Last week I posted a story about my favourite fictional females, and Barbie was one of them.
Granted, she’s not exactly fictional, but she’s by no means “real”, and doesn’t represent real women in any way. So much so that if Barbie were alive, she would be so underweight she wouldn’t be able to menstruate, and so out of proportion that she would fall over.
These factors aside, I loved Barbie as a kid. Still do. Being as innocent and ignorant as children are, I was oblivious to the fact that Barbie is allegedly a bad role model for kids. Sure, I often wished I was blonde haired and blue eyed like Barbie (which probably stemmed from both my mother and younger sister possessing these traits, and me feeling like the odd one out), but mostly Barbie instilled in me the ideal that I could be anyone I wanted to be.
Hello?! Barbie has had such occupations as a teacher (in nine different subjects, no less!), doctor, police and army officer, astronaut, ballerina, gymnast and even a McDonald’s employee, amongst many, many others (see the full list here).
Of course, some of these occupations required Barbie to rely on her looks (Baywatch lifeguard, model), but most of her occupations require legitimate skills in real life. And also in real life, some jobs do depend on workers’ appearances.
Barbie also acts as a blank canvas for young girls (and boys) to project their ideals onto her. Most times I played Barbies with my sister, we often put our dolls in high school situations. When the aforementioned Baywatch Barbie came out, with an accompanying dolphin toy, we transformed the bathroom into the beach. Even as I got older, my teenage friends and I used our Barbies as art projects and pop culture experiments. I remember a certain Michael Jackson version of Ken that totally kicked butt!
I changed my mind several times as I grew up about what I wanted to be when I actually did grow up, and Barbie came on that journey with me. From violinist, to vet, to actress to journalist (I wonder if there will be a blogger Barbie in the future…?), Barbie was there, helping me craft out my ambitions and, like, what I would wear.
Yes, Barbie is unrealistically beautiful and thin and leads a charmed life, but this doesn’t govern how she is perceived by little girls (and, again, boys) and how they play with her. She may serve as a guinea pig for Toy Story’s Sid-like torture, a model for the latest buzz-cut á la an aspiring hair-dresser, “a happy hetero, a lipstick lez, or a bitchin’ CEO” (my preference was for the power-suited latter), a way to express juvenile sexual interest while her owner remains a “good girl” (which perhaps contributes to the negative perception surrounding the doll), or remain exactly as Mattel intended her to be: an immaculate representation of femininity. And that’s okay.
Primarily, I think, again, that Barbie allows girls to be whoever they want to be. I don’t necessarily think young girls have a clear-cut perception of the perfection Barbie represents in the grown-up world; for them, she’s just a cool doll with a fab convertible, ever-changing wardrobe and a resume that will get her where she wants to go. Importantly, too, Ken is not a deciding factor in her life, and Barbie will do whatever she wants with or without the approval of the man in her life. And now that she’s divorced, perhaps she doesn’t need or want a man in her life at all.Maybe I’m just lucky; the presence of Barbie and exposure to pop-cultural representations of “traditional” femininity in my life at a young and susceptible age, I feel, has enriched my life rather than hindered the development of a healthy body image. Who can say what factors contribute to food, weight and body image issues in young (and old) women alike? I know I definitely can’t put my finger on the defining aspects in my life that have allowed me to think critically and actively about such things. But I do think a little too much emphasis is conveniently placed on Barbie as the culprit.