Barbie- A Changed Woman

By Blaire Peppe ’17

When I was little, playing with Barbie dolls with my friends was my favorite thing to do. We loved to trade outfits, accessories, and even body parts that we would pop off and on. To this day, I occasionally step on a stray miniature stiletto strewn on the floor in my house. When I find these deformed shoes I am overwhelmed with a wave of nostalgia.

I’m not the only one with these fond memories. Ninety-two percent of American girls ages 3 to 12 have owned a Barbie.  And at some point, all of these girls become aware of the baggage that comes with our beloved Barbies.

Barbie’s unachievable waistline, pounds of makeup, huge breasts, and pointy feet that can only be worn with heels have distanced her from feminism and America’s changing idea of beauty.

Old Barbie vs New Barbie

However, some say such criticism is misplaced.  After all, Barbie was a businesswoman in 1936, an astronaut in 1965, and a surgeon in 1973 when only 9 percent of all doctors were women.

But what good comes from having Barbie representing these ground-breaking professions if you pull the string attached to her and she says, “math is hard”? Or when children open Barbie’s tiny-all-inclusive diet book and the only advice they read is “don’t eat”?

Both of these examples give the message that women should focus on their bodies, not their minds. This detracts from Barbie’s outstanding resumé. This criticism has also led to a huge stock plummet for Barbie’s maker, Mattel Inc, so the board decided it was time for Barbie’s makeover.

Barbie’s got a new body, or rather, three new bodies: petite, tall, and curvy.  These dolls will be sold with all the various skin tones and hair textures introduced last year. These changes took years. Simply picking non-offensive terminology took a whopping three months. The fast-paced body positivity movement that has been sweeping America, thanks to many celebrities like Nicki Minaj, Beyoncé, and Lena Dunham, has encouraged the company to proceed with its changes. These women have helped encourage a widespread body acceptance movement. Barbie’s old look didn’t fit in this equation, so she simply had to go.Screen Shot 2016-03-15 at 9.21.03 AM.png

Barbie has demonstrated anti-body-positivity and sexist ideals ever since her incarnation.  Her original design was based off a Russian doll given out at rowdy bachelor parties. Barbie’s creator was initially mocked when the toy was introduced at a convention. Toy makers claimed no parent would buy a child a developed and mature doll with a size 00 waist and 34D breasts.

However, when Barbie hit the shelves months later, she proved her critics wrong. But as her sales grew, so did the body insecurities of her customers. A study in 2006 published in Developmental Psychology showed that little girls exposed to Barbie expressed greater concern with their appearance than those exposed to other dolls. Children form tight and unbreakable bonds with their toys. You, too, may remember a childhood toy you never left the house without. When a toy takes the shape of an older woman, girls start to view them as role models. And though it’s hard to admit for those of us that have such fond memories of her, Barbie is literally in no shape to be a role model.

Project Dawn, the initiative to create body-inclusive dolls, still has many critics. Mattel Inc. had to create a phone line just to deal with the complaints. The most common complaints received about the dolls emphasize the damage Barbie’s old body has done to society.  Numerous parents have complained that they no longer find it appropriate to give Barbie as a gift to other children.  They’re worried if they give “curvy” Barbie as a gift parents will think they’re calling their child fat.

Within these complaints lies the problem with societal beauty standards. Curvy Barbie isn’t fat, she’s curvy. She has a couple pounds on the original Barbie, but that shouldn’t make her an insult to anyone. She’s an example of what an average woman looks like. It’s unbelievable that adults find it inappropriate now, when before Barbie had profound body characteristics and sexist features. If a parent is upset with the implications of their child receiving a Project Dawn doll perhaps they should step back and realize there are many differences between a doll and their child. For example, one is made of plastic, the other has organs, and one has a permanent smile, the other has ever-changing emotions. Critics need to be careful about what their child is hearing when they condemn these dolls.

Despite these petty criticisms, Project Dawn still flourishes. Naturally, with change comes complaint as people have to adapt to a more politically correct environment. As society is evolving, so is Barbie. Barbie has transformed into a tool that works for women, instead of against us. Girl’s developing brains will view the new dolls as models of beauty that they don’t have to aspire towards, but can simply achieve by being themselves.

The Body Positivity movement couldn’t have come sooner, and Barbie is racing to keep up, but in her defense it’s hard to run in heels.


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