Monday, 26 August 2013

Who are you really, Barbie?

I have not thought about Barbie for a long time, but I do remember many happy days playing with my Barbies (Barbie driving my scooter truck, in a cave in the sandpit, multiple costume changes throughout the day), so it's strange how uncomfortable I've become with the idea of her recently. The charm and appeal of the sickly pink and perfect blond Barbie has been washed away as an adult and I can't help but look at her now and think: why does she have to have such big boobs when her target market is prepubescent girls?

Barbie is more than just a doll; she's an ideal and little girls the world over think of her as beautiful. Maybe that's why she bothers me so much now; she represents a narrow, thin, plastic definition of beauty. There is no attempt to make her more realistic or even remotely child-like. I look at her now and think she's a beauty ideal loaded with societal pressures and inserted far too early into childhood. Teenagers don't want Barbies, little girls do. Something doesn't seem to match up.

I'm not against playing dress-up or putting on "lipstick" for fun, but at the age when little girls want Barbies, beauty is so much more than what she can offer: perfect hair, a mask of make-up, a completely unrealistic body. Beauty is intertwined with being funny and playful and imaginative. There are many ways to be beautiful and as we grow older, we seem to forget that and along the way beauty becomes so characterless and bland. I really love this Dove ad "When did you stop thinking you're beautiful?" and think it makes this point so well.

The other day, the kid managed to get a handful of hair into a hairband. Very pleased with herself, she said to me "Mama, I'm so pretty." I had to smile at her child-like, innocent confidence and agree (but then I always think she looks beautiful). I dread the day that the world tells her otherwise and unfortunately, I know it will because as she grows, the definition of what is beautiful will keep getting narrower.

So now I look at Barbie with new eyes. She's not just a doll to me anymore and I have to wonder, can't we offer little girls something better, something more real?

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