Barbie. Barbie. And Barbie. Growing up, I loved Barbie. When someone asks me, “What was your favorite Christmas gift as a kid?” the first thing that immediately pops into my head is my three story Barbie town house which included a pulley system elevator and drop dead gorgeous backdrops, enhanced by the furniture sets I arranged in the rooms. I even added a neon tropical swimming pool to the real estate…it had a swirly splash slide.
However, before I reveal the true answer to the favorite Christmas gift question, I think twice. I answer “my three story Barbie townhouse” or “my tricycle;” it all depends on who I’m talking to. Today, (I don’t mean to) I feel an inherent shame toward my love for Barbie. Barbie, after all, is woman’s enemy. She has single handedly distorted every woman’s body image. Apparently, Barbie has forced her good looks upon all our visions of femininity and beauty. She made us like pink. She made us want a perfect boyfriend named, Ken. She perpetuates the stereotype of the “dumb blonde.” After reading a list of these devastating tragedies caused by the Barbie doll, are you that surprised I have a backup answer for the favorite childhood Christmas gift?
I had astronaut Barbie, mermaid Barbie, windsurfer Barbie, ice cream parlor owner Barbie, mom Barbie, Christmas Barbie, Spanish Barbie, roller blading Barbie, doctor Barbie, teacher Barbie, horseback riding Barbie, birthday Barbie, butterfly Barbie, I Love Lucy Barbie, Hollywood Barbie, veterinarian Barbie, a replica of the first Barbie…
No matter how hard I try to hate Barbie, I can’t. Was Barbie good or bad to us during childood? Click To TweetWhen I travel back in time (through memories of course), I really don’t remember wishing that I looked like Barbie. My little friends and I did get really into coordinating her day’s schedule, designing her outfit, her home, finding crazy places for her to venture into like inside the Christmas tree or under a running hose that we designated a tropical waterfall. Our Barbies even had fights, got nervous about what to say, looked for jobs, got sad, got happy, overcame obstacles, raised their younger sisters. Barbie was like this mini pretend person to practice being an adult with or with whom to act out potential grown-up scenarios.
Barbie did so many things. Her choices were boundary-free. She was clearly a savvy business woman, owning her own boutiques, hair parlors, ranches and diners, being able to afford hot pink Cadillacs, mansions and ball gowns. No Ken was ever necessary, although he was well loved and practical (especially if we scheduled in a Barbie wedding or dance party one day in between the picnic at the park and the Academy Awards ceremony she would win an Oscar at). Yep, Barbie stood up quite tall and independently on her own two little tippy-toed feet.
Before real US women were flying into space, in Barbie world, Miss Astronaut Barbie first entered space in 1965. The first American woman in the real world, Sally Ride, made it to space in 1983. Did Barbie lead the way for us? Vintage Barbie Busy Gal came out in 1960, with retro reading glasses and a professional red suit. Barbie American Airlines Stewardess was born in 1961. Ballerina Barbie–1961. Barbie registered as a nurse in 1961. Then, in just a few years, Barbie went from busy to an official Career Girl in 1963. She was also a Ski Queen, a Fashion Queen, a Fashion Editor, an Outdoors Woman, a Modern Artist, a Photo Fashion photographer and an Ice Skater all by the year, 1965.
And if your curious about Ken, he arrived in Barbie’s life in 1961. He was marketed, no, not as her husband, but as an accessory.
Regardless of Barbie’s resumé, today, it seems like Barbie is rampantly blamed for many social deficiencies such as, body image distortion, racism, sexism and more. I can see why. Was it necessary that all the Barbies come in one size? The lack of diversity in body shape/sizes is most certainly a serious issue. They did not come in one color though; she and her multi-cultural friends came in a few different shades of beige and brown.
I looooooooved my Latina Barbie named Theresa.
Maybe Barbie’s blondeness never bothered me because I am a blonde. When I was little, I was nearly white haired. Growing up as a blonde Cuban American was culturally schizophrenic (It seemed like people, Latinos and Americans both, didn’t want a blonde to be Cuban-American. Usually, people would assume I didn’t speak Spanish, so I heard a few things throughout my childhood I probably shouldn’t have. Also, people immediately imposed a personality onto me– I was supposed to be girly, helpless, sensitive, man-attracting and even sort of dumb. And of course I played with Barbies. That was a given), but between Barbie’s blonde head and Theresa’s honey hues, I felt very much at home. Most don’t realize that Cubans come in a rainbow variety pack. In a pair of Cuban brothers, one is easily cinnamoned skinned, the other, whiter than a daisy.
There’s a few things to hate about hating Barbie. First of all, by pouring all the blame on this plastic play thing, other negative effectors pass by on the sly such as the influences of family, school, media etc. While Barbie is never free from blame, I can’t help but worry that while we are busy demonizing her, we are also busy neglecting other problems. Two: the constant concern with Barbie’s body, ironically, heightens our obsession and over-awareness of body image in general. While we think we are fixing things by changing her body, all we are doing is making our fellows more body conscious rather than deemphasizing the relevance of body image. Three: By only viewing Barbie as a brain washing villain, we reject all the positive influences she has had on our society, not only by allowing girls to practice the art of living as a woman in the adult world (rather than simply how to bottle feed a diaper wearing baby doll), but also by helping men view women as part of the professional setting and uniform.
In other words, when Sally Ride eventually did put on her moon boots, it didn’t appear strange at all. We had seen it before on Barbie. By validating only the negatives of Barbie rather than the positives, we are enabling people to do just that, to always focus on the negative…blah. Four: the potential to further destroy the confidence of women who actually do resemble Barbie. To demonize anyone for their superficial traits whether Barbie, or person, whether blonde, brunette, tall, short, round is unhealthy and deceptive– it perpetuates false perceptions. A person is not how he or she looks, but who she is. I can’t help but feel that by hating Barbie, I’m hating a part of myself too.
What do you think? Did you play with Barbie? Did your sister? Has the doll affected you positively or negatively?
Resources and Recommendations:
The now-on-netflix Documentary, Magical Universe
I’m so pleased to announce that three of my poems, “Slots,” “Scraping” and “Make a Decision” have been published in Barking Sycamores Literary Magazine Issue 13. Barking Sycamores is dedicated to neurodivergent literature and its craft. I’m so honored to be a part of this project. Barking Sycamores Issue 13
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