If I had to design a symbol or an icon of everything I abhor about society and everything that concerns me about young people, it would look uncannily like Barbie.
Barbie is unnaturally slender with disproportionately large breasts (it is estimated that 1 in 100,000 women naturally has a figure that even remotely resembles hers). Her wardrobe largely consists of Disney-esque floor length ball-gowns and The Only Way is Essex-esque bottom-skimmingly short skirts (all accessorized with eye wateringly high stilettos). Her activities are limited to traditionally female orientated jobs (such as ‘ballet teacher’) and to maintaining her distinctly WAG-like lifestyle (complete with pink jeep, natch). Essentially, Barbie is Jordan in miniature form. Accept Barbie remains mercifully mute.
When Barbie was designed, 50 years ago (by a team of sex obsessed men if a soon-to-be released Matel-expose is to be believed), this might all perhaps have seemed like a bit of harmless (although still distinctly misogynistic under scrutiny) fun. (This might perhaps be because back in 1960 people had the awareness to enjoy Barbie ironically, although that's obviously just conjecture. I wasn't alive.). In today’s climate, however, Barbie provides a worrying commentary on a society in which children as young as 7 are suffering from eating disorders, 15 year old girls are expressing a desire for breast surgery and 70% of female primary school pupils want to be a glamour model.
It is of course unrealistic and irresponsible to blame Barbie entirely for this and there is no conclusive evidence that she even so much as fuels the fire of today’s aesthetic obsessed, quick fix culture. But one must concede that there is a possibility that she might.
Which is why I found it hard to entertain Terri Dwyer’s insistent (and somewhat repetitive) argument when we locked horns on BBC 5 Live last night, which went: “Oh COME ON, Natasha, it’s only a doll”.
Branding Barbie “only a doll” is tantamount to applying the same description to Chuckie. Whilst technically true, the statement collapses under examination. Barbie comes with a great deal of cultural and psychological baggage and, as such, has been the subject of consistent controversy. Some find her objectionable and insulting, whilst others idolise her to the point of moulding their own human bodies to match hers (yes I’m referring to you, Sarah Burge).
Which leads me to my point. Matel are a commercial organisation and there’s no reason why they should have to relinquish the no doubt astronomical profits Barbie provides them with. Not even the most idealistic person would suggest that. But perhaps they could TRY making Barbie more realistically proportioned, they could TRY giving her a less stereotypical lifestyle and an alternative wardrobe……and they could see what happens (they can certainly afford to conduct the experiment). And by try, I mean REALLY try (i.e. not make her waist 3mm bigger and introduce a pair of 'sneakers' into the Barbie footwear collection). It might be that Terri Dwyer is right and that this would have no effect on young women’s self-esteem whatsoever. But it might. And isn’t it Matel’s duty to try?
I’d also, incidentally, suggest that Matel cease with the whole ‘giving Barbie professions’ thing. Whilst I applaud the fact that this was an attempt to ‘empower’ Barbie, what Matel have in fact done is appointed themselves the responsibility of accurately representing a cross section of all the potential jobs out there for today's young women. Of nurturing girls’ dreams whilst encouraging them to be realistic and of inspiring them towards a successful future. The wonderful thing about children is their magnificent propensity for imagination. When Barbie didn’t have a job, I doubt very much that this hindered those that played with her from imagining her in one anyway. A doll which hasn’t been consigned to a specific profession can be absolutely anything to a 3 year old, from Astronaut to Zoo Keeper. He or she can explore and project upon an unlabelled Barbie their own dreams and aspirations. Barbie should not be harnessing and restricting children’s fantasies and potential.
........After all, she is just a doll.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-12820178 - Hear my rants to this effect on the 'best bits' of the BBC website by clicking this link.