A few weeks ago, I had to give a persuasive speech to my public speaking class, and I had the brilliant idea to argue the disgusting and unhealthy effects Barbie dolls can have on young girls. As an adamant body image activist, I thought to myself: pshhtttt, piece of cake.
Then I started to do some research about Barbie herself and the story of how she came to be.
I read some things, found some information, looked at some pictures that made me go...
"Well, so she has done one good thing..."
"Okay, that's pretty cool, but..."
"I mean, yeah, that's really inspiring, and all..."
until I found myself completely confused.
Who is this Barbie?
Is she the raging disproportionate tyrant I imagined her to be?
Or is there something going on beneath the plastic?
Compare and Contrast
Lord knows the first thing anyone will bring up when Barbie, body image, and young girls are put together in a sentence: but Barbie is so thiiiiiiin, so disproportional, how could you even say that she's the best doll on the market?!!!!
Now lookie here. I'm not saying Barbie's size is a natural, realistic depiction of a woman's body. Mathematically speaking, that would be a lie, and there's plenty of research on the topic that you can find on the interwebs.
However, Charlotte Alter mentioned in her piece for Times Ideas something that changed the game for me: how about the other dolls on the market?
Barbie's current competitors include Monster High Dolls (left) and Bratz dolls (right).
You wanna talk proportions, let's: Look at the waists, thighs, arms...
You cannot seriously argue that these dolls are in any way, shape, or form better body image role models than Mrs Mattel herself!
Besides, Bratz dolls look fundamentally constipated. Pouty mouth, huge judging eyes; she may be pretty, but that mean gleam is enough to make me put down the doll and run for my life. Barbie, on the other hand; smiling like there's no tomorrow. Heaven forbid that's the kind of role model your daughter looks up to!
Let's not forget those outfits. While the Pale Prostitute "Monster High" Dolls are busy tearing up their fishnet tights and sucking blood from their high school classmates, Barbie's busy with her career, her goals and service to society.
Speaking of Barbie's career....
I Ain't No Wifey
Barbie was founded by the Mattel toy company in 1959. Within the first years, careers, such as nurse and schoolteacher, became available for purchase. A pretty girl with her own career? Shocking!
Ken, her metrosexual boyfriend, didn't come along until 1961, which means that Barbie wasn't founded on the idea of being someone's wife, someone's accessory, NO. She was an independent woman, with an independent career, and you had better step aside before her fuchsia stilettos walked all over you.
And even when Ken did come along, this didn't stop for one second the absolute explosion of careers Barbie has undertaken these past 50+ years.
Barbie has her own convertible, her own dream house, her own freaking tour bus, without needing no man: if that's not a strong, empowered, feminist role model, I don't what is.
psst: Did you notice that I said Ken her boyfrand, not husband? That's right: Barbie and Ken, unmarried man and woman, lived together in 1961. Barbz, your progressivism rocks.
Ahead of The Curve
A fantastic example of Barbie being way ahead of the curve in terms of woman's rights and opportunities is 1965 Astronaut Barbie. Yes indeed, in 1965, Mattel released an Astronaut Barbie kit (pictured left), no helmet hair required.
...Interesting, isn't it, that the first real American woman, Sally Ride, to go to space wasn't until 1983?
You read that right.
For 18 years, Barbie was inspiring young girls to reach for the stars (quite literally) before it was even a realistic dream.
Still to this day, Barbie pushes the boundaries of conventional society gender roles.
Every election since 1992 has come with Mattel's own Barbie for President kit.
I'm writing this today, in 2014; let's all take a moment to remember that America has yet to elect a female president!!
Also something worth noting in this picture:
Barbie President comes in Caucasian, African-American, Hispanic-American and Asian-American, so that no matter what your ethnicity is, you, young empowered girl, can be the leader of the free world.
Am I the only one who shed a tear just then?
Barbie has done many other great things for racial acceptance and diversity encouragement.
In 1968, Mattel came out with Christie, Barbie's black friend, the first black doll to be released on a national market.
1968: only 4 years after the Civil Rights Act was passed, outlawing most public segregation and prejudice based on race.
For a young black girl to be growing up in a time where white normality, racism, and prejudice is still the norm in many places, having a beautiful, empowered doll that represents your race can mean the world.
Since 1968, the range of African-American Barbies has been equally impressive. Just like all white people don't look the same, all black people don't look the same:
-Some have more red untertones in their skin, some more blue, some are darker, some are lighter.
This may seem like an insignificant detail to some, but having pride in your origins, in the uniqueness and complexity of your pigment, is a wonderful, inspiring idea that is often overlooked by many other competitors.
Barbie's not perfect, I'll give you that.
But jesus christ who is?!
I'll leave you with this simple question:
What's more important to YOU?
1. That your daughter plays with a doll that fits your idea of a healthy size and proportion (if you can find one, please let me know)?
2. That your daughter plays with a doll that teaches her that her life is in her own hands?
That because Barbie can be a CEO, an athlete and a stay-at-home mom, than so can she?
That's up to you, future parents.
But when you're walking up and down the aisles of a toy store in 10, 15, 20 years, and you see a Barbie in the corner of your eye, I hope you know what's more important.
Have a wonderful day my loves!
3.The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2008/dec/19/women