“Let’s get gorgeous! Fashion Fever. Hot looks.”
– Barbie website
When I began reading Chantelle Bonogofski’s article “In Defence of Barbie” in the Sept. 17 issue, I expected sarcasm.
The article’s most juicy sentence, “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,” read like the prelude to a colourful piece of satire. But, as I read on, I realized that the author was serious. The title was not ironic. She was defending Barbie.
As a reminder, Barbie is not made of willowy flesh and cold blood: she is plastic.
Secondly, not all Barbies have endured their lives with poise and perfection. I have Barbies stacked in a bucket that have teeth marks in their toes, hacked hair and lost limbs, and I know I’m not the only one. The plastic princess is not a nonperishable.
I wonder, how healthy is my sadistic urge to destroy a plastic woman based solely on her looks? What does Barbie have to teach the critical child? Being the victim of sadism aside, Barbie never ages. How is this representative of the life of a woman?
I agree with Bonogofski that “perhaps the baby dolls should be targets of controversy as their primary task is to train young girls to only pursue motherhood and marriage” and would even replace “perhaps” with “definitely.” However, I cannot agree that Barbie should be excused from a life-long (how long is Barbie’s life anyway?) sentence by the doll’s critics.
Barbie may have “taught” the author and countless other children how to be independent women and what careers were available to them, but at what cost? Should independence be limited to looking “pretty darn good?”
Although Barbie might whisper seductively to girls that “you too can have a career,” it is a conditional message. You too can have a career and be an independent woman if you have the ideal measurements and physical appearance.
I have never walked the gait of independence in stilettos and a mini skirt. I’m not criticizing those who have and do, but Barbie implies that this is the only way a girl or a woman should appear in order to be successful. Independence should be predicated on positive body image, self-respect and a free and healthy mind, not on the length of a skirt or the size of a waist.
Because so many children use the Internet in the place of or as a supplement to toys, I decided to visit Barbie’s website after reading Bonogofski’s article. I saw no evidence of Barbie as a campaigner for career choice and independence. Check out the website and see for yourself.
Barbie’s spheres of existence and influence on the site are limited to Games, Videos, the Closet, the Bedroom, the Garden and Shops. I crossed my fingers and entered the Garden, hoping to see rich soil, seeds to plant, fresh flowers, a slide, a swing and maybe even a sandbox. To my horror, I instead found Barbie perched seductively on a hill, blowing bubbles. The first step to engage with the Garden is to “Grab Your Crown and Go.” Who wears a jeweled crown while gardening?
Barbie and her world exist entirely in the realm of fantasy. However, the distinguishing boundaries between fantasy and reality blur as children attempt to imitate and emanate Barbie’s fantastical looks and life. In real life, gardening and shopping can both be productive and healthy events; however, in the land of the plastic princess, these seemingly everyday activities are deluged beneath a sea of nauseating pink, not to mention unrealistic standards of beauty.
Fantasy, imagination and idealism can be liberating and are necessary to positive growth; however, the hypersexualized and materialistic doll that (and I purposely do not use the pronoun “who” here because I reiterate: Barbie is not a human being) Barbie is has real consequences for children, especially girls.
Recently, there have been intelligent, sometimes humorous, yet always disturbing messages from those who are concerned by the effects of increasing sexualization of young girls in our cultural environment. At the Saskatoon Fringe Festival’s 2009 production Raunch, Alice Nelson and Jacqueline Russell demonstrated the frightening effects of hypersexualized culture on young girls. Another recent production that explores hypersexualization in our environment is the 2007 Canadian documentary Sexy Inc. Our Children Under Influence. It can be watched for free online at nfb.ca.
Watch this film, visit Barbie’s website, re-read “In Defence of Barbie” and ask yourself what type of a role model Barbie is for children.
Although it is tempting, rather than ending this article by violently sling-shooting Barbie into the trash bin of rotten role models, I would like to ask Bonogofski two questions. Firstly, were there perhaps other influences in her life, besides Barbie, who directed her towards a path of independence and a meaningful career, i.e. would she be where she is today if she hadn’t squeezed Barbie’s synthetic skin with her young hands? And second, would she give away her collection of Barbies to a child today?
My article does not take into account the severe heterosexual and racial norms that Barbie and the Barbie website promote. These topics are too infuriating and extensive to cover in one opinions piece.
Read Chantelle Bonogofski’s original article “In Defence of Barbie” online.