Barbie… A Female Role Model?

When I was a child little girls fell into one of two camps: you were either a Barbie girl or you were into Sindy. For me it was Barbie who I felt was far more sophisticated and glamorous. I had the whole Barbie family and my bedroom floor was set out as an elaborate luxury home complete with all the fixtures, fittings and furniture right down to the sideboard full of tiny crockery and miniature knives and forks.

Over the fifty plus years since Barbie was launched in 1959, manufacturers Mattel have attracted a lot criticism that her proportions were unattainable for girls wishing to emulate her and encouraged body dysmorphia.

Had the original Barbie been real she would have been 5’ 9” tall with 36-18-33 vital statistics and a BMI so low that she would probably have stopped menstruating, so yes her critics were probably right.

However, to be fair women’s body shapes have changed considerably in the last 50 years and I’m not just thinking of the western world’s obesity problems.  My own mother had a 19″ waist on her wedding day!

image-3This month Mattel launches its new Fashionista range of Barbie dolls aimed at a more diverse audience and described as reflecting the world that girls see around them. Today’s child can choose from a petite, tall or curvy Barbie as well as a range of skin, hair and eye colours. But do little girls really look to Barbie as a role model any more than they do with Disney heroines – who doesn’t know a little girl (or boy for that matter) who wants to be Frozen’s Elsa? Barbie’s vast wardrobe of costumes suggests that girls can follow their dreams whether that dream be palaeontology, space exploration or hairdressing. Left to their own devices, will today’s children choose a Barbie that reflects their own origins or will they still yearn for the unrealistic ideal?  And will parents encourage their child to embrace Barbie’s differences?  I guess they will vote with their wallets – at the end of the day, from a business perspective Mattel had no choice but to either ship Barbie off to a retirement home or move with the times and reinvent her.

And for me?  I’m unashamedly a fan of good, old 1950s Barbie! And by the way, for any eagle eyed readers out there, yes the Rebel In A Tutu logo does contain two Barbies…

[Pip]

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A Bonny Barbie Doll

I think I was a bit scared of Barbie when I was a little girl. I loved my Sindy doll with her girl next door face and fairly ordinary clothes and I never really noticed her shape. Perhaps I felt that Barbie was out of my league with her glamorous ways, or maybe I was jealous of her but I never wanted one!

Its interesting to see that they have produced these new body positive versions in various shapes, sizes and colours, I wonder how children will relate to them? Are they more likely to be drawn towards a doll that is of a similar body shape to themselves or would they hanker after the most traditionally ‘perfect’ one regardless?

I’m all for promoting the fact that there are many kinds of normal, its extremely important for children to feel confident with their body type. But if I were buying a Barbie as a present for a young person which would I pick? I don’t think I could possibly choose for example, a curvier doll for a child who was a little chubby, for fear of scarring them for life and insulting their whole family!

So I wonder how well these dolls will sell…I hope I’m proved wrong but my guess is that consumers will still go for the standard skinny ones and the curvier ones will be left on the shelf!

[Liza]