Is Barbie a feminist issue?

“Life in plastic, it’s fantastic!”  Right? Or not?  That Aqua ‘classic’ (obviously the definition of classic depends vastly on your musical sensibilities,) summed up perfectly my uneasy relationship with Barbie dolls. “I’m a blonde bimbo girl in the fantasy world,” hmmmm.

I’m never sure whether I love Barbies, or resent the weirdly plastic and sexualized version of young womanhood they represent. As a child, I spent many, MANY happy hours playing with our collection of Barbies and Sindy dolls.  We were mostly a Sindy house, due in no small part to my parents buying a massive box of retro Sindy dolls from Peacocks Auction House for me and my sister one year. The previous owner(s) had given them rather dramatic haircuts, so they resembled a bunch of heavily-made up punk-era girls but with pearl earrings and  paisley dresses, which as Barbie style goes,  is not so terrible. At the time, I had friends who were not allowed to play with Barbies, as they were deemed ‘too glamourous’, and my mum felt much the same way, but ours were mostly excused due to their weirdness.

And now my girls are at the age where they have started to play with Barbie dolls. Proper Barbie dolls with long hair and six inch heels, and teensy waists, and hips, and…boobs. (Although Tilly refers to them as Teletubbies, which has caused much hilarity and a few  embarrassing moments at Gran’s house.) And suddenly I’ve looked at Barbie in a slightly different light. Sure, Barbie has moved on, and these days she can choose any career she wants, from doctor to vet to popstar. Which is great. But I still feel somewhat uncomfortable giving my six year old a doll who looks like that. Because girls that age sometimes do long to be grown ups, which in itself is fine, and Barbie is indeed a grown up. But she still looks like some man’s impossible version of an ideal woman, formed in plastic. I’m not saying that my children should only play with Frump Barbie, who wears plimsolls and a ankle length dress, but it would be nice to think that in 2012,  someone could manufature a doll that doesn’t look like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, pre Richard Gere. Just not having feet shaped to wear six inch heels would be fine. Or not having quite so tiny a waist. And, let’s face it,  just with slightly less enormous breasts. That is not, and should not, be what little girls think grown up girls look like. I don’t want to ban Barbies.  I loved the imaginative games that I played with mine and I don’t want my girls to miss out because their mother is having some sort of ridiculous crisis about the body image messages sent out by RollerSkate Barbie.

So I am embracing Barbie (metaphorically, you understand, she is not exactly cuddly,) because ultimately I think that she’s fun. And that is what matters. But I am not happy about her looking so…glamourous. Perhaps I’m just jealous?

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3 thoughts on “Is Barbie a feminist issue?

  1. I was once comissioned had to research Barbie’s vital statistics for a feature. The results were that if she were human she’d be dead. Crippled and dead. She’s THAT misshapen. The feature was never published. That said I too played for many happy hours with Sindy, Barbie (and Action Man) but I don’t think for a minute I ever compared them to real grown-ups or aspired to be like them. I may however have been affected by Barbie’s myriad outfits and joy of dressing up – but where’s the harm in that eh?!

  2. Well, exactly. I think the fun outweighs the questionable vital statistics, but on the other hand it is incredibly depressing that we are still giving young girls a model of physical ‘perfection’ that is literally impossible to attain. Whether they regard it as something to aspire to or not, someone somewhere has decreed that the ‘ideal’ shape. But very interesting about the measurements being physically impossible. I’m starting to feel a bit sorry for Barbie! It’s like in Toy Story 3 when she said ‘please, can I stop smiling now? My cheeks are KILLING me!’

  3. Aaah the box of Barbies I remeber the excitement of winning them and then the surprise at how different to the ‘production’ Barbies and Sindys they were! Seem to remember there were a couple of disabled ones too just to show how inclusive the family was, but the headless one was a bit disturbing

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