Barbie – the one object we would get so attached to as a young child. Her perfectly symmetrical face, her beauty standards completely in keeping with what we were ideally expected to look like and the different costumes she came in denoting that we could be anything. But what effect does it really have on our minds? This has been a long-debated question.
One of the most basic problems with the doll is the kind of body it is made to have. But defenders say that Barbie is so much more than just her body. They argue that people who are supposedly accepting of all body types do not accept that of Barbie. But it is crucial to realise that people are accepting of all natural body types. Barbie’s, on the other hand, is not a true representation of the human body.
Seeing Barbie, young girls aspire to become her. But the beauty standards set by Barbie are just not realistic. And these ideals can be extremely harmful. As body image expert Marci Warhaft-Nadler, author of The Body Image Survival Guide for Parents, explains: “Barbie sends our girls one message, and it’s this: “You can do anything and you can be anything—as long as you look like this: very tall, very thin, very Caucasian, and very beautiful.”
Many supporters of Barbie argue that Barbies are not only Caucasian anymore. Or that they endorse certain body types anymore. According to critic Ann DuCille, author of Skin Trade, dolls help children figure out who they are in relation to the surrounding world, and when multicultural Barbies are basically merely “dye-dipped” white Barbie dolls, “modified only by a dash of colour and a change of costume” in inauthentic and unfair ways—the consequences for children are serious. For black children, “Dreaming white is the natural response to what the child sees and does not see in society’s looking glass,” DuCille writes.
Another cue that young minds pick up on is the pricing. From a very young age we are conditioned to think that the more expensive an object, the better it is. And it might be the truth in some cases. But creating a price difference off of race ‘deviations’ in the Barbie creates a social hierarchy between the multicultural and the ‘Original’. One which assumes white blonde Barbie is the original and other others are simply beneath her.
We also cannot be ignorant of the origin of Barbie. The doll is based on a German cartoon character that features in an explicit comic strip that existed to fulfil the fantasies of men. The history of the Barbie doll and the decisions taken by Mattel need to be understood if we are to analyse Barbie.
This is overcome by the fact that Barbie comes in many different costumes that symbolise various professions. Similarly, there also exist a number of books that talk about Barbie as a scientist or computer engineer. The I Can Be A Computer Engineer! Book featured Barbie as a Computer Science student, and portrayed her as incompetent and constantly in need of the help of her male classmates. This defeats the purpose of what the author of the text is trying to convey.
It is high time that we consider all factors including the history of Barbie and the way Mattel simply attempts to shrugs all responsibility when it comes to creating something that serves as a highly distorted version of reality – something that is extremely harmful.
By Asterilla Monteiro