Feminism Fridays: Why The New Barbie Matters

Woooo! I’ve made it to week two. Welcome to the second post of Feminism Fridays.

Females and feminists, young and old around the world, rejoiced collectively upon hearing the news that Mattel are introducing several new Barbies to their collection, in attempt to portray real women’s bodies. This includes different body types, skin tones and hair colour.

Now, no one can deny that this is an important step. Though she may have started out with quite pornographic origins (she was based on a German gag sex toy, if I remember correctly from my Anthropology lectures last year), Barbie quickly became a worldwide phenomenon for young girls everywhere. Way before Elsa came around, Barbie was who you wanted to have, but more importantly, who you wanted to be.

And can you blame them? With her perfect blonde hair, teeny tiny waist and a wardrobe that would rival Serena Van der Woodsen, Barbie was the ultimate for young girls. She was the ideal; the unachieveable ideal. Studies have proven that no human could possibly survive if they had the proportions of a Barbie doll, it’s physically impossible. Yet, her impeccable and impossible body capitalised the toy industry for years. Young girls idolised her and aspired to be her. Considering the introduction of such a typical ideal female body from such a young age, a body that nobody can achieve, it is no wonder that us women can have trouble accepting the body we have.

But Barbie is more than her body, which we can sometimes forget. Barbie has been depicted as many things; a doctor, vet, aerobics instructor, pilot. Her website says she has a total of 150 jobs, meanwhile I’m over here struggling to find a Christmas job. This is, of course, important to remember. While she may have the ideal looks, she does not depend on them. She is not a housewife to Ken, she still works independently. She continues to expand her CV, all while looking fabulous. She has been depicted as many things, but perhaps the most important one of all; she has been depicted as perfect.

Barbie has it all. The job, the looks, the boy (who poses just as many problems for young boys as Barbie does for girls), the body. Barbie doesn’t go out and get drunk. Barbie doesn’t sleep around. Barbie doesn’t drop out of school. Barbie would never get pregnant. Barbie wouldn’t swear, sit with her legs open. Barbie’s perfect. She portrays not only the ideal lifestyle, but the ideal woman.

What she has been criticized most for is her body, and its influence on young girls. I know when I was young I always wanted the sparkly, pretty thing. In fact looking back, I think I was a shallow little thing, always wanting what was the prettiest. And Barbie was the prettiest. Projecting and physicalising such an unachievable body type, intended for young girls, would inevitably have an influence on them. The girls who had Barbies were undoubtedly very familiar with her body. To dress her, you must strip her. They saw the tiny waist, the perfectly shaped breasts (with no nipples, might I add), and the long legs. This is what they were used to, what they played with and what they expected to have when they grew up.

But no one grows up the body like Barbies. Hardly anybody grow up with the body they want, unless you’re a lucky fucker. Having Barbies around only emphasised what those little girls could not achieve. The physique that surrounded their play time was one that would not be around in their teen and adult years. Barbie was setting them up for the fall.

The introduction of the new body types- tall, petite, and curvy, is a great step in the right direction. Mattel are acknowledging the fact there are other bodies out there, and that people actually live and breathe in them. They understand the power they have on little girls and boys, and how they have the power to promote a healthy and safe body image.

Young children will (hopefully) grow up with more realistic body types in their media. They will now grow up being bombarded with TV ads promoting “real” bodies, instead of the typical Barbie bod. With the introduction of different body shapes and skin tones, children will grow up aware that there is more than one potential outcome for your body. The inclusion of the several skin tone also extends Barbie to a wider community of children to relate to. It is pertinent that a children’s toy embraces the reality of women’s body, because they are not dolls. They are not toys that can be manufactured a certain way. They are not pieces of plastic, that should they look a certain way, or their thighs be a little bigger, they are to be thrown off the conveyor belt because they’re not suitable for production. They are people. People cannot aspire to be like a doll. Children need to be aware of this, and shown this. They need to know, from the get go, that all body types are normal, accepted, and beautiful. They need to have the dolls that represent them on the shelves, showing them that they are worthy to be up there too.

But, this introduction is problematic itself. If someone is given a curvy Barbie doll for their birthday, is that a commentary on the recipient’s weight? What happens if no one buys the tall Barbie doll, and it gets discontinued? Why are there only 3 body types? Are the others not worthy enough? But maybe I’m just nit-picking.

While portraying these body shapes through the Barbie doll does indeed highlight the important message that there is not just one body that can be achieved, or be desired. What once was a platform for perpetuating the thin, ideal and perfect lifestyle, is now becoming a medium for addressing the real of issue of women’s body issues, by portraying how women’s and girl’s bodies actually are. But at the end of the day, does this matter?

Barbie’s origins are sexual and pornographic. Yet, Barbie has remained pure throughout her life. There was never any allusion to, or mention of, sexuality in her life. But that hasn’t stopped her becoming sexualised. By fulfilling the role of pure, virgin, she is sexualised because of her purity, not to mention her outfits. Mattel thrived off this and got a good few of those dolla dolla bills because of it, but at the core, this doll started out as a commercialisation and sexualisation of the female body. It remains this way. These new dolls are being introduced to highlight the variety of bodies out there (though there are only three shapes and if we were being pedantic, there are many more), but the question remains will they be dressed the same as original Barbie. Furthermore, will they be bought? Will young girls see a heavier Barbie, or a taller Barbie, and pick her over the original Barbie, the one that is the epitome of beauty? These new dolls are a huge step, but they will not instantly undo all the years of being bombarded with the message that thin is beautiful. Will the company do their best to prove that they are just as beautiful as original Barbie, or promote the message that everyone is beautiful? It is the slight difference between the two that is important. Those two words; just as. Rather than try bring these new Barbie dolls to original Barbie’s level, the dolls need to be equated.

But perhaps I’m being reductive to this pivotal change to the market. It can’t be denied that is a long awaited and much needed change to the toy market. I commend Mattel for the introduction of diversity to the dolls. It’s unfortunate that it’s taken almost 50 years after Barbie’s initial debut for her body to change. If these new Barbies come any way as popular as they used to be, the inclusion of these new dolls will hopefully create a new generation of open-minded, body confident young girls who know that beauty does not always equal thin, white and blonde.

Published on campus.ie 29/01/16. 




5 thoughts on “Feminism Fridays: Why The New Barbie Matters

  1. I am a little on the fence about Barbie. Not that I think her body shape isn’t actually ridiculous, but just in terms of the whole process of raising a child it is just one small part of that nurturing and development process. To blame one thing as a cause for causing poor body self-images would be akin to saying video games leads to violence in teenagers or that rock music made their kid commit suicide. Once again I think it is the bombardment of all the expectations that are placed on women to be judged based on their looks. If Barbie suddenly disappeared from the planet I am not sure we’d all of a sudden have a whole bunch more emotionally healthy females with realistic expectations on how they should look. There are enormous double standards in music, TV and in movies, there is the photoshopping of women in magazines and fashion, and even if they aren’t photoshopping the uniformity of the body type for models is also disconcerting. I know you weren’t saying that Barbie is the cause for all the ills of society, and it is about damn time, but I feel there might be bigger fish to fry than Barbie. I think it’s important to note that Mattel’s change is positive in that it is a reflection of how society is change and I know way think Mattel is trying to be intentionally progressive. They are finally bowing down to the public based on a criticism that has been there for decades now. Mattel is actually quite evil and aggressively litigious to anybody who would try to smear the Barbie image. I’ve read a couple of articles about it (I’m sorry I can’t find it now) but I in no way believe they really have girls’ best interests at heart. They want to make money plain and simple. So I praise all the feminists who have been fighting with Mattel for years and feel less kindly towards Mattel myself.


    1. I agree, Barbie is not the sole cause, though I do believe like many other things, she had a great influence and may still continue to influence young children’s body image. However, I hope these new dolls will try to combat it. At the least, it is a step in the right direction. And I suppose though she may be present in TV ads etc., her influence on a child may depend on how much she is actively in that child’s life. So yes, while there might be bigger fish to fry, we should focus on the fact they are attempting to clear the pond, not matter what Mattel’s true intentions are.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Absolutely love this post 🙂 I went hysterical (in a good way) when I found out about the new barbies and wrote a whole post too, although I focused mostly on my childhood friend and on the positives of it. Still I think your post raised really important questions: “what if the curvy Barbie never gets picked?, what if the Gothic one never gets picked…?”, so on and so on… I saw a devastating video on YouTube where children are asked to pick between a white and a black doll, and most prefer the white; when asked why, most kids said “because it’s prettier” or “because it’s the ‘good’ doll” – it broke my heart a little…
    I was really confused; when I was a kid I chose the brunette doll as soon as I saw it, because it ‘looked’ like me. But trust me, if I could have gotten the petite, curvier, brunette one, I’d totally go for it (maybe I’ll still buy one:)).
    The video is from 2012, and much has changed since then, so I am choosing to have faith in the newer generations. And I agree with you, if Barbie still is the ‘must have doll’, then “these new dolls will hopefully create a new generation of open-minded, body confident young girls” 🙂
    Great read, thank you for posting!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, thank you so much for that comment! I can’t wait to read your post about them now. I agree, it’s a pity how much the younger generations go for the “best”, the “prettiest” etc. Here’s hoping these new Barbies can change that, without invoking the mindset that anything other than blonde isn’t pretty. Thanks again 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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