social skills.
My problem, and point, is that people are taught to become Barbie dolls in real life with insatiable shopping needs and impossible social dreams and desires. Philosopher Lenore Wright, in her essay The Wonder of Barbie: Popular Culture and the Making of Female Identity, “Even though I ‘knew’ that Barbie could not speak, think, talk, or walk really, she certainly did these things vicariously through me.” In this way, Barbie can become and is the apple of the advertisers and commercial society’s eye; their spokeswoman, muse and vehicle for selling female identity at the price of new clothes, cars, and accessories.
As a kid it was always a battle with my playmates about who had the latest Barbie dress kit, or the new Barbie house, or the new Barbie Boyfriend with the new Barbie Baby in the new Barbie Oven. Talk about ‘keepin’ up with the Jones’…
And as kids we were not to naïve to know that Barbie stood for one other thing, the one thing that was never talked about when adults were around, the thing that as soon as we had our Barbie’s alone we did that one thing with Barbie and Barbie Boyfriend with their undressable clothes and bendable arms and twisting hips and pouty lips and long blonde hair, in the back seat of that luscious red convertible.
Yes, we knew about that one thing, we dreamt about it, we made it happen whenever we wanted. Back when it was all a dream.
But now as we’ve become so-called adults, we try to imagine living that childhood dream that Barbie promised us while over half of our storybook marriages dissolve, our children are no longer the cutest little babies in the back of the coolest convertible, and our McMansion house with all those trendy amenities just went into foreclosure.
Weismann, Kristin Noelle. Barbie: The Image, the Icon, the Ideal an Analytical Interpretation of the Barbie Doll in Popular Culture. Universal Publishers. 1999.
Wright, Lenore. “The Wonder of Barbie: Popular Culture and the Making of Female Identity.” Essays in Philosophy. Vol. 4 No. 1. 2003.