Should we be Barbie Girls?

Music video by Aqua performing Barbie Girl. (C) 1997 Universal Music (Denmark) A/S

It is hard to ignore the power of Barbie in young girls lives, and for years, there has been active debate about whether Barbie is a good role model for young women or not.

On the one hand, Barbie’s body is completely unrealistic. Her waist is tiny, her breasts are enormous, and her feet are permanently shaped to slip right into stilettos.  Galia Slayen, a student at Hamilton College, wrote a very interesting blog post about her struggle with Anorexia and her creation of a “real life” barbie doll. At 5’9″  with a 39″ bust, an 18″ waist, 33″ hips and a size 3 shoe, this Barbie is terrifying, and a shocking reminder of just how unrealistic Barbie is.  But other than her body, Barbie is a blond, white woman who never needs to worry about money or any other real life problems. In a very interesting article from the  American Anthropologist by Elizabeth Chin titled Ethnically Correct Dolls: Toying with the Race Industry, Chin examines the effectiveness of Barbie’s friends who are made to look like a variety of different races, and the relationships that children have with these “ethnically correct” dolls. In her article, Chin also discusses the release by Mattel of a doll named named Shani in 1991, who came in three different skin colors: light, medium and dark. What Chin discovered was that the facial features on the dark doll appeared more stereotypically “black” than the features on the dolls with lighter skin tones, which is a very disturbing discovery.

Photo Credit: Katherine of Chicago

But racism and body image problems aside, the pro-Barbie argument I have always heard is that Barbie has held numerous careers, including Computer Engineer, President of the United States, Paratrooper, Firefighter and Architect, to name a few. With many of these careers being in fields that are typically dominated by men, it can be argued that Barbie is showing young girls that they can grow up to work in a variety of jobs. Although, the other side of this argument is that, also on Barbie’s list of careers are jobs like Aerobics Instructor, McDonald’s Cashier, Cheerleader and Princess.

Nowadays, Barbie is also very prevalent on social media. She has a facebook, a twitter and  a youtube page. But what does a woman with an impressive list of careers, a wide group of multiracial friends and a heavy influence on young girls all around the globe tweet about…clothes. There is no mention of any of her other careers, or any serious struggles that often face women.

Recently, there was a campagin on facebook for Mattel to release a bald Barbie, for young girls undergoing chemotherapy. Thanks to the wonders of social media, these young girls voices were heard by Mattel, and they recently announced that they will release a bald doll. What is frustrating about this though, is that is doll will not be Barbie herself, but rather “a friend of Barbie’s.” While of course it is a victory that now young girls undergoing chemo will have a doll that reflects how they look, and will show them that bald is beautiful, it is upsetting that it will not be Barbie herself.

Until Barbie eventually faces a hardship of some kind, other than showing up to a party in the wrong outfit, it will be hard to see her as a “role model”, as she is often described, and not just as a plastic toy, with unbelievably white skin and fantastic hair. We are better off doing away with the title of “role model” for Barbie, rather than applying it to an image that can do more harm than good.

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