In defence of Barbie

By in Opinions

Opinions Writer

Even after 50 years, the iconic blonde has not aged much: Her hair is still a long, shiny, golden hue, no wrinkles have downcast her bright, wide eyes and her body has no trace of cellulite or sagging. 

One would think after numerous scandals Barbie would be of a more haggard and matured appearance but this blonde has handled every ounce of criticism with all the sang-froid her willowy body has given her.

Barbie was modeled after a German doll, Bild Lilli, who was based on a post-war independent and impertinent cartoon character who openly talked of sex. Ruth Handler saw this doll on a trip to Europe, took three back to the United States and convinced Mattel to create an adult-bodied doll. Thus, Barbara “Barbie” Millicent Roberts made her first appearance on March 9, 1959.

Numerous controversies over the doll ensued, the most notable being her stature. If Barbie were real, she would stand at five-foot-nine, have measurements of 36-18-33, and lack the body fat needed to menstruate. The doll’s manufacturers listened to criticisms and widened her waist in 1997.

This change to the doll, however, was not enough to stop the accusations that she promoted unrealistic images in young children. Scholarly dissertations have been written on the negative impact Barbie has on children. I, on the other hand, have come to Barbie’s defence.

I completely understand that Barbie’s figure is far from the average woman but I do not believe she is fully accountable for making children weight-obsessed. What I do believe is that Barbie paved a way for young girls to be independent.

With over 40 careers ranging from ballerina to firefighter, Barbie has encouraged girls to go after their career ambitions. As an avid Barbie collector in my childhood, I grew up inspired by Barbie: she was a sort of “superwoman” to me — she obtained any career she wanted and was independent, all the while looking pretty darn good.

Her numerous careers taught me that it wasn’t just a man’s world anymore; women can become doctors, firefighters or any other “male” position they wanted. She wasn’t a doll who was married, had children or possessed any other conventional roles prominent to the mid 1900s. She made her own money and was in control of her own life.

I am thankful that I had Barbie to play with when I was younger instead of only baby dolls. What exactly does playing “house” or “family” teach the young? In that particular game, children conform to the traditional roles of women and men — the women stay home and take care of the children while the men are out working. Perhaps the baby dolls should be targets of controversy as their primary task is to train young girls to only pursue motherhood and marriage.

We should be thanking Barbie for defying the traditional roles women once held instead of vilifying her.

Read a response to this article by Cristen Polley.

photo Charlotte Powell