When I took my first college English course, the theme for the semester was Pop Culture. I lucked out BIG time. Read and write essays on pop culture, how it is used in advertising, gender biases, and influences our society? Yes, please. It was a great class I’d repeat again on fun alone, and I still own the textbook. In it was an article that took me surprise, by Emily Prager, titled Our Barbies, Ourselves and to give you an adequate picture of the kind of essay it was here is a quote from the synopsis:
“…Emily Prager reveals the damaging effect of a doll that establishes such an impossible standard of physical perfection for little girls – and for little boys who grow up expecting their girlfriends to look like Barbie.”
The whole essay is rather tongue-in-cheek with plenty of sarcasm to ease any offense, but reading this article opened my eyes to a whole new world of outraged anti-Barbiests, often criticizing how Barbies unrealistic proportion body and demoralizing pink and turquoise world give little girls a warped sense of expectations. She sets up impossible standards and promotes a world of materialistic glory-hounding, controlled and designed by men in suits and their questionable, often dubious idealization of the modern American woman.
The face of evil or the victim of being too powerfully stylish?
While I understand her critics, I simply cannot relate to the issues Barbie seems to cause for others. I always felt I had complete control over my Barbie dolls. True, Barbie wasn’t my first choice in toys – that honor was given to My Little Pony’s – and the fact that Barbie was blond rather irked me as a child (I still own my three brunette Barbie dolls) but I used my imagination to spin epic story lines and develop in-depth characterizations. The first original stories I created were played out with my toys, Barbie included.
My dolls may have been manufactured as Barbara Millicent Roberts as a base, but they did not stay “Barbie” for long. They all had names I gave them, ages, families (my three blond Barbies were sisters, and my Cherry Merry Muffin dolls were their younger sisters, even after I owned a Stacie and Skipper doll) and they were always on a quest of some sort. When my parents bought me the Barbie dream pinkstone (tri-level townhouse) I turned it into a Barbie dream orphanage. None of my dolls had parents, but they had many siblings who loved and cared for one another, especially in harrowing times of danger (which, funnily enough, they always seemed to be in.) Sometimes my Barbie dolls teamed up with my Little Pony’s, but generally the ponies had their own agenda going on. The point is, like all of my toys, Barbie was a blank canvas, ready to have a personality painted on by her lucky recipient.
Rachel Roy design for Barbie show @ NYC fashion week
As for body image…I never held myself up to Barbie, so it was never an issue for me. She isn’t a real person to hold myself up to, so I never thought to. To be honest, I’ve always been more concerned of grown-ups idealizing and emulating the girlish, premature Strawberry Shortcake doll body:
One day you’ll have curves, Strawberry.
Barbie had a myriad of noteworthy occupations including: a teacher, a doctor, a flight attendant, an astronaut, rock star, politician, police officer, Air Force jet pilot, fashion model, dentist, surgeon, veterinarian. If you were not satisfied with any of them, you could just make one up for her. Her style is as varied as her resume, her closet jammed pack with fifty years worth of fashion fads, faux pas and fantasy. Her wardrobe has inspired thousands of people world-wide who saw the potential of the Barbie palette, ranging from individuals who merely emulated Barbies neon pink chic to full on professional pursuits such as Bob Mackie’s lavish designs for serious Barbie collectors:
Lady of the Unicorns Barbie by Bob Mackie
Doll artists have taken Barbie one step further than imaginary play by making their fantasies come to life with customized, one of a kind Barbie dolls. Even I have an ooak Harley Quinn Barbie in the works. Mattel itself has capitalized on Barbie’s contribution and recognizable popularity by reinventing her specifically to represent other pop-culture icons such as comic book, fairy tale, movie and television stars.
BatGirl Barbie to the rescue!
I don’t desire any discourse with those that dislike Barbie, I respect every individual’s right to their opinion and views. I am merely stating that my Barbie memories are positive, filling me with warm and fuzzy feelings of nostalgia, as I would hope anyone would feel when thinking back to their childhood toys. While I am in no way what I would consider a “Barbie girl” – I’m more Barbie-neutral – Barbie still holds a pink plastic coated piece of my heart.
What are your thoughts/feelings on Barbie? Which Barbie is your favorite?
image credits: 1 2 3 4