By: Melissa Kargiannakis
Response to: Huffington Post article
Lately I have been terribly bothered by the countless articles (here, here, here, and this is just the beginning—the Business Insider even reported on it for crying out loud!) accusing Barbie of ruining our images of women and distorting little girls’ minds due to their intimate friendships with such precious pieces of plastic. My fleeting youth and childhood are not so far gone and as an emerging young adult I reflect fondly on my days of old passing the hours by with my best non-breathing ladies.
I loved Barbie. Loved her hair that I obviously shared my hair products to improve the knotty mess that was generally glued to her head; her colourfully decorated face with more make-up than I think my mother even owned; and her clothes with the tiny buttons, zippers, or Velcro pieces that my still developing hands were of just the right size and dexterity to maneuver. I absolutely idolized her. But I never thought I would grow up to look like Barbie. And I didn’t want to.
Barbie made me feel girly and beautiful. With Barbie I was always the girl that boys had crushes on at school and I was always the young woman who went on fancy dates with a suited-up Ken. Barbie kept the fantasy alive that has been far from my reality. Please, stop trying to change Barbie into something less than all that she is. Barbie is supposed to be fantastical. Barbie is supposed to be ornately garnished with the most twinkling of make-up. Barbie is supposed to have an unattainable body so that everybody can be her.
Have you ever seen children attempt to put on makeup? It is much more of an art experiment than an exercise in enhancing one’s natural beauty. The colours and less-than-subtle nature of it all are certainly reminiscent of Barbie’s brightly adorned face, but that’s what’s fun about it all!
Those “average” size Barbies actually make me feel terrible because I’m still bigger than those statistically sized measurements purport. I don’t look like that. But dang, do I look good. And it is the original Barbie that makes me feel good. The three-dimensional renderings or even the plastic mock-ups of alleged “average” still seem a little off. I mean how many “average” people do you know with a 4-inch thigh gap? I barely know anyone even with the tiniest of thigh gaps. These newly proposed Barbies are also based on finite numbers. Any physician would tell you that a healthy average is a range of weights per height. Furthermore, focusing on averages perpetuates the problem of individual body acceptance issues rather than alleviating the issue. I dispute Nickolay Lamm’s message: “average is beautiful”. No, average isn’t beautiful—everyone is beautiful. Because everyone is more than their outsides—everyone has a story that includes their entire person, inside and out.
There’s also a sexist double standard at play in the criticism of Barbie. Where are the grown men chiding Lego for their body image issues? Or HotWheels for giving us unrealistic expectations about roads? I mean seriously, it is as similarly ludicrous. I played with Lego all the time, and no—just like with Barbie with permanently high-heel-shaped feet—I did not aspire to be a cubic person with a removable head when I grew up. But we aren’t talking about these issues at all. We’re focusing on one brand of toy not even one genre of fictionally designed dolls in general.
To those out there who have alleged that Barbie devastated their self-esteem, body image, and expectations, perhaps we should look at other underlying causes as to why at ages 5-10 you were worried about your body image. Perhaps the social constructs that exude such pressure even at such a young age should be given more attention rather than scapegoating some plastic Mattel toy.
Even the more realistic Barbies that emerged in my youth where they gained belly buttons and partially defined abs destroyed my childhood best friend. Now I was looking at her as near human. Now I was seeing features I saw on women in magazines. To me it was as if Barbie was trying to be like models, not that models or real women were trying to be like Barbie. I didn’t like that. It ruined her imaginative, creative existence in fantasyland. It made her more human. Making her more human in turn made more human to Barbie comparisons.
So please. Leave Barbie alone. Let the fantasy live on because Barbie never bothered me. But boy these articles tearing her apart do.
Barbie isn’t ruining our body image—societal constructs and Photoshop are.