Lately it seems like people have nothing better to do than to take things personally. Political correctness has always annoyed me but at this point I think things are out of control. And do you know who the biggest victim is? I know you want me to say “the kids” and in a way, yes, it is the kids, because who I’m really feeling sorry for these days is Barbie. Barbara Millicent Roberts, a.k.a. Barbie, is not the most popular female icon these days.
The drama can be traced back to a 1965 Barbie slumber party package which came with a scale set to 110 pounds and a little book entitled How to Lose Weight, which included helpful diet tips such as “Don’t eat.”
When I was ten I remember 1992’s Teen Talk Barbie getting herself into trouble with women’s advocacy groups across the country because one of the many phrases she was programmed to say was, “Math class is tough!” Well, you know what? Math class is tough. Good for Barbie for saying what we were all thinking.
Five years later, Mattel ticked off more minority advocacy groups when it teamed up with Nabisco to make 1997’s Oreo Fun Barbie. Although this Barbie was available in both black and white versions, a bunch of people looking for something to complain about got hysterical about the racial implications of the term “Oreo,” which is sometimes derogatorily used to describe a black person perceived to “act white.” Seriously.
And just last year 2009’s Totally Tattoos Barbie, which allowed young girls to give their Barbie a barbed-wire tramp stamp, set moms everywhere on fire.
Brilliant business moves? No, but neither are they sinister plots intended to hurt feelings or perpetuate stereotypes. Mattel execs didn’t sit around in Monday night board meetings presenting PowerPoints entitled “Effective Marketing Strategies For Sabotaging Customer Loyalty.”
Honestly, I think these embarrassing bumps in the long road of Barbie’s history are more amusing than harmful. The most widely publicized complaint against Barbie, though, comes from studies that show admittedly credible evidence that playing with Barbie has a negative effect on some girls’ concepts of beauty and self. (The doll has proportions that, if imposed on a real woman, would suppress her ability to menstruate.) On the other hand, while Barbie’s proportions are very unlikely to occur in nature, it is not completely impossible. The University of South Australia estimates that about one in every 100,000 women is naturally endowed with Barbie’s measurements. More rare than finding a real man with Ken’s body proportions (about 1 in 50 males has a Ken-proportionate body type) yet not as crazy as many people believe.
Despite all the negative hype, for many girls, both the grown-up ones and the younguns, Barbie was not and is not a subconscious source of insecurity. Barbie, for myself and for many others, is a fond girlhood memory that fostered creativity, imagination and possibility. Barbie was intended, after all, to be a message to young girls: “You can be anything you want” not “You should really consider breast implants.” I never felt insecure or unworthy growing up because I played with a plastic doll with a hollow head and no belly button. Here are some other more positive life lessons we should take from our Barbie-playing days:
A little drama makes life interesting. “Let’s say Ken cheats on Barbie with Teresa and then while he’s cheating on her, Barbie gets in a car accident and is in the hospital and Skipper goes over to Barbie and Ken’s house to tell Ken what happened but she sees Ken with Teresa and then she gets really mad and goes to tell Barbie but Ken chases after her and…” I personally don’t want any of this sort of drama in my real life but let’s face it, drama happens and when it happens to other people it’s pretty interesting.
It’s okay to fake it. So Barbie has crashed her pink Corvette while Ken is out having fun with Teresa. This requires a hospital set-up of some sort, but we didn’t have a legitimate, Barbie-trademarked hospital bed lying around so we had to be creative. Our hospital bed consisted of a couple tissues laid out over a sawed-off chunk of two-by-four someone found in their parent’s basement. Barbie was an outlet for creativity back before they started making “official” accessories for everything. Her hair was highlighted with Crayola markers, haircuts (although they never turned out right) were administered with the aid of a pair of kitchen scissors taller than the doll herself, tattoos were designed with a Sharpie and thumbtacks and pushpins were stuck wherever we thought there should be a piercing.
A good guy is hard to find. Is it just me, or were there never enough Kens to go around? If a lucky girl happened to have more than one Ken, there was always “Hot Ken” that we all fought over and “Extra Ken” (I have yet to meet a girl who had more than two Kens).
Give love a chance. In 2004, two days before Valentine’s Day, Barbie left Ken Carson (who would not commit to marriage) for a pro surfer named Blaine. By 2006 Ken had seen the light and realized what a good thing he had had with Barbie and, in an effort to woo her back, reinvented himself. He got a makeover from celebrity stylist Phillip Block, as well as plastic surgery to give him a more masculine nose and a more sensual mouth. It seemed to work and earlier this year, after a five year separation, Barbie officially confirmed her reunion with Ken on her blog. Some men take longer than others to grow up – it took Ken forty-eight years to get over his fear of commitment, proving that there is hope out there. Just make sure he’s worth it.
Work hard, play hard. It’s not easy being an astronaut, doctor and NASCAR driver but somehow Barbie does it – and finds the time to enjoy her hard-earned success. The best times with Barbie, without a doubt, were the times she would throw a lavish pool party, usually in someone’s bathtub. Poor Ken never seemed to have any swimming trunks, however, and so he’d wear his tuxedo pants or gardening khakis in the pool.
No one “has it all.” I remember seeing a pink bumper sticker somewhere – “When I grow up, I want to be just like Barbie… that bitch has everything!” That is ridiculous. She does not have a lot of things that I happen to enjoy having – like nipples and the ability to wear flip-flops. So, the next time you feel your femininity, beauty, intellect or success threatened by an 11.5” tall plastic doll, remember that you may not have everything, but neither does Barbie.
Side note: I think it would be highly educational, or at the very least interesting, if Mattel were to introduce “Real Time Barbie.” Real Time Barbie would age alongside her owner and important physical milestones such as crow’s feet and boob saggage would be just some of this doll’s highlights.